Mosques rely on low-cost disinfectant system amid pandemic

‘Such mechanisms mostly offer a false sense of safety against the virus, more harmful than beneficial’

Aamir Khan April 25, 2020
KARACHI: In advance of the Muslim month of fasting, several mosques across Karachi have chosen to keep their doors open to worshippers and staff throughout Ramazan, despite the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) suggestion to discourage congregational gatherings amid the threat of Covid-19.

However, in a bid to abide by the standard operating procedures (SOPs) provided by the government in the regard, many mosques around the city have started installing sanitisation mechanisms and disinfectant sprays in the hopes of keeping their premises contagion-free.

According to a local mosque administrator, Asif Iqbal, mosques and imambargahs of Karachi will thoroughly comply with the guidelines agreed between the president and ulemas while encouraging health and safety practices among the worshipers.

“Since washing hands with soap is one of the entrance protocol, we have installed taps and washbasins rights outside the gates of our mosques so that anyone entering the mosque can follow the basic safety procedures before entry,” Iqbal shared.

Speaking further to The Express Tribune, the mosque administrator also revealed that the outbreak of the coronavirus has significantly affected mosque funding as most charity is now being targeted towards providing relief and rations to those affected by the lockdown.

“In this scenario, where mosques are also socially responsible for catering to those most affected by the disease, it becomes very difficult to focus our resources on acquiring branded sanitiser gates and such mechanisms which can cost up to Rs 10,000 or more,” he explained. “So making the best of our resources, we have come up with a more low-cost alternative by using mist fans filled with a mixture of water and Dettol and placing them across the mosque. The water-Dettol mixture works the same as disinfectant liquid and when placed at the mosque entrance, the mechanism functions in the same way as an expensive sanitisation gate or tunnel would.”

According to Umair Farooqi, a water-cooler or mist fan dealer in Karachi, the gradual opening of mosques has created a surge in demand for these special fans. “These fans can cost anywhere between Rs 12.000 to 14,000 and are procured from Gujranwala, Gujrat and Lahore. Although we have enough units available for now, we might fall short when the demand goes up because we haven’t been able to restock during the lockdown.”

Though Iqbal says the mechanism fulfils the basic safety protocols for disinfecting mosques, Infection Control Society Pakistan (ICSP) president Dr M Rafiq Khanani believes it offers little to no protection against Covid-19.

“Such mechanisms mostly offer a false sense of safety against the virus, which is more harmful than beneficial,” he told The Express Tribune, “Even high-end sanitisation systems like walkthrough gates and tunnels rely on spraying diluted chlorine, bleach or Dettol mixtures on people passing through. The spray only mostly touches the person’s shoulder, forehead, face or hands while the actual virus is known to be carried in abundance in oral cavities like the mouth, nostrils, throat and even membrane of the eye which the disinfectant does not come in contact with.” He added that these sprays, if used over the long term, can irritate and harm sensitive areas like our eyes and skin, so are not recommendable.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2020.