Hundreds dead after drinking methanol wrongly thinking it cures coronavirus

The Iranian military has set up a 2,000-bed hospital at an exhibition centre in the capital Tehran to shore up the local healthcare system as it battles the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

State TV said the new facility, which includes three units and several isolation wards, was set up in just 48 hours. It will be used for patients who are recovering from the Covid-19 illness caused by the virus.

Nearly 300 people are reported by the media to have been killed and more than 1,000 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.

An Iranian doctor helping the Health Ministry later said the problem was even greater, giving a death toll of around 480 with 2,850 people made ill. 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.

Dr Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo who studies methanol poisoning, fears Iran’s 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.

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‘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 coronavirus 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.

General Ali Jahanshahi, the army’s deputy coordinator, was quoted as saying the 200-bed hospital has been handed over to medical staff and will begin receiving patients next week.

Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with more than 2,200 deaths among nearly 30,000 confirmed cases.

Authorities have urged people to stay at home but have not imposed the sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere in the region.

Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control despite concerns it could overwhelm the country’s health facilities.

Iran has been under severe US sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew his country from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.

The US has offered humanitarian aid to Iran, but authorities have refused.

Earlier this week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, refused American aid and seized on a conspiracy theory that the United States created the virus, something for which there is no scientific evidence.

Israel has seen a surge in infections in recent days, reachings 3,035 confirmed cases and 10 deaths.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, reported seven more cases on Friday, for a total of 84.

Authorities in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Hamas militant group seized power in 2007, have reported nine cases.

Lebanon, which has reported 391 infections and seven deaths, is imposing a night-time curfew from Friday. The country of nearly five million has been under lockdown for two weeks, with only essential businesses allowed to remain open.

Another major areas of concern is Yemen, where the Houthis have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition for five years. The war has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced millions more and driven the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

A USAID spokesperson said it was suspending nearly 73 million dollars in aid ‘in the face of long-standing Houthi interference in humanitarian operations’. The Houthis control the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen, areas home to 70% of the country’s population.

The spokesperson said USAID will continue to provide life-saving assistance in areas at risk of famine. It will also support UN flights, water and sanitation programmes which are essential to preventing the spread of the virus. It will also continue providing aid in southern Yemen.

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