Jakarta: Indonesian scientists on Wednesday debunked claims by agriculture minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo last week that a necklace made from eucalyptus can prevent the transmission of coronavirus. There were concerns that such claims could be highly misleading in a country struggling with a high COVID-19 fatality rate.
Berry Juliandi, a biologist from Bogor Agricultural University and a member of Indonesia Young Scientists Forum, told Arab News on Wednesday that there could be a miscommunication between Limpo and his staff at the ministry’s health research and development agency, which has been conducting the research since the COVID-19 outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in March this year.
“This miscommunication, however, is dangerous and unjustifiable, with such claims coming from a cabinet minister, especially since this is about public health and people’s lives,” Juliandi said.
He added that this could mislead the public into believing that they can avoid contracting the virus by wearing the lanyard which has an “anti-coronavirus” label inscribed on top of a photo of a eucalyptus leaf, on a perforated tag with the plant’s essence on it, which the wearer can use to inhale the aroma from.
Limpo first made the claims during a press conference on Friday when he told journalists that the lanyard he was wearing contained an “antivirus” element made from the eucalyptus plant which could “kill” 80 percent of the virus if worn for 30 minutes.
He said it had been developed by the agriculture ministry, along with roll-ons and a mini-inhaler, and would be mass-produced in August.
However, on Monday, the head of the ministry’s research and development agency, Fadjry Djufry, withdrew Limpo’s claim following intense public mockery of the product over the weekend.
“We do not claim that it can kill COVID-19 as we did not test it on SARS-CoV-2, but we tested it on other coronavirus models such as the alpha, beta, or gamma coronaviruses,” Djufry said.
Limpo was seen wearing the necklace during a hearing with lawmakers on Tuesday, but stopped short of responding to journalists’ questions about the product.
Acknowledging the fact that the eucalyptus products are neither an oral medicine nor a vaccine for COVID-19 –the National Agency for Drug and Food Control, where the products are registered for a patent, classifies them as herbal products – Djufry said that early research suggested that its essence could be developed as a potential remedy to inhibit the coronavirus.
"However, to say that the products can curb the virus from replicating in the respiratory tract is still a misleading claim since it has not undergone any clinical trials," Juliandi said, before appreciating the ministry scientists’ efforts to mitigate the pandemic.
As of Wednesday, Indonesia had reported 68,079 cases with 3,359 fatalities.
The new confirmed cases have consistently numbered more than 1,000 per day since mid-June. At the same time, the East Java province, the second-most populated province in Indonesia, has emerged as the new COVID-19 center, taking over the capital Jakarta.
“Our national fatality rate stands at 5 percent. This is higher than the global average of 4.72 percent,” a spokesman for the COVID-19 national task force, Achmad Yurianto, said on Sunday.