Donald Trump claimed his suggestion cleaning products should be tested as a coronavirus treatment was a sarcastic comment intended to provoke reporters, insisting he knew disinfectants should only be used to sanitise skin.
“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Mr Trump said from the Oval Office on Friday. “[Disinfectant] does kill it, and it would kill it on the hands, and it would make it much better.”
The attempt to deflect criticism came after the US president sparked consternation among makers of household cleaners and the medical community by publicly asking his scientific advisers to test the idea of a disinfectant “injection” or irradiating the body with ultraviolet light to treat coronavirus.
Although Mr Trump claimed on Friday that the remark was aimed at reporters, at Thursday’s White House briefing he turned to address members of his coronavirus task force, who had been discussing a government study that showed sunlight and disinfectant kill the virus outside the body.
“I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute,” Mr Trump said on Thursday. “One minute! And is there a way we can do something by an injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs . . . so it’d be interesting to check that.”
Disinfectants can be poisonous when swallowed. Reckitt Benckiser, the UK maker of household cleaning products like Lysol, issued a statement on Friday saying “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route)”.
The Clorox Company issued a similar statement, warning “bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstances”.
Doctors also condemned Mr Trump’s comments. Dr Vin Gupta, a lung specialist, told NBC News: “This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it’s dangerous. It’s a common method that people utilise when they want to kill themselves.”
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “There could be quite serious adverse consequences from what Mr Trump said. Disinfectants are meant to kill outside the body.”
John Balmes, a pulmonologist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Bloomberg: “The airway and lungs are not made to be exposed to even an aerosol of disinfectant.”
“Not even a low dilution of bleach or isopropyl alcohol is safe,” said Dr Balmes. “It’s a totally ridiculous concept.”
Dr Deborah Birx, head of Mr Trump’s Covid-19 task force, had looked on as the president made his remarks at a White House press briefing, after hearing evidence of the way the virus behaves outside the body at different temperatures, climates and surfaces.
Later in the briefing he asked Dr Birx if she had heard of sunlight treating viral disease. “Not as a treatment,” Dr. Birx replied. “I mean, certainly, fever is a good thing when you have a fever. It helps your body respond. But not as….”
“I think that’s a great thing to look at,” Mr Trump interrupted.
The president has previously infuriated the medical community by extolling the merits of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment, as a potential Covid-19 drug. Clinical trials have so far shown no evidence that it is effective against coronavirus.
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Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s expected Democratic challenger in the November election, said in a tweet: “UV light? Injecting disinfectant? Here’s an idea, Mr. President: more tests. Now. And protective equipment for actual medical professionals.”
Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, said Mr Trump has repeatedly urged Americans to “consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment”, insisting that was the message he again was conveying during Thursday’s news briefing.”