The Czech government banned hard liquor sales by street kiosks and market stalls after 15 people died and 24 people have been hospitalized from drinking bootleg vodka and rum laced with toxic methanol in the country's worst case of alcohol-related deaths in decades.
Czech officials announced the emergency measure Wednesday as the death toll from methanol, a toxic substance used to stretch alcohol on the back market, mounted.
Authorities have imposed the ban indefinitely on market and street kiosks, which are licensed to sell hard liquor. Street vendors are common in some Czech towns and frequently sell vodka, rum and whisky in tiny plastic cups as well as snacks and foods.
The government said that kiosks and markets are prohibited from selling liquor with more than 30 percent alcohol content. When authorities raided outlets nationwide, they found 70 cases of illegal alcohol at 410 sites.
Prime Minister Petr Necas said that all Czechs should refrain from drinking "any alcohol whose origin is uncertain" but authorities still feared the death toll will rise further, according to the Associated Press.
Eight of the 15 confirmed deaths occurred in the Moravian-Silesian region near the border with Poland where unemployment is about 50 percent higher than the national average of 8.3 percent. At least 24 people have been hospitalized, police spokeswoman Stepanka Zatloukalova said, according to Reuters.
Police have arrested a 36-year-old on suspicion of distributing bootlegged liquor in the Moravian-Silesian region, where the first deaths happened over the weekend, and another man was also arrested in a neighboring region of Zlin.