A bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine sit on a counter at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020. (AFP / George Frey)

Korean social media posts falsely claim that hydroxychloroquine cures Covid-19 after South Korea sees surge in confirmed cases

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Multiple posts shared repeatedly on Facebook in Korean language claim the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine cures Covid-19. The posts, which began circulating in December 2020, downplay the seriousness of contracting the virus despite a surge in confirmed cases in South Korea. The claim is false: the Korean Pharmacists for Democratic Society told AFP that hydroxychloroquine cannot cure Covid-19. As of January 5, 2021, multiple international studies have found the antimalarial drug to be ineffective against the virus.

The claim was shared here on Facebook on December 20, 2020.

A screenshot of misleading post on Facebook. Captured on January 4, 2021

Part of Korean post translates to English as: “Covid-19 is not scary anymore. Before you develop fever, when you start feeling rough, take fever reducer and cold medicine at the same time.

“The name of the cold medicine is hydroxychloroquine. You can buy them at a pharmacy.

“Brazilian President was tested negative after taking this medicine.”

As of January 5, 2021, South Korea had recorded 64,979 cases of Covid-19 and 1,007 deaths. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has surged since mid-December, as reported here by AFP. 

The claim was also shared on Facebook here, here, here and here.

A medical staff member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a visitor to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a temporary testing station outside the City Hall in Seoul on December 28, 2020. (AFP / Jung Yeon-je)

The claim is false. 

In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, hydroxychloroquine was touted as a possible medication that could prevent or cure Covid-19. Multiple studies, however, later showed no major benefits of using hydroxychloroquine, as AFP reported here on May 22, 2020. 

The US Food and Drug Administration authorised the use of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment in spring 2020 but revoked its decision in June, saying the drug is “unlikely to be effective” against the disease.

Separately, the results from a UK government-funded study called RECOVERY showed that hydroxychloroquine had no benefit for patients hospitalised with Covid-19.

“Today’s preliminary results from the RECOVERY trial are quite clear – hydroxychloroquine does not reduce the risk of death among hospitalized patients with this new disease,” University of Oxford epidemiologist Martin Landray, one of the study’s leaders, said in a statement published here on June 5, 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in June 2020 that it was dropping hydroxychloroquine from its study on Covid-19 treatments after data indicated the drug was not effective.

Lee Dong-geun, director of the Korean Pharmacists for Democratic Society, told AFP that hydroxychloroquine is a medication used to prevent and treat malaria, not to cure Covid-19.

“Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription drug in South Korea," he said during a phone interview on January 4, 2021. "People must strictly follow professional medical guidance when taking this drug as it could cause cardiovascular side effects."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claimed he took hydroxychloroquine after he was infected with Covid-19. He has promoted the drug as a treatment for the virus despite numerous studies finding it has no benefit for infected patients, as stated in this AFP report.