Substitute goods are those goods that can be replaced with something similar. For example, bread and chapati. But now in a bizarre turn of events in Andhra Pradesh, at least 36 people (updated number reported by The Times of India) have died after consuming sanitizer as a replacement for alcohol.
Cases have been reported in West Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Prakasam, Vijayawada, and Kadapa. Various liquor outlets had been shut in the state in the wake of a surge in cases as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, which led people to look for a substitute for alcohol.
Some tipplers, most of them laborers, initially tried sanitizer mixed with soft drink or water. At least 20 persons in Prakasam district consumed hand sanitizer one after another in the last 10 days, said Darsi Deputy Superintendent of Police K. Prakasa Rao to The Indian Express. The police have seized some stock of sanitizers from some shops while those with medical shops would be examined for chemical contents. Apart from the post-mortem report, they have also sought a toxicology report to ascertain what exactly happened.
One of the affected persons said they had got addicted to liquor which had gone out of their reach ever since the lockdown was imposed. Hence, they went for the cheap and easily available hand sanitizer, he said.
While seven persons died Friday morning, three died over the past two days at Darsi Government Hospital where they were admitted after complaints of severe stomach ache and vomiting.
The police said the deceased had been gathering behind a temple in the town to consume sanitizers, either mixed with water or soft drinks for the past 8-10 days. On Wednesday night, one P Srinu complained of severe stomach ache and collapsed. He was rushed to the Darsi Government Hospital where he told police, who were investigating the death of a beggar from the previous night, that he and others were consuming sanitizer for several days. On Thursday night, two others collapsed and died shortly after being brought to the hospital. Srinu also died Thursday night. On Friday morning, seven persons succumbed at the hospital.
Of the deceased, four of them have tested positive for Covid-19. “In view of the tragedy in Kurichedu, a sanitization drive has been taken up in the village and medical teams are raising awareness on the impact of consuming sanitizer. A house-to-house survey is being conducted to find if people are suffering from symptoms of COVID-19,” District Medical and Health Officer Dr. K Padmavathi said. “We have identified 20 people who consumed sanitizer, and shifted them to the Ongole GGH as a preventive measure,” he added.
Drugs Control Administration is checking the brands of sanitizer and the stock available at shops in Kurichedu. “There are nine medical stores, and all sell the same brand of sanitizer. We found that there was no clarity on the stock of sanitizer, and have seized all bottles of that brand,” T Venkata Krishna, Drug Inspector, Markapur, said. Samples of the sanitizer will be sent to Vijayawada.
Darsi MLA M Venugopal said to NDTV, “Owing to the reduction in the number of alcohol shops as per government policy and closure of some shops due to the Covid-19 situation and containment zones, liquor is not available. Some people, including several beggars, purchased sanitizers and consumed it. While some fell ill and passed away, a few have been moved to the hospital where they are recovering. We are appealing to people to join rehabilitation centers,” said Venugopal, who visited the families of some of the victims, today.
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has sought a report from police and district collector. Deputy SP Prakash Rao said that initially, police thought they had consumed illegally brewed liquor.