Bootleg alcohol is believed to have killed at least 33 people, mainly poor migrant workers, in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur over the last week. Health officials were alerted when hospitals around the city started seeing a sudden influx of people with symptoms of poisoning on Sept. 18. The death of a factory worker was reported by his employer around 7 p.m. on Sept. 17, police reported. Two more deaths followed in quick succession that night. The first victim, Nepali Gole Aaite Singh, was a worker at a plastics factory, according to a report
in The Star
newspaper. According to his wife Dolmo Maya, he had returned home from work as usual and said he had consumed a few drinks. She said she didn't notice anything unusual with him the next morning when she left for work. Around 2 p.m., she received a call from her husband complaining of shortness of breath. He was taken to a government hospital where he died a short time later. "It all happened so fast. We reached the hospital and within 15 minutes I was informed he was gone," said Maya, who has three children aged 10, 15 and 17. Health officials said they had received notice of 76 poisoning cases, with most victims from Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and India. National Health Department chief Noor Hisham Abdullah said all the victims displayed the symptoms of methanol poisoning
including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and blurred vision, while some also experienced breathing difficulties, seizures and loss of consciousness. Several remain in critical condition, though some have been discharged, he said. With many small stores in poorer neighborhoods stocking cheap brands of alcohol, the number of cases may increase, he warned. Police have arrested several people and local authorities have ordered the closure of dozens of stores known to stock cheap alcoholic drinks and frequented by factory workers. A family member of one of the deceased described how the man had complained he could not see and had breathing difficulties hours after he had a few drinks after work. Cheap, homemade liquor is popular among poor migrant workers in Malaysia, which has high taxes on alcohol. Contraband and counterfeit versions of popular brands of beer are openly sold at restaurants around the country. The last instance of mass poisoning and fatalities from bootleg alcohol in Malaysia was in the late 1970s.
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In Indonesia in April, 86 people were killed
after drinking methanol-laced alcohol in brand-name bottles.