(CBS NEWS)– The death toll from alcohol poisoning in Iran rose to 44 Tuesday, state news agency IRNA reported, over misguided efforts to ward off the new coronavirus by drinking bootleg alcohol. The outbreak of the virus in the Islamic republic is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the disease originated.
The highest poisoning toll struck in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, where it grew by 16 to reach 36 on Tuesday, the agency said. They had “drank bootleg alcohol over rumors that it would be effective in treating coronavirus and were poisoned”, it added.
The poisoning toll in Khuzestan is higher than its 18 direct deaths from coronavirus, according to IRNA. Seven more people have died from bootleg alcohol in the northern region of Alborz and one in Kermanshah, western Iran.
Alcohol is banned in Iran for everyone except some non-Muslim minorities, but local media regularly report on lethal cases of poisoning from bootleg liquor.
Iran has scrambled to try to contain the spread of COVID-19 which has hit all of its 31 provinces, killing 291 people and infecting more than 8,000.