PRAGUE - The Czech health minister has placed a total ban on the sale of liquor with over 20 percent alcohol, following 19 deaths attributed to methanol poisoning from bootleg spirits.
Friday's measure tightens up a ban on spirits with over 30 percent alcohol being sold by street vendors and market stalls, which was introduced on Wednesday.
"We have to toughen up this measure," health minister Leos Heger said on public television Friday,
Most of the deaths, in the country's worst wave of alcohol poisonings in three decades, were due to drinks bought in shops and restaurants, he said.
The first case of methanol poisoning in the capital Prague had also been discovered, he added.
In comments made later on the daily Dnes newspaper's website, Heger said the ban, which will cover all outlets including hotels and plane flights, could last for "some weeks".
Vendors ignoring the ban will be subject to hefty fines.
The head of the spirits producers and importers union, Petr Pavlik, criticized the move, saying it would encourage the black market.
The 19th victim was identified as a 66-year-old woman from Havirov in the northeastern region, which has been worst hit by the poisonings.
Twenty other people remained in hospital Friday, some of them blinded, some placed in artificial comas and others in critical condition.
Czech police have so far arrested 11 people in connection with the matter.
The Czech Republic has the world's second highest adult alcohol intake after Moldova, according to latest World Health Organization data.
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