The government of Ecuador has imposed a nationwide 72-hour ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol after receiving reports that 21 people had died from poisoning after consuming adulterated alcohol.

This morning, Ecuador’s Minstry of Health reported on Twitter that another person had died from alcohol poisoning, but did not say where. Another 105 people are receiving treatment for alcohol poisoning, according to a report in Ecuador’s independent daily newspaper El Comercio.

The majority of deaths, 19 in all, have been in the province of Los Ríos, which lies some 200 km southwest of the capital, Quito, and where a dry law was brought in over the weekend.

According to BBC News, Los Ríos is also where the police seized 28 containers, some of which contained methanol, a toxic alcohol.

The other two deaths occurred in Tungurahua and Azuay provinces, which are both south of the capital. Until Sunday, the provinces of Pichincha and Domingo de los Tsáchilas had also reported cases but no deaths.

The Committee for National Emergency Operations announced on Sunday that the ban was being extended to the rest of the country and imposed a state of exception. There have been reports of bootleg liquor being found in other provinces.

The reason for the ban is to prevent more deaths and cases of poisoning, said the authorities.

Ecuador’s Minister for Health, David Chiriboga, together with Homero Arellano, Minister for Security, and Janeth Sánchez, Minister for Social Development, and other government officers, announced the decision to the press.

They said the “state of exception” will enable public, armed and police forces to move and act quickly to help officials from the Health Ministry carry out various necessary prevention, surveillance and control tasks. However, they were clear that the rights of citizens to associate freely, meet and express themselves are still in place.

There will be particular emphasis on prohibiting the consumption of drinks known as “puntas”, a type of artisan “aguardiente”, made from from sugarcane in small and home-made distilleries all over the country.

Chiriboga said they still don’t know the source of the adulterated licquor, which was consumed in various parts of the province of Los Ríos, and where until now the majority of deaths have occurred. There will be an evaluation once a number of measures have been put in place, reports El Comercio.

Sources: El Comercio (Ecuador), BBC News.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD