Mexico: Alcohol ban takes high death toll

More than 120 people in at least four states in Mexico have died after drinking tainted alcohol over the past month in a string of mass poisonings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Liquor sales have been banned in some states and municipalities since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to discourage people from gathering in groups or having parties, activities that could further spread the virus. Furthermore, breweries have been declared as non-essential, forcing them to shut down production. As a consequence, stocks of beer have been depleted and the country is running dry. The shortage has even prompted people to smuggle beer into the country from neighboring countries like the United States (, 5.5.2020).

Another consequence of the alcohol ban is a rampant black market for bootleg alcohol. This alcohol is either produced under unregulated conditions or is unlawfully adulterated. The adulterated alcohol is often served in nightclubs and tourist spots with all-you-can-drink promotions.

Refino as the cheap moonshine made from sugarcane is also known has been around for years as a cheap alternative for poor people’s booze but the higher demand has provoked an even higher production of illegal and often tainted alcohol. “We presume that because of a shortage and a very high demand, some people are trying to sell methanol,” said Denis Santiago Hernández, Director of Sanitary Risks in western Jalisco state.

The high death toll from illegal alcohol has prompted speculations about an early return to normalcy with breweries allowed to produce and sell beer again and restaurants to open. The government has already outlined plans to reopen its economy in steps, starting on 18 May in municipalities without serious Covid-19 contagion and 1 June most other parts of the country.

Other countries with COVID-19 induced alcohol bans have seen similar occurrences. Two weeks ago, a couple from South Africa died after drinking home brewed beer which was apparently also adulterated (, 8.5.2020).

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