Indonesian health minister touts possible placebo effect in controversial eucalyptus ‘antivirus necklace’

Eucalyptus-based necklace said to be able to ward off the coronavirus, developed by the Indonesian Agriculture Ministry. Photo: Agriculture Ministry
Eucalyptus-based necklace said to be able to ward off the coronavirus, developed by the Indonesian Agriculture Ministry. Photo: Agriculture Ministry

Indonesia’s health minister, AKA the man who said prayer was keeping the coronavirus away from Indonesia when the country had zero official cases, is now defending a controversial pseudoscientific “cure” developed by the government.

First, let’s get the hang of the issue: late last week, the Agriculture Ministry said it plans to release an “antivirus necklace” that can supposedly prevent COVID-19 transmission. The necklace, which contains the plant eucalyptus sealed inside a small, flat plastic packaging, is said to be able to kill 80 percent of SARS-CoV-2 if worn for 30 minutes.

Whether the eucalyptus forms some sort of invisible coronavirus shield around one’s head or if it shoots invisible antivirus missiles at approaching coronaviruses is open to interpretation.

The necklace, which is slated for mass production next month, deservedly drew massive criticism and ridicule from experts and the wider public. Yet Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto defended the product yesterday.

“Regarding the necklace, I haven’t thoroughly studied it,” Terawan said. 

If he were indeed a man of science, as should be a non-negotiable requisite for his post, he should’ve stopped there. But he didn’t.

“But what is the most important is if believing in [the necklace] raises one’s psychological mentality, then one’s immune system is raised too,” he said, adding that people should still observe established health protocols to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19, such as wearing face masks and regular hand washing.

“If there are a lot of worries, then one’s immune system is compromised, so it’s important to have a healthy immune system in facing COVID-19.”

Tri Yunus Miko Wahyono, head of the epidemiology department at Universitas Indonesia (UI), offered an alternate take on the necklace.

“If people just wear [the necklace], but they neglect face masks, hand wash, physical distancing, maintaining health because they believe that the necklace can protect from COVID-19, then that’s dangerous,” he said.

Amid the widespread criticism, the Agriculture Ministry backtracked on their grand claims regarding the necklace, saying that they never explicitly said it was an antivirus (even though it’s clearly written as such on the necklace) and that it is actually just an aromatherapeutic necklace.

It remains to be seen if the necklace will go ahead for mass production next month.

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