WHO, national and state bodies issue advisories for Ramadan amid COVID-19
The Delhi Waqf Board and the Islamic Centre of India have urged people to observe Ramadan while following all the guidelines laid down by authorities.
As the number of people infected by COVID-19 continues to rise around the world, the idea of celebrating a festival takes a backseat. The holy month of Ramadan began today, on 23 April, but the world continues to grapple with the global public health crisis that began in December last year and has claimed over 184,000 lives.
The month of Ramadan is marked by Muslims coming together to pray and break their fasts, but governments have urged people to remain in their homes because of the lockdowns enforced in various parts of the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a set of guidelines highlighting public health advice for social and religious practices and gatherings during Ramadan. The document urges people to practice physical distancing and maintaining personal hygiene, and recommends the use of platforms such as television, radio, digital and social media as virtual alternatives to organising social gatherings.
The WHO also recommended citizens to follow advisories issued by national health authorities of their respective countries regarding the principles of physical distancing and other measures related to COVID-19 in the context of Ramadan.
Punjab issues Ramadan advisory
Various religious bodies in India, such as the Delhi Waqf Board and the Islamic Centre of India have urged people to observe Ramadan while following all the guidelines laid down by various state and national authorities to limit the spread of COVID-19 in India. The Punjab government also issued an advisory for celebrating Ramadan safely, while maintaining that all places of worship will remain closed and congregational prayers will not be allowed.
With over 21,000 cases and 681 deaths as of 23 April, India has been battling to limit the spread of the infection any further. A nationwide lockdown, which came into force on 25 March, has already been extended to 3 May.
WHO advisory on Ramadan
To avoid the spread of COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, WHO has urged countries to stop large gatherings in places of worship, markets and shops, and requested people to practise physical distancing by strictly maintaining the 1-metre (3 feet) distance between all individuals. It has also asked people to use other forms of cultural and religiously sanctioned greetings that avoid physical contact.
A large number of people that have been infected have been asymptomatic and, as a result, become carriers of the disease without even knowing. It is why the WHO has also urged people who are at a higher risk of infection, such as the elderly or those with comorbidities, to avoid attending events and follow their symptoms, while also adhering to the guidelines issued by their respective countries.
The WHO has also issued a set of measures to follow in the case of religious gatherings, urging communities to consider hosting smaller outdoor events if possible, or at venues that have adequate ventilation and airflow. The duration of the events must be short to limit exposure to any kind of infection, regulate the flow of people in and out of the venue, and ensure measures are taken to enable contact tracing.
Places of worship must be clean and equipped with handwashing facilities such as adequate soap and water, or provide hand sanitizers at the entrance, according to the global health body. Disposable tissues, waste collection bins with disposable liners and lids must be provided, while doorknobs and other objects that are frequently touched must be disinfected regularly.
Fasting during COVID-19
Fasting is one of the features of the holy month of Ramadan. A study published in the Annals of Thoracic Medicine in April 2020 researched the effects of intermittent fasting practised during the month of Ramadan by approximately 1.5 billion people around the world.
The study, titled “Ramadan intermittent fasting and immunity: An important topic in the era of COVID-19”, found that fasting in all its forms, including in the month of Ramadan, could improve the body's resistance to bacterial infections. It also didn't show any adverse effects on the immune system, nullifying previous claims that fasting could increase the severity of COVID-19.
WHO's recommendations on well-being
The WHO maintained that healthy people should be able to fast during the month of Ramadan, but advised COVID-19 patients to consider "religious licenses" to break their fast after consulting their doctors like in the case of any other disease.
The usual practices of maintaining one’s own health must be practised as before, i.e. by exercising indoors instead of outdoors, consuming healthy and nutritious meals with unprocessed foods and drinking plenty of water.
Additionally, the WHO also advised people to stay off smoking as frequent smokers may already be suffering from lung disease or reduced lung capacity, which can increase the risk of severe COVID-19 infection. It also advised people to take care of their own as well as others' mental well-being and urged religious leaders to actively speak out against violence against women, children or the disadvantaged.
Read our Tips on how to protect yourself against COVID-19 infection for more detailed information.
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