TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The false belief that toxic methanol cures the coronavirus has seen over 700 people killed in Iran, an official said Monday.
That represents a higher death toll than so far released by the Iranian Health Ministry.
An adviser to the ministry, Hossein Hassanian, said that the difference in death tallies is because some alcohol poisoning victims died outside of hospital.
“Some 200 people died outside of hospitals”, Hassanian told The Associated Press.
Alcohol poisoning has skyrocketed by ten times over in Iran in the past year, according to a government report released earlier in April, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The national coroner's authority said that alcohol poisoning killed 728 Iranians between Feb. 20 and April 7. Last year there were only 66 deaths from alcohol poisoning, according to the report.
Separately, the Iranian health ministry spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour said that 525 people have died from swallowing toxic methanol alcohol since Feb. 20, state TV reported on Monday.
Jahanpour said that a total of 5,011 people had been poisoned from methanol alcohol.
He added that some 90 people have lost their eye sight or are suffering eye damage from the alcohol poisoning.
Hassanian also said the final tally of people who lost their eye sight could be much higher.
Iran is facing the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East with 5,806 deaths and more than 91,000 confirmed case.
Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It causes delayed organ and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and even coma.
In Iran, the government mandates that manufacturers of toxic methanol add an artificial color to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the kind of alcohol that can be used in cleaning wounds. Ethanol is found in alcoholic beverages, though its production is illegal in Iran.
Some bootleggers in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the added color before selling it as drinkable. Methanol also can contaminate traditionally fermented alcohol.
The consumption of alcohol is generally prohibited in Iran. However, minority Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians can drink alcoholic beverages in private.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, Iran's government announced it would issue permission for new alcohol factories quickly.
Iran has currently some 40 alcohol factory that have been allocated for pharmaceutical and sanitizing items.
Already before the outbreak, the Iranian economy was struggling under severe U.S. sanctions blocking the sale of its crude oil abroad.