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No, WHO did not say that ‘no vegetarian has been infected with COVID-19’

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A post is being shared widely on social media with a claim that a WHO report mentioned that not even one vegetarian has been infected with COVID-19. A quote by a WHO Representative has been added in the post to substantiate the claim. Let’s fact-check the claim made in the post.

The archived version of the post can be found here.

Claim: WHO report – ‘No vegetarian in the world was found to have been infected with COVID-19’.

Fact: No such statement was made by any WHO representative or report. Also, WHO has advised people that they can consume meat products if they are cooked thoroughly and properly handled during food preparation. Hence the claim made in the post is FALSE. 

When searched if there is any such report by WHO that made such a statement, no such report was found. Also, when FACTLY has contacted WHO regarding the quote mentioned in the post, the WHO Representative in China has clarified that his quote was taken out of context. He said – ‘The statement was part of a longer discussion about the continued global risk of zoonotic diseases and the potential for ‘spill-over’ into human populations.  The intent was not to endorse any particular diet nor to condemn any other, but to recognise that as long as people eat meat, there is a need to rear animals, to slaughter them, and to distribute and sell the products. The proximity of animals and humans thus generated will create the opportunity of animal-human spill-overs of infectious disease. It is important therefore that the trade in all livestock, from farm to table, be regulated in a One-Health approach, looking at animal and human health as one continuum, with all sectors involved acting in unison. This applies to an even greater extent to the illegal trade in wild animals for food where other considerations, from law enforcement to quarantine and conservation, will also apply’. He did not say that no vegetarian was infected by COVID-19.

WHO has also advised people that they can consume meat products if they are cooked thoroughly and properly handled during food preparation. Also, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in one of its reports, mentioned that ‘there is no evidence that animals or food of animal origin can transmit the virus COVID-19 to humans’.

Some news reports and research articles suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 viruses ‘latch onto a protein called ACE2, which is found on the surface of our cells, and like a key fitting into a lock that is the first step to launching an infection.’ ACE2 is found in humans in different organs. An interactive visualization by ‘The News York Times’ on ‘How Coronavirus Hijacks Your Cells’ can be seen here.

To sum it up, WHO did not say that ‘no vegetarian has been infected with COVID-19’.

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