At least eight people have died and hundreds were taken to hospitals in the Philippines after drinking coconut wine believed to contain high levels of methanol, authorities said on Monday.
The victims attended gatherings over the weekend in the town of Rizal in the Province of Laguna, southeast of Manila, and complained of stomach pains after drinking the wine, known locally as “lambanog”.
Nine victims were in a critical condition, Jose Jonas Del Rosario, spokesman for the capital’s Philippine General Hospital, told AFP news agency.
“We asked many of our doctors on holiday leave to report to work just to attend to the patients,” he said, adding that the need to treat large numbers who arrived with symptoms of alcohol poisoning meant other people were turned away.
In total, 300 victims were taken to hospitals. All drank the same brand of wine that had been bought in the area, police said.
Rizal town was put under a state of emergency on Monday following the incident, local media said.
The local government has imposed an immediate ban on the sale of the beverage lambanog, which is in high demand over the Christmas holidays.
“This is to ensure public safety,” Brigadier General Vicente Danao, a regional police director, said. “We do not want more people to … suffer the same fate.”
“We want to ensure that all the lambanog products are safe for consumption,” he added.
Much of the coconut wine on the market is manufactured by locals in backyard operations. The government had previously warned against selling unregistered alcoholic beverages.
Del Rosario, a doctor, said one of the byproducts of coconut wine fermentation is methanol, the ingestion of which can cause blindness and death. Some manufacturers keep the methanol in the drink because it means greater volume and more profit, he added.
Last year, more than 10 people died from drinking coconut wine, samples of which were found by the government regulator to have a high methanol content.