These photos show India’s annual cow dung festival in October 2019 -- weeks before the coronavirus outbreak

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Two photos have been shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter alongside a claim they show Indians bathing in cow dung to prevent themselves from becoming infected with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The claim is false; the photos show participants at an annual cow dung festival held in the southern region of India in October 2019, several weeks before COVID-19 was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The photos were published here on Facebook on March 3, 2020. The post has been shared more than 8,500 times.

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

The post’s Hindi caption translates to English as: “As soon as BJP’s Suman Haripriya made an announcement that cow dung can cure coronavirus, people immediately jumped in the piles of cow dung.”

Suman Haripriya is a politician in India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In this report by Uttar Pradesh-based news channel News 18, it states she claimed cow dung and cow urine could be an effective remedy for COVID-19 during a March 2 budget session at the state assembly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 8,800 people worldwide and infected almost 210,000 others, as reported here by AFP on March 19. 

The photos were also shared here, here and here on Facebook and here and here on Twitter, alongside a similar claim. 

The claim is false. 

A reverse image search on Google found this video published on the website for UK-based video agency Newsflare on October 30, 2019. 

The video description states, in part: “Cow dung from thousands of cattle in Thalavadi, Tamil Nadu and other surrounding villages, was piled up in heaps for people to grab handfuls and splat on one other. The villagers who described the festival as ‘Goraihabba’ say the absence of rainfall coinciding with the event celebration on the third day after Deepawalli, a Hindu religious festival.”

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and screenshots of the Newsflare video (R):

The annual festival was also reported by other local and international media, including Noida-based news site Indian Express and Indian news channel Republic TV.