A cook adds garnishing while preparing a "dosa" (pancake made of rice and lentil batter) at a stall at Bengaluru Aaharotsava, a three-day vegetarian food festival, in Bangalore, India, on October 18, 2019. (AFP / Manjunath Kiran)

Hoax circulates that ‘not a single vegetarian has contracted COVID-19 according to the WHO'

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Multiple Facebook and Twitter posts shared hundreds of times claim the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that no vegetarian has contracted the novel coronavirus. The claim is false; the WHO denied issuing the report; as of May 2020, health experts have said there is no scientific evidence to suggest that a vegetarian diet prevents infection from COVID-19.

The claim was made in a text graphic published on Facebook here on March 14, 2020.

The Hindi text translates to English as: “Not a single vegetarian has contracted coronavirus in the entire world: WHO Report. Amazing Sanatana Dharma. Hail Hindutva.”

Below is a screenshot of the misleading Facebook post:

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post

The terms “Sanatana Dharma” and “Hindutva” both refer to aspects of Hinduism, which promotes a vegetarian diet.

Similar claims were also shared on Facebook here, here, here and here; and on Twitter here, here, here and here.

However, the claim is false.

“The WHO has not made such a statement,” Supriya Bezbaruah, the WHO’s India representative, told AFP via WhatsAPP on May 2, 2020.

Dr. R.V. Asokan, the secretary general of the Indian Medical Association, also refuted the claim about vegetarians being protected against COVID-19.

“There is absolutely no truth in this claim. There is no medical evidence that non-vegetarian food is in any way related to covid death susceptibility,” he told AFP by phone on May 5, 2020.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged in early 2020, health experts have stressed that people should maintain a healthy diet to avoid a weakened immune system due to poor nutrition.

The WHO states here and here that meat, if properly prepared, can be consumed during the COVID-19 pandemic.