The Union Health Ministry on Sunday issued an advisory against the spraying of disinfectants on people to contain the coronavirus spread, saying it is physically and psychologically harmful. The advisory described the harmful effects the chlorine present in the disinfectant can have on humans.

“Spraying of individuals or groups is NOT recommended under any circumstances,” the advisory said. “Spraying an individual or group with chemical disinfectants is physically and psychologically harmful. Even if a person is potentially exposed with the Covid-19 virus, spraying the external part of the body does not kill the virus that has entered your body.”

Last month, a group of migrant labourers who returned to Uttar Pradesh amid the nationwide lockdown were sprayed with a disinfectant upon their entry to Bareilly, leading to widespread condemnation. The health ministry later blamed the incident on “an overzealous employee acting out of fear or ignorance”.

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In its advisory, the ministry said such incidents had gained “a lot of media attention and is also being reportedly used at local levels in certain districts/local bodies”. The advisory said spraying disinfectants might lead to a false sense of disinfection and safety, adding that it could hamper hand washing and social distancing measures in place. “Also there is no scientific evidence to suggest that they are effective even in disinfecting the outer clothing/body in an effective manner,” it said.

The advisory warned that the presence of chlorine in the disinfectants can have several harmful effects. “Spraying of chlorine on individuals can lead to irritation of eyes and skin and potentially gastrointestinal effects such as nausea and vomiting,” the ministry said. “Inhalation of sodium hypochlorite can lead to irritation of mucous membranes to the nose, throat, respiratory tract and may also cause bronchospasm.”

The health ministry said chemical disinfectants are recommended only for cleaning and disinfection of areas touched by those suspected or confirmed to have Covid-19.