Unlock-1: Health Ministry guidelines and SOPs for offices, malls, religious places

The guidelines cover social distancing, AC settings, and safety do's and don'ts

connaught place deserted arvind jain Delhi's Connaught Place during the Janata curfew of March 22 | Arvind Jain

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.

Additional guidelines can be found on the Health Ministry’s website.

Health Ministry guidelines for shopping malls

Similar to the guidelines for offices, persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women and children below the age of 10 years are advised to stay at home, except for essential and health purposes. Shopping mall management are to advise accordingly.

The generic measures include simple public health measures including physical distancing of at least 6 feet, mandatory use of face masks, respiratory etiquette, spitting being prohibited and the installation and use of the Aarogya Setu app being “advised to all”.

Entrances must have hand sanitisers and crowd management should be followed, with social distancing to be observed in any shops, stalls, cafeterias or so on. Social distancing should be followed inside shops and in elevators.

Large gatherings and congregations continue to remain prohibited.

In food courts and restaurants, not more than 50 per cent of seating capacity should be permitted. Disposable menus are advised to be used. Food court staff / waiters should wear mask and hand gloves and take other required precautionary measures. The seating arrangement should ensure adequate social distancing between patrons as far as feasible.

Contactless mode of ordering and digital mode of payment (using e-wallets) to be encouraged, and tables are to be sanitized each time a customer leaves.

Gaming arcades, children’s play areas and cinema halls shall remain closed.

Air-conditioning guidelines are similar to that stated for offices.

Health Ministry guidelines for restaurants: Encourage takeaway, disposable menus

Restaurants in containment zones shall remain closed. Only those outside containment zones will be allowed to open up.

In the SOP released for restaurants, the ministry has curtailed the seating capacity to 50 per cent. Disposable menus are advised to be used. Instead of cloth napkins, use of disposable paper napkins should be encouraged.

Restaurants have been asked to encourage takeaways instead of dine-in.

"Food delivery personnel should leave the packet at the customer's door. Do not handover the food packet directly to the customer," it said.

The ministry also said that the staff for home deliveries shall be screened thermally by the restaurant authorities prior to allowing home deliveries.

"Entrance to have mandatory hand hygiene (sanitizer dispenser) and thermal screening provisions and only asymptomatic staff and patrons shall be allowed," it said.

Staggering of patrons to be done, if possible. Only asymptomatic staff and patrons shall be allowed.

All staff and patrons to be allowed entry only if using face cover/masks. The face cover/masks has to be worn at all times inside the restaurant.

Posters/standees/AV media on preventive measures about COVID-19 to be displayed prominently.

Adequate manpower should be deployed by restaurant management for ensuring social-distancing norms, it said.

Specific markings may be made with sufficient distance to manage the queue and ensure social distancing in the premises. Maintaining physical distancing of a minimum of 6 feet, when queuing up for entry and inside the restaurant as far as feasible.

Air-conditioning guidelines are similar to that stated for offices.

Health Ministry guidelines for religious places: No prasad, touching statues or books not allowed

Religious places inside containment zones shall remain closed for public and those outside will be allowed to open, according to the SOPs issued by the Union Health Ministry on Thursday to contain the COVID-19 spread at such venues.

Places of worship get frequented by a large number of people for spiritual solace and to prevent COVID-19 spread, it is important that required social distancing and other preventive measures are followed in those premises, the ministry said.

In view of the potential threat of the spread of the infection, as far as feasible recorded devotional music or songs may be played and choir or singing groups should not be allowed, the Standard Operating Procedures stated.

Common prayer mats should be avoided and devotees should bring their own mat or piece of cloth which they may take back with them.

"No physical offerings like prasad/distribution or sprinkling of holy water, etc should be allowed inside the religious place," the ministry said, underlining that community kitchens, langars, 'Ann-Daan' etc at religious places should follow physical distancing norms while preparing and distributing food.

The ministry advised persons aged above 65, having comorbidities, pregnant woman and children below the age of 10 years to stay at home and avoid visiting religious places.

According to the SOPs, all religious places should ensure hand hygiene (sanitizer dispenser) and make thermal screening provisions at the entrance mandatorily. They should allow only asymptomatic persons in the premises and allowing those using face cover or masks.

Audio and video clips to spread awareness on preventive measures for COVID-19 should be regularly played while posters on preventive measures should to be displayed prominently, it said.

"Staggering of visitors to be done, if possible. Foot wears to be preferably taken-off inside own vehicle. If needed they should be kept in separate slots for each individual/ family by the persons themselves. Any shops, stalls, cafeteria etc, outside and within the premises shall follow social distancing norms at all times," the SOPs stated.

The SOPs underlined maintaining physical distancing of a minimum of six feet at all times when queuing up for entry and for washing hands and feet with soap and water before entering the premises.

Touching of statues, idols and holy books should not be allowed and large gatherings remain prohibited.

The premises should be disinfected if the person is found positive, it added.

Health Ministry guidelines for hotels and hospitality services: Note guests’ travel history

For hotels and hospitality services, it asked them to ensure a proper record of the guest's travel history and medical condition, along with ID and self-declaration form.

"Luggage should be disinfected before sending the luggage to rooms. For room service, communication between guests and in-house staff should be through intercom/ mobile phone and room service (if any) should be provided while maintaining adequate social distance," it said.

With inputs from PTI