Australia’s deputy chief medical officer has urged Muslims not to break coronavirus restrictions during Ramadan, saying it could pose a 'serious risk' to vulnerable members of the community and the greater population.
As Muslims across Australia and the world begin to celebrate Ramadan, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd has urged worshippers not to congregate as they usually would during the holy month.
The warning comes as Australia this week recorded some of its lowest daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the outbreak.
As the country's pandemic curve flattens, state and federal governments have begun loosening some restrictions, with more set to be reviewed.
With mosques closed due to the restrictions, Prof Kidd told SBS Arabic24 that “now is not a time for people to become complacent” and break the restrictions.
“We still have the virus occurring in the community, we’re only picking up small numbers of cases every day, but we are picking up new cases. We are getting people still admitted to hospital and admitted to intensive care, and we are still seeing people dying in Australia,” he said.
“If you do break the rules and are infected and asymptomatic and you go and visit your elderly grandparents, you could be condemning them to very serious illness or worse. So please, everyone needs to continue to do their part, everyone needs to continue to follow the restrictions.”
Prof Kidd echoed calls from Australia’s Islamic leaders to pray at home during the month, and to utilise technology to stay connected with family members.
He said this extends to Iftar, the meal breaking the fast which would usually see mass gatherings involving families and members of the community.
“If we suddenly see people going out and saying this [restriction] doesn’t apply to me, or we can have all the children over for a meal together, or we can go and visit grandma and grandpa and spend time with them, this could lead to outbreaks, this could lead to real problems,” he said, affirming that Australia could be at risk of a “second wave” of infections.
“We saw this happen in Singapore who seemed to have their epidemic under control, they released many of their restrictions and all of the sudden they have had a second wave, they have now had 1000 more infections which occurred, and they had people getting very sick, ending up in hospital and dying.
“So, this is not something we can take and be complacent about. We have to take it very seriously. This is a very serious virus, this is a very serious health risk to us all.”
Fasting during Ramadan
Australian Muslims observing Ramadan usually see a fasting period of about 12 hours while the sun is up.
With the threat of coronavirus, some Muslims fear that fasting could be detrimental to their efforts to keep coronavirus at bay.
Prof Kidd said that there were many schools of thought regarding fasting but warned against the practice for anyone who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
“Certainly, if someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, they should not be fasting because the symptoms include fever and respiratory problems, which fasting could make worse. People need to stay well hydrated, get plenty of rest and they need to be as well-nourished as possible.
“But for other people, there is arguments both ways, [that] fasting can actually be very healthy and help to boost people’s immune systems and then there are concerns that fasting particularly if you’re someone with a chronic illness, may actually exacerbate things.”
He said ultimately, the best form of prevention was social distancing measures during Ramadan.
“The most important protection is continuing doing the physical distancing measures that we’re engaging with because that will prevent us from coming contact with the virus in any case.”
Preserving mental health during Ramadan
Prof Kidd said Ramadan 2020 presented a “very challenging time for families” as they won’t be able to congregate with their families, while also experiencing anxiety over fasting and the general state of the world.
He said staying connected was vital to managing these fears.
“What is really important is both reaching out to each other, and doing that through the telephone, video calls and making sure we are staying connected.
“If you have elderly parents that you aren’t allowed to visit, please ring them up every day and talk to your mum, talk to your dad, it’s what we should be doing every day normally, but especially at a time like this.”
Giving during Ramadan
Ramadan is a time when over one billion Muslims around the world focus their attention on giving to charity, known as Zakat.
Prof Kidd said that there are many ways that Muslims can give during the pandemic to “support each other”.
“Particularly to reach out to support our elderly family members but also to our neighbours, people who we know who are elderly and are living on their own, and even though we can’t go into each other’s homes, we can do the shopping, we can drive people to their medical appointments if that is needed.
“We can, of course, donate our funds to charities which support families which are really struggling and I think many families are struggling at the moment, many people have lost their jobs, many people who do casual work, the casual work is just not happening at the moment, so there are lots of opportunities to contribute and to make a difference.”
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.
If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
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