Is Covid-19 really a big deal for gurdwaras?

It is time we fought fear with facts and the calling to be socially responsible at a community level is a SEWA in itself. As members of the Sikh community, undertaking coordinated, concerted and cooperative actions in the face of Covid-19 is not only our responsibility, also an investment for a brighter future - MEDICAL FRONTLINER

By Taranjit Kaur | MALAYSIA |

How safe are we with this virus lingering around and what about going to the gurdwara? A flood of questions come to the mind.

The first quarter of this year has witnessed a steep slowdown in global economics, the superpowers included. Many dimensions of our day-to-day lives have also changed, for one – restricted movements as they call in Malaysia, or circuit break in Singapore – something we likely never anticipated in a highly connected and fast moving world. The onset of Covid-19 has surely made 2020 memorable in many ways!

In Malaysia, the gurdwaras have been inaccessible for some months now, after the Movement Control Order (MCO) came into force on 18 March. Even if we could eventually visit the gurdwara as some are set to reopen on 10 June, will it be the same?

Asia Samachar spoke to Prof Dr Balwant Singh Gendeh – a professor and senior consultant surgeon with 36 years of experience in the field of ear, nose and throat (ENT) to better understand the novel coronavirus and that within is within our means to prevent the further spread of the virus. Here are excepts of the interview.

What is COVID-19? What should we look out for?

The origin source of Covid-19 is said to originate from animals to humans in the initial phase and subsequently, from humans to humans – implying that mutation is likely.

The Covid-19 viral particles affects the upper airways and the lungs with shorter incubation period, and the symptoms are multifactorial. It generally depends on the viral load. There are several phases, so to speak, though it varies by individuals. Let’s just say one has nasally inhaled the virus, the first 72 hours are usually vital.  Should the virus replicate further, it goes down to the throat where it multiplies faster – then comes the fever and sore throat. The fever gets higher and accompanied by early respiratory indicators if the virus spreads to the airways. Should the situation worsen further, serious respiratory problems and lung infection (pneumonia) may kick in – which possibly require non-invasive ventilation. If the need for intubation arises, then it is an indication of progression of the disease.

Covid-19 viral particles may also enter the swallowing tract which gives rise to gastrointestinal symptoms. Patients may have diarrhea. Its presence in the GI tract may explain why viral samples can be detected via fecal samples. Again, symptoms and criticality varies by individual type – of course there are other factors to consider such as underlying medical condition.  Usually, the elderly are more susceptible to risk, but it discount others of contracting the virus or experiencing more intense symptoms.

Other method of spread can be via the eyes which like the nose and mouth is exposed to the external environment. This is why the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) stress on the need for good hand hygiene and avoid touching ones face (e.g. mouth, eyes and nose) to reduce the risk of transmission.

The daily cases trajectory is a situational update of sorts – is it reducing or increasing?

Regardless, any improvement is not a pass for letting our guard down. The situation is fluid and any resurgence warrants attention. In Malaysia, the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced with the intention to flatten the curve and prevent our health services from being overwhelmed. The MCO is vital to control spread of the virus, and as we transcend into its several phases – the need is for us all to be equally responsible in playing our part. The easiest way out is, stay home if there is no essential need to go out. Evaluate any risk of contracting the virus – for example, when considering any form of travelling in confined environments.

Is it okay to metha theek at a Gurdwara Sahib in Malaysia during this period of time?

Any decision must abide by regulatory requirements and the necessary approved government standard operating procedures (SOPs). A more conservative approach in implementing the approved government SOPs is, however, advisable, and it should start from the entrance gate itself. Any person with a temperature above 37.4 degrees Celsius shouldn’t be permitted into the gurdwara premise. The sangat (congregation) should be granted entry in batches with a stipulated 30 minutes duration, not exceeding 20 preferably at any one time. A mask should be worn and hands sanitised at the point of entry, observing a distance of 1 metre at all times. Hands should be washed as regularly as possible. Age is another point of consideration – where those belonging to the riskier age groups should refrain from stepping out over concerns of higher vulnerability levels.

Some Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic. What does that mean? What precautions should be taken in a gurdwara?

This means that some individuals with Covid-19 may not necessarily display any symptoms and so, could be infecting otherwise unknowingly. Studies have shown that patients affected by Covid-19 my show no symptoms up to 12 to 14 days, but during this period they are at risk of spreading it to others. The need to manage any exposure to potentially asymptomatic individuals is necessary anywhere, and in a gurdwara, going back to what I said earlier – temperature taking, mask, sanitizers, hand washing, social distancing as well as time spent in a location are all important precautionary measures.

Dr Balwant Singh Gendeh – Photo: Supplied

In a place like a gurdwara, what are the most susceptible exposure areas to Covid-19?

Specific to the Gurdwara Sahib – locations where people gather, confined spaces, surfaces touched, restrooms and food are areas warrant attention.

Where feasible, congregations should be carried out virtually. This includes Punjabi schools lessons, where such classes take place in a gurdwara. In terms of hand-bound activities such as preparation and serving of food e.g. Degh and Langgar, including chaur sewa – these required unparalleled levels of hand hygiene, preferably by using hand gloves; a fresh pair each time and thereafter carefully discarded.

On the other hand, lifts may accommodate 4 people – while for smaller ones, best to keep the number at 2. For restrooms, regardless on the number of available cubicles, it should be limited to 1 or 2 persons at any given time. More frequent cleaning of these areas is also advised.

What about the serving of Langgar or Degh for that matter?

Any activity using the hand is an exposure point. To mitigate an impending risk, the use of mask and gloves at every point of preparing and serving Langgar as well as Degh would to some extent contribute in reducing the risk of transmission. A feasible solution is packed langgar, this also minimises risk on sewadars (usually a reference to volunteers or paid workers). Packed food will also prevent congregation as the act of sitting down and eating in the gurdwara may predispose to socialisation. If eating is allowed in the Langgar hall then social distancing must be followed with marked areas to sit. The same social distances should be maintained for the sit in prayers/sangat, too.

As for the serving of Degh, it should avoid the use of bare hands. In fact, any activity using the bare hand in the gurdwara should be reevaluated, with the underlying reason being to uphold the wellbeing of every person in the gurdwara – of the Sangat, Sewadars and Parbandaks, alike.

What are the key non-negligible precautions one should take – especially in a Gurdwara Sahib that’s also applicable elsewhere?

Covid-19 is an invisible threat and if I was to outline the general precautions – here they are: (1) temperature screening (2) social distancing, (3) use of mask and (4) hand hygiene.

Specific to our Gurdwara Sahibs, in addition to these four, stricter practices at the entry point of the Gurdwara Sahib, coupled with any activity using the bare hand should be carefully carried out. Placing a stronger emphasis on the wellbeing of respective granthis and dedicated sewadars is also worth a thought.

Any personal sharing as a frontliner (observation, new learning) which you wish to impart?

We all have to role to play, at every level of the society. Even at a community level, it is important to be adequately informed and aware of what Covid-19 really is, appreciate its risk points as well as diligently deploy prevention measures. The pursuit of everything should be aligned with government initiatives and policies. And most importantly, front liners (e.g. medical practitioners, enforcement officers) are sacrificing themselves to keep us all safe.

In summing up, it is time we fought fear with facts and the calling to be socially responsible at a community level is a SEWA in itself. As members of the Sikh community, undertaking coordinated, concerted and cooperative actions in the face of Covid-19 is not only our responsibility, also an investment for a brighter future. As some gurdwaras will reopen soon, let’s stand together and ensure every action taken weights people, their safety, health and wellbeing.

Note: This article merely expresses individual viewpoints in good faith as means to raise awareness, based on personal understanding of COVID-19 and the applicable mitigations – which may differ from others. Reader discretion and evaluation is advised.



8 Malaysian gurdwaras set to restart prayers under strict conditions (Asia Samachar, 22 May 2020)

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Private medical specialists urged to step forward (Asia Samachar, 30 March 2020)


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