The Cebu provincial government has encouraged its employees to practice steam inhalation – known locally as tuob – as a way to fight COVID-19.
"As a wellness program for Cebu Provincial Capitol employees to combat against COVID-19 pandemic, and pursuant to Executive Order No. 17, series of 2020, the Office of the Governor, everyone is enjoined to perform tu-ob or hot steam inhalation twice a day between 8 am and 9 am, and 4 pm and 5 pm, at their respective workstations," the memo read.
Encouraging tuob has been part of the daily reminders of Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia.
The province is currently under general community quarantine, but the capitol itself is within Cebu City which has the highest number of cases in the country.
Providing tuob kits was also a part of a memorandum on restarting the province’s tourism industry, which was halted when it was placed under enhanced community quarantine, according to provincial media Sugbo News.
The practice of steam inhalation is common practice as a home remedy, but is not an approved cure for the new virus.
WHO Philippines told Rappler that steam inhalation will not prevent one from catching COVID-19.
"Extremely hot steam can be harmful, as there is a risk of burn injury. To fight COVID-19, we need to be guided by science and evidence. To date, there is no recommended treatment or vaccine to prevent or treat COVID-19. Until there is sufficient evidence, WHO cautions against recommending or administering unproven treatments to patients with COVID-19 or people self-medicating with them," WHO Philippines said.(READ: FALSE: Salt water steam can cure coronavirus)
“While some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease. WHO does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19,” WHO said on its website.
An article published in medical journal The Lancet on May 15, also pointed to the growing "misconception" about steam inhalation, and the dangers of burn injuries associated with the practice.
"The common misconception is that steam inhalation is beneficial in preventing and treating respiratory tract symptoms. Social media and home-made tutorials from unverified sources have a role in misleading parents into practicing this dangerous habit. Studies have shown that there is no additional symptomatic relief from the use of steam inhalation therapy to treat the common cold," the article said.
The provincial memo reaped criticism online for making a non-medically approved practice a part of the local government policy.
Garcia said in a press conference on Tuesday night, June 23, that they were not promoting the practice as a cure, but only as an alternative way to alleviate symptoms. During the briefing she called out and publicly shamed critics of the practice.
A legal consultant for the province said in a statement that they only encourage – and not require – employees to observe the practice.
"If you don't believe in tuob, no one is forcing you. Don't curse. Let's agree to disagree without being disagreeable," said Rory Jon Sepulveda, a lawyer and consultant of the provincial government.
Cebu province counts 669 coronavirus cases so far, with 166 recoveries and 61 deaths as of posting.
Cebu City has a total of 4,449 cases so far.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu arrived in Cebu on Tuesday to oversee the COVID-19 response in Cebu City.
A recent study by the University of the Philippines predicted that Cebu City and the entire province might hit 11,000 cases by June 30, if the outbreak was not contained. – with reports from Loreben Tuquero/Rappler.com