BEIJING (Reuters) - Nineteen people died and 161 were hospitalised in a northern China city after drinking methyl alcohol-tainted cocktails during Lunar New Year merrymaking, local media said on Thursday. The poisonings were caused by a man in Shuozho city in northern Shanxi province who mixed methanol, a poisonous solvent derived from wood, to alcoholic drinks and sold them wholesale to a private retailer, the Economic Daily and Xinhua news agency said. The media said some suspects were arrested on suspicion of having made and sold the fatal drinks. The rash of poisonings began on January 26, two days before China rang in the "Year of the Tiger" in its traditional lunar calendar. Each litre (about one quart) of baijiu -- a fire clear liquor popular with peasants and workers -- was tainted with 361 grams (13 ounces) of methanol, a level which was 902 times the amount permitted by law, the media said. At least 142 people remained in hospital for treatment, but most were out of danger. Provincial medical teams had fanned out in the city and its suburbs to warn potential imbibers of the dangers and provide emergency check-ups.