Fake News Alert: Bananas, gargling with salt water won’t protect you from COVID-19, Sal

Salvador Panelo has gone bananas. Photo: Unsplash and screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang
Salvador Panelo has gone bananas. Photo: Unsplash and screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, a parallel contagion of fear and uncertainty has taken root, spreading like wildfire across social media and giving rise to scads of misinformation, and some people — including, it would appear, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo — really aren’t helping.

Yes, our old pal Sal has hopped aboard the Fake News Express, sharing some apparently false information today at his regular Malacañang Palace press conference, specifically about how people can supposedly prevent coming down with the coronavirus.

Panelo, who looked fearsome in his N95-grade face mask, gave two tips — eat lots of bananas, and gargle with salt water regularly — neither of which have been substantiated, and in the case of the saline gargle, have actually been repeatedly debunked.

Read: Cebu, Davao City under quarantine despite no confirmed cases, more cities follow suit

Panelo revealed that he gleaned the purported remedies from the internet (why are we not surprised?), saying in a mix of English and Filipino that he’d been doing a lot of reading on “how you can destroy, contain, or kill the virus.”

“I saw this on the internet: bananas can fight [the virus], and I eat bananas every day. Number two, I have made it a habit to gargle with salt water. When I have a little cold, I gargle.”

He said the gargling idea even got the thumbs up from Health Secretary Francisco Duque. “According to Dr. Duque, that’s fine, because the virus first stays in our throat. It becomes dangerous when it enters the lungs… But constantly we have to wash our hands.”

President Rodrigo Duterte’s mouthpiece didn’t mention where he got the bananas tip, but a scouring of the internet didn’t turn up a single reliable source saying the fruit can kill or curb COVID-19. (If it did, it would stand to reason there would be far fewer people contracting and dying of the disease.)

While one source, attributed to several medical doctors, did recommend eating bananas to ease coronavirus-related diarrhea (as any home remedy-loving auntie will attest), that advice pertained only to those who had already contracted the illness.

As for the saltwater tip, an article last week in the U.K.’s Express attributed a similar recent claim to a Chinese respiratory expert, and posts endorsing the method have been making the rounds on social media. However, the U.K.’s National Health Service (not to mention other, better-informed Chinese experts) has debunked the myth, saying: “There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with salt water protects you from coronavirus.”

Even Secretary Duque’s own colleague, Eric Domingo, the Department of Health’s spokesperson, said as early as January that there is no evidence to suggest the purported remedy works.

Read: 7 more dead of COVID-19, cases rise to 140 in the Philippines

“I don’t think there is any evidence that it will kill a virus,” Domingo said at the time.

So, since it apparently needs saying again: according to the World Health Organization, the best way to prevent getting COVID-19 is by frequently and thoroughly washing one’s hands, and practicing social distancing. (Watch the video below for other, real tips.)

As for you, Sal, maybe leave the medical advice to the pros.


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