Several 'disinfection tunnels' have been set up across south India since the first one came up in Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu.
But in Karnataka's Chikkaballapura district, the makers of the disinfection tunnel decided to use an organic fumigant instead of Sodium Hypochlorite, which have been used elsewhere.
"Instead of sodium hypochlorite, we decided to use a solution made of fruit extracts and glycerine," says Karthik Narayanan, who leads an initiative called Sugaradhana which aims to provide protective gear for those who need it.
The solution called CitroBioShield is being sprayed in the tunnel set up on the main road in Gowribidanur town that connects to the wholesale market.
The decision to build a tunnel was taken after a cluster of COVID-19 cases cropped up in Chikkaballapura district. The district has reported 8 cases so far and also shares a border with neighboring Andhra Pradesh state. This prompted Varaprasad Reddy, the nodal officer for COVID-19 cases in the district, to devise a 'disinfection tunnel' in the town.
"We designed the frame of 20 feet length and we asked people to make it here. We used polythene sheets to complete the tunnel," says Varaprasad Reddy. But instead of using Sodium Hypochlorite solution, the officer was delighted when Karthik decided to offer an organic alternative free of cost to the district administration.
Tunnels which spray Sodium Hypochlorite have been set up in Mysuru, Tirupur in Tamil Nadu and Thrissur in Kerala. But it has been criticised by public health experts who questioned about the side-effects of inhaling the solution and about the concentration of the chemical used. Reports indicate that concentration levels are not uniform and can differ from anywhere between 0.2% and 1%.
Karthik says that an organic solution will solve the issues that come with using a chemical disinfectant. "This solution (CitroBioShield) has been tested by laboratories and is used at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD) and Brains Hospital in the operating theatres for fumigation purposes. There will be no side effects if people are sprayed by this or if they inhale it," Karthik claims.
With more disinfection tunnels coming up in Karnataka and other states, Karthik says that organic sprays should be favored over chemical products.
This has also received support from Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar, who visited Chikkaballapura on Tuesday. "An organic disinfectant tunnel has been set up in Chikkaballapura, which is perhaps one of its kind in the entire country," he told reporters.
According to the makers of the tunnel, it will be replicated in Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh, which shares a border with Chikkaballapura. In addition, the Mysuru district administration has also expressed an interest to use the organic solution in the disinfection tunnel set up in the city.
However, Anant Bhan, a global health researcher told TNM, "On face value, It might be less harmful if it is organic because bleach can be harmful to skin. But given that we are dealing with a respiratory pathogen, how will disinfection help stop the spread of the virus? We have to study if it (organic fumigant) is specifically useful for disinfection or whether it gives a false sense of protection."