The number of people who have been infected with the coronavirus has been spreading rapidly both inside and outside of China. The vaccine against the coronavirus is still non-existent although the USA and other major powers are working hard to produce one. At the present moment, there are three confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Georgia. A number of countries, including Georgia, are relatively prepared to face the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. In order to cut the risk of spreading the coronavirus, schools, kindergartens and universities have been temporarily shut down. In addition, an interagency coordination council on the coronavirus, led by the Prime Minister, issued recommendations to cancel events in areas of public gatherings and crowds in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Packed church services are also included within the group of public gatherings and crowds. Although the Head of the National Centre for Disease Control, Amiran Gamkrelidze, initially refrained from giving specific recommendations in regard to religious rituals, later on he issued a clarifying and more detailed statement. As stated by Mr Gamkrelidze, in order to prevent the spread of the virus as a result of large groups of people in churches, it is important and crucial to follow the rules of personal hygiene. The Patriarchate and churches were given recommendations to install water dispensers for parishioners to be able to wash their hands. Mr Gamkrelidze added that since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, he had contacted the Patriarchate and the National Centre for Disease Control conducted a “relevant training” at the Patriarchate and in one of the large eparchies. Amiran Gamkrelidze also stated that in the upcoming days he will probably meet the Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II to discuss measures needed to prevent the coronavirus.

The Patriarchate’s statement, issued on 29 February 2020, said that the Georgian Patriarchate was going to change the liturgical rule of using a shared spoon for communion because of the coronavirus. Speaking on this issue, Metropolitan Bishop of Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo, Nikoloz, stated that wine had an antiseptic quality and would remove bacteria from the spoon.

Director of the Infectious Diseases Hospital of Tbilisi, Tengiz Tsertsvadze, recommended using single-use spoons during the church ritual (communion) to prevent the spread of the virus. Amiran Gamkrelidze’s position was similar, although not identical. As recommended by Mr Gamkrelidze, it is important to follow the rules of hygiene during religious rituals. Deputy Director of the National Centre for Disease Control, Paata Imnadze, stated that although the authorities do not set rules for religious rituals, it would not be appropriate to use a shared spoon vis-à-vis the spread of the coronavirus.

In regard to the antiseptic qualities of alcohol, including wine, it is common knowledge that an antiseptic substance hampers the growth/development of microorganisms. Antiseptics and disinfection means are often confused with each other. Antiseptics are intended for processing living organisms whilst disinfection means are intended for cleaning things. Both antiseptics and disinfection means contain biocides which are chemical agents used to combat harmful organisms. In addition, as compared to disinfection means, antiseptics contain a much lower degree of biocides.

In regard to the use of alcohol in medicine, ethanol, isopropyl and 1-propanol are most widely used against microbes. However, of note is that alcohol’s anti-microbe quality drops significantly if the alcohol’s volume is below 50% whilst it is most effective within the margins of 60-90%. Alcohol’s content in wine is usually under 18% and it is neither an antiseptic nor a disinfection means. Therefore, the claim that it is possible to use wine as a disinfectant and clean communion spoon with it is false.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also responded to the myth of fighting the coronavirus with alcohol. According to the WHO’s information, it is impossible to kill the new coronavirus by alcohol or chlorine.