This photo was taken in May 2019, months before Covid-19 was detected in India

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A photo that shows Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and two other officials not wearing face masks has been shared in Facebook posts that claim they flouted Covid-19 rules as infections surged in the country in 2021. The claim is false; the photo was taken in May 2019, months before India recorded its first Covid-19 infection.

The photo was shared on May 7, 2021 in a Facebook group with more than 600,000 members.

It shows Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan sitting next to senior politicians Vijay Goel on the left and Jitendra Singh on the right. None of the men are wearing masks.

“Health Minister Resign! Despite the pandemic, these people are sitting very close without a mask. All of them should be prosecuted!” the photo’s Hindi-language caption reads.

Screenshot of Facebook post, taken on May 13, 2021

The photo was shared widely on Facebook, including here, here and here, as India faced a devastating wave of coronavirus cases.

The country’s Covid-19 death toll passed 250,000 on May 12, 2021, although experts say they believe the true number is far higher.

However, the claim is false: the photo shows an event that predates the pandemic by several months.

AFP ran a reverse image search and found a similar image in the archives of The Times of India, dated May 15, 2019.

The image is captioned: “Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Dr Harsh Vardhan, Vijay Goel, Nirmala Sitharaman and other takes part in a silent protest against the clashes that broke out during BJP president Amit Shah's road show in Kolkata; in New Delhi, on May 15, 2019.”

Similar to the photo in the misleading posts, the image published by The Times of India also shows Vardhan, Goel and Singh holding their fingers to their lips and bearing signs that read: “Save Bengal Save Democracy”.

India recorded its first case of Covid-19 on January 30, 2020.

Screenshot of The Times of India archives, taken on May 12, 2021

AFP published a similar photo here, also taken on May 15, 2019.

Supporters of the BJP, India’s ruling party gathered a day after clashes between followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an opposition leader that heightened tensions in the key Indian city of Kolkata, ahead of the final round of the country’s national election.

AFP has previously debunked false claims about old photos and videos circulating in India during the pandemic here and here.