Health experts warn using water in an ablution ritual alone cannot kill the novel coronavirus

Multiple media reports and social media posts claim that water used in an Islamic ablution ritual can kill the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The claim is false; health experts warn that water alone cannot kill the virus and recommend that people wash their hands with soap and water for effective protection.

This report by Gosulsel.com published on January 27, 2020 cites a doctor who claims Islamic ablution water can destroy coronavirus.

Below is a screenshot of the misleading report:

Screenshot of a misleading report

The report’s Indonesian language headline translates to English as: “Dr Luthfi Parewangi Says Wudhu Can Destroy Coronavirus”.

Wudhu, or wudu, is an Islamic ablution ritual required before performing certain acts particularly worship. The practice is performed using plain water; the steps on how to perform it can be read here.

Part of the report translates to English as: “In response to that matter, an internist in Makassar, Dr. dr Luthfi Parewangi, SpPD, said that Indonesian people do not have to worry about the virus.

“In his opinion, Indonesia is a country with abundance of water. He explained that coronavirus will be destroyed with water. One thing that can be done, particularly by Muslims, is to maintain ablution.”

Similar claims citing the same doctor were also published in other reports, including by Koran Seruya and Asianmuslim.com, and in Facebook posts here, here and here. Posts on Twitter here, here and here also shared a link to a report that contained a similar claim.

However, the claim is false.

“There has not been any scientific evidence to suggest that coronavirus can be killed with plain water,” Dr Dirga Sakti Rambe, an internist and vaccinologist with OMNI Pulomas Hospital in Jakarta, told AFP via WhatsApp on March 11, 2020.

Similarly, the World Health Organization's (WHO) representative in Indonesia told AFP by email on March 12, 2020, that “in order to kill the virus, WHO recommends that you wash your hands with soap and water or clean them regularly with an alcohol-based hand rub.”

The agency also recommends that people “clean surfaces regularly with disinfectant -- for example kitchen benches and work desks.”

The same hand washing recommendation is also published on the WHO's official prevention guidelines here

Below is a screenshot guidelines:

Screenshot of WHO’s guidelines

Moreover, the Indonesian Health Ministry also tweeted a video about how to prevent the coronavirus infection, which includes “washing hands with soap and flowing water”. 

The ministry also advises mosques to “maintain hygiene at ablution areas and toilets with disinfectant”.

The coronavirus has infected more than 191,000 people and killed more than 7,800 worldwide since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, according to this WHO report on March 18, 2020.