At least 42 people, most of them Christians celebrating Christmas, have died and dozens have fallen ill after drinking toxic alcohol in Pakistan, the Dawn newspaper has reported.

Police in eastern Punjab province took all alcohol sellers in the district of Toba Tek Singh, the site of the incident, into custody for questioning, Muhammad Shahbaz, a local police official, told DPA news agency.

The brew was consumed during festive celebrations in a Christian community, Shahbaz said. Five Muslims were among the dead.

Many of the victims had been drinking and dancing throughout Sunday and into Monday morning, when some of them fell ill and were taken to hospital, he said.

About 150 others were taken to clinics, dozens of them unconscious. Funerals have been held for 25 victims, Shahbaz said.

Suspect among the dead

The police official said that the individual who allegedly arranged for the alcohol at the Christmas festivities was among the dead, complicating police efforts to trace where the toxic beverage came from.

Deaths from tainted liquor, often home-brewed, occur periodically in Muslim-majority Pakistan, often around religious festivals.

In March, at least 40 people, mostly Hindus, died after drinking toxic liquor just days before Holi.

It is illegal for Muslims to buy or consume alcohol in the country, and minorities need permits to buy it in restricted quantities.

Christians make up about 1.6 percent of Pakistan's 190 million people, with most living in Punjab.

Source: News agencies