US President Donald Trump has pondered whether COVID-19 could be treated with “very powerful light”, heat or injections of disinfectant.
Mr Trump’s suggestions on Thursday (local time) that medical doctors examine ways light, heat or disinfectant could treat the virus followed a presentation by William Bryan, the Department of Homeland Security’s undersecretary for science and technology, during a White House coronavirus news briefing.
“I hope people enjoy the sun, and if it has an impact that’s great,” Trump said.
“I once mentioned that maybe it does go away with heat and light. And people didn’t like that statement that much.”
Mr Bryan said Homeland Security’s bio-defence analysis showed that “increased temperature, humidity and sunlight are detrimental” to COVID-19 in saliva droplets on surfaces and in the air.
Mr Bryan said the data could “support decision-making to lower the risks” of spreading the virus, perhaps by increasing temperatures or sunlight in certain spaces.
“Our most striking observation to date is the powerful effect that solar light appears to have on killing the virus, both surfaces and in the air,” he said.
Mr Bryan noted that heat and humidity were simply “another tool” in the fight to decrease transmission of the disease under certain conditions. He did not recommend sun or heat as an actual treatment for the pandemic.
However, the President went further, inquiring about potential treatments connected to light, heat and disinfectant.
“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous … whether it’s ultraviolet or very powerful light … and I think you said we’re going to test it,” Mr Trump said, looking toward Mr Bryan.
“Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do, either through the skin or some other way … and I think you said you’re going to test that, too. That sounds interesting.”
Mr Trump has already come under fire for long advocating a malaria drug unproven to be effective as a treatment for COVID-19,
He noted that he previously suggested that “maybe [coronavirus] goes away with heat and light. The fake news didn’t like it at all. But it seems like that’s the case.”
But when Mr Trump asked Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, about “the heat and the light” as potential treatments, she responded “not as a treatment”.
When a reporter asked Mr Trump if he should recommend people get lots of sunlight amid stay-at-home orders and when coronavirus cases in places such as Florida are spiking, he responded: “I’m the President. And you’re fake news. It’s just a suggestion from a brilliant lab. He’s talking about the sun. He’s talking about heat. We want ideas.”
Later, a range of American medical experts slammed Mr Trump’s suggestions.
“This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible, and it’s dangerous,” pulmonologist and global health policy expert Dr Vin Gupta told NBC News.
“It’s a common method that people utilise when they want to kill themselves.”
The US President’s musings come as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the COVID-19 pandemic showed the need to overhaul the World Health Organisation. Washington might never restore WHO funding and could even work to set up an alternative to the UN body instead, he said.
As Mr Pompeo launched fresh attacks on the WHO, Democrats in the US House of Representatives accused the Trump administration of attempting to “scapegoat” the institution to distract from its own handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to Mr Trump, they called for the immediate restoration of US funding, which the President suspended last week after accusing the organisation of being “China-centric” and of promoting China’s “disinformation” about the outbreak.
We strongly believe that #China didn’t report the outbreak of the new #coronavirus in a timely fashion to the @WHO. Even after the CCP did notify the WHO of the coronavirus outbreak, China didn’t share all of the information it had. pic.twitter.com/D0tz1nbJRZ
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) April 23, 2020
Mr Pompeo told Fox News late on Wednesday (local time) there needed to be “a structural fix of the WHO” to correct its “shortcomings”.
Asked if he was urging a change in leadership of the WHO, Mr Pompeo replied: “Even more than that, it may be the case that the United States can never return to underwriting, having US taxpayer dollars go to the WHO.”