In spite of the disinfection work, the church can also become one of the sources to spread the epidemic.

The coronavirus area is expanding daily. According to the latest data, the number of coronavirus cases is over 121,000. The virus has been identified in 118 countries, including Georgia with 24 confirmed cases. COVID-19 is transmitted: via respiratory droplets produced during coughing and sneezing, by touching the eyes, mouth or nose with an unwashed hand as well as by close contact with an infected person. In most cases, the coronavirus is mild or without symptoms. Currently, there is neither a vaccine against the coronavirus nor specific medication for treatment which increases risks for spreading the virus. The main recommendations of the World Health Organisation to significantly reduce the risk of the spread of the virus are social distancing [1] and following the rules of personal hygiene.

On 1 March 2020, the Interagency Coordination Council led by the Prime Minister of Georgia issued a recommendation to cancel mass events at places of public gathering. It was decided to close schools, kindergartens and universities until 1 April 2020. In addition, the spring draft for military conscripts was also postponed. The Georgian Football Federation suspended all leagues of the championship to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. On top of that, a portion of organisations started working remotely.

The church is also a place of public gathering. Amiran Gamkrelidze, Director of the National Centre for Disease Control, has talked about the necessity to follow the rules of personal hygiene, including disinfection in churches to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As stated by Mr Gamkrelidze, churches were recommended to install water dispensers for parishioners so that they are able to wash their hands while at church.

On 10 March 2020, the Patriarchate asked the National Centre for Disease Control to carry out disinfection work. The next day, disinfection work started in the monasteries. The Head of the Patriarchates’ Public Relations Service, Archpriest Andria Jaghmaidze, issued a statement saying that “floors, chairs and door knobs will be cleaned. In regard to icons and other holy objects, they are cleaned daily with a mixture of spirits and rose water a couple of times per day.” The statement also reads: “We are ready to take all recommendations, which need to be implemented, into account.” However, this concerns the disinfection issue alone.

In spite of the disinfection work, churches could be a potential source of spreading the epidemic. Although the recommendation was issued to postpone mass events, Sunday services are usually held in churches and there are no changes planned in this regard. People are in close contact during the services and it is nearly impossible to observe social distancing.

Of note is that during the coronavirus outbreak, which is transmitted via respiratory droplets, using common household items is a source of spreading the virus. Usage of a common spoon for communion goes against any hygienic standard and increases the risk for spreading the virus even further. In this regard, Metropolitan Bishop of Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo, Nikoloz, stated that wine had an antiseptic quality and would remove bacteria from the spoon. This statement is false and wine has no antiseptic or disinfection quality. Tengiz Tsertsvadze, General Director of the Hospital for Infectious Diseases, and Paata Imnadze, Deputy Director of the National Centre for Disease Control, recommended that churches use single-use spoons during the communion ritual. On 11 March 2020, the Head of the Patriarchates’ Public Relations Service, Archpriest Andria Jaghmaidze, clarified once again that the Georgian Orthodox Church does not consider the possibility of using the single-use spoons and the rule of communion with a common spoon will not be changed.

The position of the Georgian Patriarchate and the Georgian Orthodox Church is perplexing since they are called not to use a common spoon temporarily during communion. It is of vital importance to follow such rules of personal hygiene during times of epidemics.

1.Safe distancing is putting at least one metre between you and other people