Religious leaders in Saudi Arabia have been using ozone gas to clean Islam’s most venerated site, the Kaaba in Mecca, as an experimental treatment against coronavirus.
The head of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, was this week pictured using an ozone machine as part of efforts to sterilise the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure that the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray towards every day.
The technology is being seen as a non-invasive way to clean surfaces and carpets in the Grand Mosque, which is usually crowded with thousands of pilgrims during the holy month of Ramadan, but this year is closed and mostly empty due to the pandemic.
Ozone has previously been marketed as a disinfectant and pesticide that can kill bacteria and viruses, including previously known types of coronavirus, when diffused in air or dissolved in water.
But experts warned that it has not been approved to protect against the new virus that causes the illness known as covid-19.
The UK Health and Safety Executive has also warned about using ozone in industrial or enclosed spaces, as exposure can be harmful to human health.
The World Federation of Ozone Therapy (WFOT), which promotes the medical use of the gas, said several clinical trials were being carried out in China, Italy and other countries to see if ozone could be an effective treatment for covid-19 patients in hospital settings.
The trials included patients being given intravenous injections of ozone solution in a bid to kill the virus, which have apparently shown some positive effects. However, further evidence is needed before the therapy could be approved by the World Health Organisation, the WFOT said in a statement.
The Kaaba, also known as the “Sacred House”, is said to have been built on the site of the first temple built by Abraham. The Prophet Mohammed took part in the renovation of the building in the early 7th century, and it has been revered by Muslims ever since.
Relgious tourism is a major source of income for Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom last month suspended all foreign pilgrimages and then imposed a curfew at the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, this year set for the end of July, could also be cancelled for the first time in modern history after the Kingdom urged Muslims across the world to temporarily defer their travel plans.
Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 20,000 cases of covid-19 and 152 related deaths. But the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz this week insisted that the curfew in Mecca should continue, even as restrictions were partially relaxed during office hours in other areas, and shopping malls allowed to reopen.
Last year, more than 3 million people took part in the Hajj, a journey which all devout Muslims aim to take at least once in their lives.