Dubai: Nearly 300 people are reported to have been killed and more than 1000 have become ill after ingesting toxic methanol across Iran amid rumours it can help cure coronavirus.
In the Islamic Republic, drinking alcohol is banned, and those who do drink rely on bootleggers.
Firefighters disinfect a square against the new coronavirus in western Tehran, Iran.Credit:AP
Stories about fake remedies for coronavirus have spread across social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.
The news comes as authorities announced another 144 deaths from the coronavirus on Friday and said thousands more were in critical condition as the military completed work on a 2000-bed field hospital in an exhibition centre in the capital, Riyadh.
Iran has reported nearly 2400 deaths among more than 32,000 cases, the highest numbers in the Middle East. Officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control despite concerns it could overwhelm health facilities.
Dr Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo who studies methanol poisoning, fears the outbreak could be even worse than reported.
"The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around," he said. "When they keep drinking this, there's going to be more people poisoned."
Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the virus with whisky and honey, based on a tabloid story from early in February. Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, some people wrongly believed drinking high-proof alcohol would kill the virus in their bodies.
Fear of the virus, coupled with poor education standards and internet rumours, saw dozens of people made ill by drinking bootleg alcohol containing methanol in the south-western Khuzestan province, the southern city of Shiraz and in Karaj and Yazd.
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