It has brought over 600 Indians back to the country, and led to Kerala declaring a “state calamity” after three Indians tested positive, but the news of coronavirus doesn’t seem to stop. And while rumours and myths on how to treat this possible “pandemic” are everywhere—even leading to World Health Organisation calling the current fear of coronavirus an “infodemic”—the latest cautionary notice has come from a Hyderabad-based NGO, which says that cops should stop using breathalysers for the risk of spreading the disease.
Breathalysers are devices used to measure the alcohol content in someone’s breath and are typically used by the traffic police to keep drunk-driving in check. However, since they require the person to blow into the device, it could become a breeding ground for germs that can spread from one person to another.
In a letter to Hyderabad Police Commissioner, P Suresh Raju, founder of Hyderabad’s Vaada Foundation, an organisation that works on road safety, said, "The use of breathalysers in the current scenario is highly unhygienic and can be one of the avenues through which the virus can spread to a lot of people. Not to mention, this can even put the life of the officers who handle these machines at risk as well.”
For now, the Bengaluru authorities have temporarily ditched the breathalyser test, but the concerns over breathalysers have reached Chennai too, where cops are concerned that it could infect them. In fact, traffic cops are reporting an increasing number of drivers refusing to take the breathalyser test for fears over coronavirus—although some traffic officials attribute this to just another scheme to evade the alcohol test. Still, it begs the question: Should breathalysers be completely avoided on the road, especially in the light of such a situation?
“In general, the use of breathalysers is not hygienic. It has nothing to do with the coronavirus in particular,” an anonymous virologist told The News Minute. “It is just not good practice to put something in the mouth without proper sterilisation. Even the thermometer at the doctor’s clinic is one example of this.”
In the meantime, medical experts have advised maintaining personal hygiene after scientists found that coronavirus doesn’t just spread through contact or infected cough droplets in the air, but also through the faecal-oral route. However, some maintain that it’s okay to use breathalysers as long as they are either disposed off after being used by one person, or at least sterilised with every usage.
"All respiratory instruments should be equipped with a hepa filter or they can use disposable instruments with droplet precautions,” former Indian Medical Association (IMA) president KK Agarwal told news agency IANS. “A person with the flu standing 3 feet away from the person who is testing him, can pass the infection. The best practice for the traffic cops will be to wear disposable gloves and masks.”
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