Unlock 1.0: Health Ministry issues new SOPs for opening of malls, hotels and restaurants

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As the Home Ministry’s decision to gradually ease the lockdown restrictions in India through a phased recovery dubbed ‘Unlock-1’, the ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday released its guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the operation of offices, malls, restaurants, hotels and religious places in the coming days.

The guidelines encompass a combination of generic and specific measures aimed at ensuring social distancing and hygiene are maintained as India adapts to life after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Health Ministry guidelines for offices

The guidelines are split into four categories:
(i) Generic preventive measures to be followed at all times

(ii) Measures specific to offices

(iii) Measures to be taken on occurrence of case(s)

(iv) Disinfection procedures to be implemented in case of occurrence of suspect/confirmed case

Under the generic measures, which need to be observed by all (employees and visitors) at all times, persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities and pregnant women are advised to stay at home, except for essential and health purposes. Office management is to facilitate the process.

In addition, individuals must maintain a distance of 6 feet between each other in public spaces; face mask/cover use is to be mandatory; hand-washing must be frequently practised and respiratory etiquette like covering one’s mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing must be strictly followed.

The generic guidelines also include the installation and use of the Aarogya Setu app by employees.

Under the specific preventive measures, entrances must have mandatory hand sanitiser and thermal screening provisions, and only asymptomatic staff and visitors may be allowed.

Those who stay in containment zones must inform their supervisory officers and cannot attend office till the zone is de-notified. They should be permitted to work from home and this will not be counted as a leave period.

Drivers must maintain social distancing and follow the required do’s and don’ts. A provision must be made to disinfect the interior of the vehicle using a 1 per cent sodium hypochlorite spray.

In addition, office hours should be staggered as far as feasible; meetings should be done through video conference as much as possible and the number of people in elevators should be restricted to maintain social distancing norms.

For air-conditioning/ventilation, the guidelines of CPWD shall be followed which inter-alia emphasises that the temperature setting of all air conditioning devices should be in the range of 24-30 per cent, relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70 per cent, intake of fresh air should be as much as possible and cross ventilation should be adequate.
Any shops, stalls, cafeteria etc., outside and within the office premises shall follow social distancing norms at all times.

Should a person or persons be seen suffering from symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, they should be placed in a room or area where they are isolated from others at the workplace. Provide a mask/face cover till such time he/she is examined by a doctor.
Immediately inform the nearest medical facility (hospital/clinic) or call the state or district helpline. A risk assessment will be undertaken by the designated public health authority (district RRT/treating physician) and accordingly further advice shall be made regarding management of case, his/her contacts and need for disinfection.

The suspect case if reporting very mild/mild symptoms on assessment by the health authorities would be placed under home isolation.

The necessary actions for contact tracing and disinfection of work place will start once the report of the patient is received as positive. The report will be expedited for this purpose.
Regarding closure of workplace, if there are one or two cases reported, the disinfection procedure will be limited to places/areas visited by the patient in past 48 hrs. There is no need to close the entire office building/halt work in other areas of the office and work can be resumed after disinfection as per laid down protocol.However, if there is a larger outbreak, the building/block will have to be closed for 48 hours after thorough disinfection. All the staff will work from home, till the building/block is adequately disinfected and is declared fit for re-occupation.

Restaurants

At restaurants, the Centre said that takeaways would be encouraged, instead of dine-in; it has advised delivery personnel to leave the packet at the customer’s door. Thermal screening and sanitiser dispensers will be mandatory at the entrance of all restaurants.

“Only asymptomatic staff and patrons shall be allowed. All staff and patrons are allowed entry only if using face cover/masks, which has to be worn at all times inside the restaurant,” the guidelines state.

Besides posters on preventive measures about COVID-19 being displayed, the Centre asked management to stagger patrons if possible and deploy adequate manpower to ensure physical distancing at parking lots as well.

In case of valet parking, “a proper disinfection of steering, door handles, keys, etc. of the vehicles should be taken up.”

“Seating arrangement to be made in such a way that adequate physical distancing is maintained. In restaurants, not more than 50 percent of seating capacity is permitted. Disposable menus are advised to be used. Instead of cloth napkins, use of good quality disposable paper napkins to be encouraged,” the guidelines add.

Stating that the number of people in elevators should be restricted, the guidelines highlight that large gatherings and congregations continue to remain prohibited. Contactless mode of ordering and digital mode of payment (using e-wallets) is also to be encouraged.

Shopping malls

In shopping malls too, only asymptomatic visitors shall be allowed, that too, with a face mask.

“Proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises – duly following physical distancing norms shall be ensured,” the guidelines state. This includes any shops, stalls, cafeteria etc. outside and within the premises.

“Preferably separate entry and exits for visitors, workers and goods/supplies shall be organised. Required precautions while handling supplies, inventories and goods in the shopping mall shall be ensured. Proper queue management and disinfection shall be organised,” the guidelines added.

There will be restrictions on the number of customers inside a shop and in elevators.

In food courts, not more than 50 percent of seating capacity is permitted. Gaming arcades will remain closed and tables will be sanitised each time a customer leaves.

Cinema halls inside shopping malls shall also remain closed.

Religious places

Places of worship will also have to make similar arrangements.

“Footwear to be preferably taken off inside one’s own vehicle. If needed, they should be kept in separate slots for each individual/family by the persons themselves,” the guidelines state.

Advising separate entry and exits if possible, the Centre recommended that a distance of six feet between each person was necessary.

“Seating arrangement to be made in such a way that adequate social distancing is maintained. Touching of statues/idols/holy books etc. not to be allowed. In view of the potential threat of spread of infection, as far as feasible, recorded devotional music/songs may be played and choir or singing groups should not be allowed,” the guidelines state.

“Common prayer mats should be avoided, and devotees should bring their own prayer mat or piece of cloth which they may take back with them. No physical offerings like ‘prasad’ distribution or sprinkling of holy water, etc to be allowed,” they add.

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