In spite of the coronavirus, the hookah is bubbling again in Beirut

‚ÄčLebanon’s Tourism Ministry has again authorised it, after it was banned because it can spread the virus. Restaurant and bar owners are happy; doctors and infectious disease specialists are not.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon’s Tourism Minister Ramzi Moucharafieh has authorised the use of the hookah (nargilah), which had been banned to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

The ministerial directive authorises its use "in bars, restaurants and on beaches".  Restaurant and bar owners are happy, but doctors and infectious disease specialists are not. Some believe that businesses put pressure on the authorities to get the ban lifted, concerned about its impact on their revenue.

The directive specifies that hookahs must be outdoors and that pipes and tips must be disposable. They must be washed and disinfected after each use, even only once a day.

The minister's decision has elicited harsh criticism from scientists, who believe that the fight against the coronavirus must continue, since the pandemic is far from over.

In an open letter, university rectors, heads of several orders, heads of faculties of medicine and NGOs urge the minister to reconsider his decision.

"Since the beginning of the epidemic, we have increased our efforts to fight COVID-19 and limit its harm as much as possible,” said Charaf Abou Charaf, president of the Lebanese Order of Physicians, speaking to L’Orient Le Jour.

“Whilst we advise people to take care of their health and offer advice on how to protect oneself from the disease, especially by giving up smoking, what is the logic behind authorising the hookah, knowing that smokers are more likely to develop complications from the disease?”

“Authorising hookahs undermines social distancing, one of the main measures in the fight against the spread of coronavirus,” explains Dr Lung Mirna Waked. “In fact, when many share the hookah, they are less than a metre from each other.”

Furthermore, “whilst it is not yet known if sharing the tube by more people, even if the tip is changed, increases the risk of SARS-CoV-2 contagion,” what is known is that “a few years ago, we detected several cases of tuberculosis in people who shared the same hookah.”

What is more, “studies have shown that smokers, especially chronic smokers, infected with SARS-CoV-2, develop a more severe form of the disease. Hence, the message sent during the pandemic should be for people to quit smoking.”