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Alcohol-based hand sanitizer and soap are the most effective options for disinfecting skin, according to the WHO. Photo: AFP

ExplainerDrinking alcohol kills coronavirus? Another one for the WHO myth-busters list

  • Misinformation has spread around the world about effective protection from the virus that causes Covid-19
  • The World Health Organisation offers answers to some of the most common queries about what works and what doesn’t

“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” is the quote attributed to satirist Jonathan Swift in the 1700s, though the adage has since been reworked into: “A lie travels twice around the world before the truth has tied its shoelaces” and other variants.

The World Health Organization (WHO) perhaps took note of the proverb in putting together what it called its myth-busters list for the coronavirus pandemic. Here are 10 responses compiled by the WHO to top queries on Google about Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Most people who contract Covid-19 recover

The majority of people who get the disease develop mild or moderate symptoms and then recover. The WHO does advise anyone who develops a cough, fever or difficulty breathing to seek early medical care. It adds that for those who develop a fever and live in areas known for malaria and dengue to seek immediate medical care.


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Drinking alcohol doesn’t kill the coronavirus inside your body

Because washing hands with hydroalcoholic gel is recommended as a protection against the virus, it seems some people got the idea that drinking alcohol can kill the virus, which isn’t the case, according to Dr Hanan Balkhy, a WHO adviser and paediatric infectious disease specialist. “The virus is not sensitive to the alcohol we drink,” she said. “[In addition,] the alcohol in the hydroalcoholic gel is much more concentrated, and this is certainly not something you can drink, otherwise it will have serious side effects,” she said in a video on the WHO’s myth-buster website.

5G mobile telecommunications networks do not spread the coronavirus

Sars-CoV-2, the formal name for the pathogen that causes Covid-19, is a virus and viruses do not travel on radio waves or mobile phone networks. The virus is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose. The WHO points out that countries without any 5G infrastructure have had Covid-19 outbreaks.

Countries without any 5G infrastructure have had Covid-19 outbreaks. Photo: AFP

Exposure to the sun does not offer protection from the coronavirus

Although sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, which helps support the body’s immune system, there is no evidence that sunlight kills the coronavirus. “Some countries with hot climates have had outbreaks, but similarly countries with a cold climate also have outbreaks,” said Dr Sylvie Briand, director of the WHO’s pandemic and epidemic diseases department.

The WHO also advises people not to use ultraviolet lamps to disinfect hands or other parts of the skin because it can cause skin irritation. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer and soap are the most effective options, according to the WHO.

Cold weather and snow doesn’t kill the coronavirus

Cold temperatures have no effect on curbing the spread of viruses and do not kill the Covid-19 virus, according to the WHO. Rain and snow may dilute traces of the virus on objects, but the virus is mainly spread directly between people.

However, colder weather might lead to higher infection rates because more people gather indoors in places that can be poorly ventilated and crowded, according to Briand.

People should not wear surgical masks when exercising

The WHO advises people not to wear masks when exercising, as the coverings may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. However, recent research from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada shows that wearing surgical or cloth face masks has no effect on vigorous exercise performance in healthy, young individuals. The WHO stresses that the key preventive measure during exercise is to maintain a distance of at least one metre from other people.

The WHO advises people not to wear masks when exercising, as the coverings may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. Photo: AFP

The coronavirus is unlikely to be spread from clothes and shoes

The virus causing Covid-19 can spread when infected people sneeze, cough on, or touch surfaces and objects such as tables and handrails. Other people may become infected after touching these contaminated surfaces, followed by touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

The WHO says that although the coronavirus may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, the rate of transmission from such surfaces is low.

The survival time of the virus also varies by types of surface. A Chinese study suggests the virus is more stable on smooth surfaces like plastic and stainless steel, where it remained viable for seven days at room temperature in a laboratory setting. As for cotton clothes, no infectious virus could be detected after four days.

But the WHO does advise people to consider leaving their shoes at the entrance of their home, particularly in places where infants and small children crawl on floors, as a precautionary measure.

Thermal scanners cannot detect Covid-19

Having a body temperature higher than normal is an indicator of a possible fever, not a diagnosis of Covid-19. However, as a fever is a known symptom of Covid-19, people should seek prompt medical advice if they have a fever.


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Antibiotics cannot treat Covid-19 because it is caused by a virus, not a bacteria

Sars-CoV-2 is from a family of viruses called Coronaviridae. Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. “Patients should only be receiving antibiotics if they are significantly ill, where the health provider is suspicious of – on top of the Covid-19 – the patient having a bacterial infection,” Balkhy said.

The risk of being infected by touching coins, banknotes or credit cards and other objects is very low

An Australian study in October revealed that when kept at room temperature and in the dark, the coronavirus can survive for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as plastic, glass on mobile phone screens, and paper banknotes. However, the study was done in controlled laboratory conditions and the WHO says the risk of infection from such objects is very low.

The WHO says the most effective protection is good hygiene and frequent cleaning of hands with sanitizer or with soap and water.