Coronavirus: Expert advice on whether Ramadan fasting during the pandemic is safe

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Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan “should be safe” according to an infectious diseases expert at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forces changes to some of the Islamic holy month’s other central practices.

Ramadan, which is expected to begin on April 23 this year, requires healthy Muslims to fast during daylight hours. The holy month is also full of communal traditions: group taraweeh prayers, the evening meal of iftar in which Muslims break their fast together, Ramadan tents where believers share food and shisha, and other religious and social events with family and friends.

However, with Ramadan fast approaching, religious authorities have advised against its communal practices and urged Muslims to follow the lockdown and social distance procedures implemented by governments across the world aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances in which this year’s Ramadan is taking place, experts reassured that fasting should still be safe.

“It should be safe for people to fast during Ramadan provided they follow guidelines on physical distancing and hand hygiene to help prevent infection,” said Dr. Maher Balkis, an associate staff physician of infectious diseases at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

The novel nature of the coronavirus is a cause for concern, as not enough research has been done to examine its effects.

“There has been no research on the impact of fasting and patient outcomes from COVID-19. However, people who are ill, particularly those affected by COVID-19 may wish to consider the religious license to break their fast in consultation with their doctor,” explained Balkis.

However, other research has shown that fasting during Ramadan “does not have any negative effect on the immune system” for healthy people, he noted.

For those that do wish to fast, Balkis offered some advice.

“As with every year, people who are fasting should make an effort to keep hydrated, avoid overeating during non-fasting hours and make healthy nutrition choices such as fresh, unprocessed foods with plenty of green leafy vegetables,” he said.

The UAE reported 479 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to 6,781, with 37 fatalities. There have been nearly 1,300 recoveries so far.

The country has also dramatically ramped up its testing program, which may be one reason why infection numbers continue to rise, with more than 23,000 tests carried out across the UAE.

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