With spiking cases, decision to reopen argileh lounges raises concerns

1. Shisha
Officials hope that putting in place strict penalties for violators will balance public health concerns and the sector’s economic needs. (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — At a time when Jordan is recording around close to 2,000 daily COVID-19 cases, the government’s decision to lift its restrictions on serving argileh in cafes and lounges came as a surprise to many. The move is welcomed by local cafe owners after a year of struggling with changing restrictions. However, the government is still enforcing health guidelines with hefty fines for those who violate them.اضافة اعلان

On Tuesday, Prime Minsiter Bisher Khasawneh issued Circular No. 49, which governs the operations of restaurants, cafes, and hotel establishments serving argileh.

Officials hope that putting in place strict penalties for violators will balance public health concerns and the sector’s economic needs, given their popularity.

Smoking lounges were among the first businesses to be shut down by the government when the government implemented its COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Smoking lounges and cafes resumed working last June, under the condition that they serve argilehs outdoors, maintain social distancing between patrons, and sanitize the equipment after every use. 

However, of 289 businesses inspected, 88 violations were recorded within days of reopening, according to the Ministry of Health.

Bassam Hijjawi, a member of the National Epidemiological Committee, said in remarks to local media that argileh requires “discipline” to use safely and within COVID-19 guidelines.

“The use of argileh needs to be limited,” Hijjawi said. 

The WHO states, “since waterpipe smoking is typically an activity that takes place within groups in public settings and waterpipe use increases the risk of transmission of diseases, it could also encourage the transmission of COVID-19 in social gatherings.”

This is especially true in poorly ventilated, indoor environments where masks are not worn. The primary concerns regarding the reopening of establishments serving argileh is less the sanitation of their equipment, but the fact that patrons share pipes. 

According to Mohammed Dairat, an argileh smoker who works at Hooka Cafe and Lounge, it was “a terrible time to have been robbed of the joy of gathering with friends over argileh.” 

Although aware of the dangers posed by his pastime, he told Jordan News he was looking forward to reuniting with his friends.

A smoking lounge manager who preferred to be unnamed told Jordan News that the decision is a step in the right direction, but that there’s still a long way to go to complete recovery for his business.

Tea and coffee do not cover their costs, he said, adding that “several lounges started serving argileh on terraces and outside patios, but winter is approaching, and no one enjoys argileh in the freezing cold of December.”

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