Under pressure from the European Commission, the Czech Republic yesterday (20 September) banned hard liquor exports after more than 20 deaths were linked to bootleg vodka and rum sales from the country.
The Czech authorities are blaming bootleg spirits containing more than 20% alcohol that were tainted with the industrial chemical methanol. Authorities believe that some illegal home brews ended up in the mainstream distribution system.
The ban on hard liquor sales announced by Prime Minister Petr Ne?as does not apply to the country’s renowned beer.
More than 20 deaths in Central Europe have been blamed on alcohol poisoning and more than 30 people have been hospitalised. Slovakia and Poland had earlier banned imports of the hard liquor from the Czech Republic.
The alcoholic beverages were sold cheaply at markets and outdoor kiosks. Czech Health Minister Leoš Heger had already banned food and beverage businesses from selling liquor containing alcohol of 20% and more.
Commission spokesman Frédéric Vincent said the EU's executive had been following the situation in the Czech Republic for days and had been in daily contact with the Czech authorities on what to do.
"What we expect of the Czech authorities now is to align the domestic measures to the export scheme," Vincent said.
"So if bottles with above 20% alcohol are banned on the market in the Czech Republic, this should also be banned for exports, but this has to come from the Czech Republic as soon as possible," he added.
Since the first cases of alcohol poisoning were reported on 8 September in the Eastern part of the country, the police have been unable to determine the source. The police detained 30 people in connection with the sales.
Jan Veselý, the executive director of the Czech Beer and Malt Association, said that so far Czech consumers were not holding back.
"We, Czech brewers, are not hit by it in any way. Basically we don't see any changes in the market. We are untouched," Veselý told EurActiv.
The Czech Republic's Health Ministry was unavailable for a comment.