US President Donald Trump’s inquiry over injecting people with disinfectants to guard against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) left medical experts and scientists across the world stunned on Friday, with many issuing warnings to not introduce bleach in the body in an attempt to kill SARS-CoV-2, which causes the infectious disease.

Bill Bryan, an undersecretary at the Homeland Security Department, told reporters during the White House’s daily task force briefing on Thursday that research showed bleach could kill the virus in saliva or respiratory fluids in five minutes and isopropyl alcohol could kill it even more quickly. The research also appeared to show that the virus was vulnerable to heat and humidity, with direct sunlight killing it quickly.

Speaking after Bryan, Trump said: “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it.”

“Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning,” he continued, and added: “So it would be interesting to check that.”

The remarks came on a day the US Food and Drug Administration cautioned against the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, touted by Trump, in Covid-19 patients outside of hospitals and clinical trials, citing risks of serious heart rhythm problems.

On Friday, death toll from the highly contagious Covid-19 crossed 50,000 in the US, which is now the epicentre of the pandemic. More than 3,300 fatalities were reported across the country over the last 24 hours.

Physicians and medical experts were aghast at the US President’s suggestions. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the US President’s taskforce, appeared to distance herself from the suggestion even as the briefing was still on.

“Deborah, have you ever heard of that?” the President asked Birx while responding to questions from reporters. “The heat and the light, relative to – certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?”

Birx responded: “Not as a treatment.” “I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But not as, I’ve not seen heat…”

Trump cut her off: “I think it’s a great thing to look at.”

Soon after the White House briefing, Reckitt Benckiser, parent company of the maker of Lysol and Dettol, said: “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”

The White House said that Trump’s comments were taken out of context. “President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasised again during yesterday’s briefing,” said White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany.

The US President has previously touted the use of the anti-malarial Hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 with little proof of its effectiveness.

After Trump’s latest remarks, Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told The Washington Post: “My concern is that people will die. People will think this is a good idea.” “This is not willy-nilly, off-the-cuff, maybe-this-will-work advice. This is dangerous.”

Stanford University’s Eugene Chu wrote on Twitter: “Clorox, Tide Pods, and Lysol (disinfectants) will kill the coronavirus. No question about it. But if you are infected, then the coronavirus is inside your cells. If you use any of those disinfectants to kill the coronavirus within your own cells, then you’ll die right along with the coronavirus.”

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