Hindu nationalist leader of the world’s fourth worst-hit nation says yoga is a ‘trusted friend in building immunity’.

India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extolled yoga as a way of building a “protective shield” of immunity against the coronavirus, as his nation battles a surge in infections.

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Modi, a keen yoga practitioner who has long espoused the benefits of the ancient Indian practice, gave the advice in a YouTube message ahead of International Yoga Day on Sunday.

“We all know that until now nowhere in the world have they been able to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 or coronavirus,” Modi said in the video published on Thursday.

“Which is why right now, only a strong immunity can act as a protective shield or a bodyguard for us and our family members … yoga is our trusted friend in building this protective shield [of immunity].”

The Indian leader, a teetotal vegetarian, set up a ministry to promote yoga, Ayurveda and other traditional Indian treatments when he came to power in 2014.

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Modi initially proposed World Yoga Day to the United Nations, winning approval the same year. On June 21, 2015, the first International Yoga Day was observed across the world.

The day normally see masses of people gather for public yoga events not only in India but worldwide – but Modi called for people to this year “go indoors”.

Modi also hailed yoga as a way to ease the extraordinary stresses people are enduring because of the virus.

“Yoga has the potential to cater to the mental, physical and psychological challenges. It puts to test how one can live in challenging times,” he said.

In January, the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy) released an advisory on how ancient homeopathy and Ayurveda remedies could help Indians combat the coronavirus.

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But organisations including the United States’s National Institutes of Health, have warned that “no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure COVID-19”.

India’s national and state governments have also stressed the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing.

The South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people is the fourth worst-hit country in the world with more than 380,000 virus infections and over 12,000 deaths, official figures show.

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