Philippines' Duterte Advises Disinfecting Face Masks With Gasoline, Diesel

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has urged citizens Tuesday to wear face masks to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but also incorrectly assured them that the coverings can be disinfected by dipping them in gasoline or diesel.

In a televised address broadcast on Tuesday, Duterte stressed the importance of face masks in slowing the pandemic, which so far has infected more than 70,700 people and killed 1,800 in the Philippines, according to Johns Hopkins University.

As in most other nations, testing and autopsy limitations mean the real numbers of both cases and deaths are likely much higher.

Duterte has announced plans to ramp up the nation's testing capacity. During a televised meeting with the president, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said authorities would now be aiming to test 32,000 to 40,000 people a day compared with the current 20,000 to 23,000.

The president also threatened harsher measures for those found to be taking inadequate safety precautions. "We do not have any qualms in arresting people," Duterte said, adding it is a "serious crime" to spread COVID-19.

"If you are brought to the police station and detained there, that would give you a lesson for all time," Duterte said, referring to anyone found without a mask.

But the president—well known for his controversial and offensive remarks—also offered inaccurate medical advice to those wishing to disinfect their masks for repeat usage.

Those wishing to reuse masks can "spray it with alcohol" or "Lysol if you can afford it," and then hang the mask up to dry, Duterte said.

But for those who can't, the president suggested they "soak it in gasoline or diesel." There is no evidence to suggest that gasoline or diesel can kill the COVID-19 virus, and contact with or inhalation of these fuels can cause other health problems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency list of COVID-19 disinfectants for use on surfaces does not include either gasoline or diesel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that inhaling gasoline can cause asphyxiation, while repeated or prolonged contact with the skin can cause irritation, dermatitis and even burns.

But Duterte appeared convinced of its effectiveness, though The Manilla Bulletin reported that the president was joking. "That son of a b**** COVID won't be able to fight that," he said of his advice. "It's true, if you want disinfection, look for gasoline. Soak your hands. Just do it far away, don't do it inside your house."

Rodrigo Duterte, masks, gasoline, diesel, disinfectant, coronavirus
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is seen on a monitor in the newsroom of ABS-CBN News on February 11, 2020 in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Ezra Acayan/Getty Images/Getty