How cafes are keeping shishas clean during the Covid-19 outbreak

Cafes in Dubai, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah are now allowed to serve shisha with strict safety measures in place

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Shisha cafes have been given the green light to reopen in Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman after five months of closure to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Authorities this week said a strict set of precautionary measures and hygiene standards must be met for a cafe to reopen safely.

Cafes in Dubai were granted permission to serve shisha in mid-July. Cafes in Ras Al Khaimah opened this week and those in Ajman will reopen from Sunday.

Tito Al Ghanaima, an Egyptian who works at Orkied Cafe in Mina Al Arab, Ras Al Khaimah, said the new measures meant a longer wait for customers but that this would ensure their safety.

"The process of preparing a shisha has become somehow longer than before as many new standards had been added to the process," he said.

"This means that customers should expect to wait for eight to ten minutes more for their shisha to be ready, which should not be an issue for many."

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I start cleaning the shish parts once the customer places the order to guarantee that its 100 per cent clean

Staff must wear face masks at all times and keep a two-metre distance from each other and customers whenever possible.

Shisha pipes must be extensively cleaned and sterilised between uses. The pipes are typically made up of five parts, including a disposable, single use mouth piece. These must be taken apart and cleaned after every use.

"I start cleaning the shisha parts once the customer places the order to guarantee that it's 100 per cent clean," said Mr Ghanaima, 45.

"I first clean the shisha bowl with soap and water and then the rest of the parts, the stem, tray, water vase and the charcoal tong.

Mr Al Ghanaima then uses a disinfectant fogger, which sprays a fine sanitising mist, to sterilise all the shisha parts.

"After that, I prepare the shisha bowl by adding the flavoured tobacco and the charcoal before serving it to the customer," he said.

Traditionally, the server would test the shisha using a disposable mouthpiece by puffing on it several times. This also encourages the tobacco to burn but this practice has been banned under Covid-19 safety measures to prevent potential contamination.

Cafes must now use a device that recreates that process instead.

“We have been using disposable hoses for many years now, so it is not a new thing for us,” said Mr Al Ghanaima.

Water in the shisha vase must be changed after each use and only disposable hoses can be used.

Other measures including limiting only four people to one table and encouraging the use of hand sanitisers.

Shisha pipes have become a staple of society across the Middle East and are popular with tourists. Studies have shown that the lung damage caused by shisha is much worse for smokers than cigarettes.

The practice was banned at cafes in March to prevent the spread of the virus using communal hookah pipes.

Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Mohammed Kamal smokes shisha at Orkied Cafe. Shisha cafes are now opening in RAK. Thursday, August 6th, 2020. Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The reopening of shisha cafes was welcomed by regular smokers who said they missed the social element of smoking.

“Friends gatherings cannot be complete without the shisha but, after the spread of the coronavirus, many traditions have been affected,” said Mohammed Kamal, an Egyptian who works in public relations.

“I cannot start my day without smoking shisha first thing in the morning,” he said.

Prior to the outbreak, Mr Kamal would begin his days with smoking before going to work. He and his friends would regularly spend their evenings at shisha cafes.

“When they decided to allow the shisha again I was the first one to go to the cafe and order shisha,” he said.

Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Salem Al Ali smokes shisha at Orkied Cafe. Shisha cafes are now opening in RAK. Thursday, August 6th, 2020. Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Emirati Salem Al Ali, 45, only smokes shisha occasionally and said the safety measures were necessary to keep everyone safe.

“There is no place for a simple mistake and we all have a role to play in order to keep the country safe and virus-free,” he said.

“I’m happy with the new precautions and the way they are offering food, drinks and shisha at the cafes and restaurants.

“Although not all the cafes have opened their doors yet, but the ones that did have managed to do a good job following the authorities instructions,” he said.

Staff at Orkied Cafe their tables were full again for the first time in months once they reopened.

“We welcomed a lot of our loyal customers on Tuesday and, because we cannot operate with more than 50 per cent capacity, we had to tell people to come back another day,” said Beverly Dulay, 31, from the Philippines.

Some cafes remain closed while owners ensure all precautionary measures are in place before welcoming customers again.

“TWe still need a bit more time to prepare the cafe and make it ready to serve customers according to the authorities guidelines,” an employee at Sahara cafe in Ras Al Khaimah said.

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