Oli continues to downplay Covid-19 and propagate home remedies, earning ridicule on social media

Ordinary citizens have been arrested for spreading misinformation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic but the man who occupies the highest elected position in the country continues his long-standing habit of using his bully pulpit to downplay the threat of the coronavirus and peddle dubious cures that have no medical standing.

On Thursday, while addressing the National Assembly, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that there was no need to panic, emphasising once again the importance of strong willpower and a positive mindset.

[Read: Stop peddling pseudoscience]

“Corona is like the flu,” Oli said. “If contracted, one should sneeze, drink hot water and drive the virus away.”

Video clips from his address soon went viral on social media where Oli was roundly criticised for trivialising Covid-19, a disease that has brought the entire world to its knees, and for spreading misinformation at a time of crisis.

Prasiddhi Shrestha, Nepal’s second Covid-19 patient, took to social media to point out just how misleading the prime minister’s remarks were.

“As someone who experienced Covid-19 and its symptoms, I have got to say that the disease is NOT like a general flu,” wrote Shrestha on Twitter. “Patients run out of breath, energy, appetite and motivation. Please don’t disregard a patient’s pain for the sake of your entertainment. Enough with this nonsense.”

Earlier in April, Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organisation, had said that Covid-19 was 10 times deadlier than the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic.

“We know that Covid-19 spreads fast, and we know that it is deadly – 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic,” he said. “We can’t treat Covid-19 exactly the same way as we treat the flu because the coronavirus which causes Covid-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity.

“There are similarities between influenza and Covid-19 as both cause respiratory disease,” says the World Health Organisation, “However, there are important differences between the two viruses and how they spread.”

Even as Covid-19 cases continue to rise exponentially, reaching 7,848 as of Thursday evening, Oli has been unrelenting in downplaying the crisis and continuing to assert home remedies like garlic, ginger and turmeric to combat the disease.

Appearing before Parliament on June 10 to respond to questions from lawmakers, he stated that Nepalis have “stronger immune systems” and refused to furnish details of the Rs10 billion spent fighting Covid-19.

Oli went on to say that a majority of Nepalis breathe fresh air and have ginger, garlic and turmeric as integral parts of their daily diet.

“Those who eat such medicines every day definitely have better immunity,” said Oli.

Oli is not wholly wrong but his statement is a mischaracterisation. Although ginger, garlic and turmeric are known to have vitamins and antioxidants that can help boost the immune system, there is no scientific evidence that links their consumption with resistance to Covid-19.

Earlier, in an address to the nation on May 25, Oli had said that Nepalis would beat Covid-19 with “strong willpower and immunity”.

“It’s not the PM who is to blame here. It’s the people who encourage him and defend his stupidity for the sake of power, money or efficacy,” said a Twitter user. “ Should it last long, he definitely will drive the nation to ditches for sure. Protest against the PM’s hoax to continue fooling people.”