Any employee residing in a COVID-19 containment zone should be allowed to work from home and not attend office till the time the area is denotified and that period will not be counted as leave, the Union health ministry said on Thursday.
According to SOP issued by the ministry against the backdrop of the government’s plans to open up the economy, an entire office building need not be closed if one or two cases of COVID-19 are reported there and work can resume after disinfection as per the laid down protocols.
However, if there is a larger outbreak, the entire building will have to be closed for 48 hours and all the staff will work from home till the building is adequately disinfected and is declared fit for re-occupation, the ministry said in its ‘SOPs on preventive measures to contain spread of COVID-19 in offices’.
Offices in containment zones will remain closed except for medical and essential services and only those outside will be allowed to open up, the ministry said.
According to the SOP, any officer or staff residing in containment zones should inform the same to the supervisory officer and not attend office till the zone is denotified. They should be permitted to work from home and it will not be counted as leave period.
Hand hygiene (sanitizer dispenser) and thermal screening provisions should be put in place at the entrances mandatorily and only asymptomatic staff/visitors should be allowed, it said.
People above 65, those with co-morbidities and pregnant women are advised to stay at home, except for essential and health purposes, and the office management should facilitate the process, the SOP said.
All officers and staff will be allowed entry only if they are using face cover/masks and these should be worn at all times on the office premises, it said.
Drivers should maintain social distancing and prescribed ‘dos and don’ts’ related to COVID-19. It should be ensured by the service providers and officers that drivers residing in containment zones are not allowed to drive vehicles, the SOP stated.
The interior of the vehicles should be disinfected using 1 per cent sodium hypochlorite solution/spray and the steering, door handles, keys, etc. should be properly disinfected.
As per the SOP, routine issue of visitor/temporary passes should be suspended, and visitors with proper permission of the officer they want to meet should be allowed after being properly screened.
Meetings, as far as feasible, should be done through video conferencing and large gatherings prohibited, it said.
“Offices and other workplaces are relatively close settings, with shared spaces like work stations, corridors, elevators, stairs, parking places, cafeteria, meeting rooms and conference halls etc and COVID-19 infection can spread relatively fast among officials, staffs and visitors.
“There is a need to prevent spread of infection and to respond in a timely and effective manner in case suspect case of COVID-19 is detected in these settings, so as to limit the spread of infection,” the ministry said.
Listing the SOP, the ministry highlighted the need for maintaining effective and frequent sanitation within the premises, with a particular focus on lavatories, drinking and hand washing stations.
It underlined that frequently touched surfaces like door knobs, elevator buttons, hand rails, benches, washroom fixtures on office premises and common areas should be cleaned and regularly disinfected (using 1 pc sodium hypochlorite).
Adequate crowd and queue management, along with social distancing norms, should be ensured in the cafeteria and canteen, and the staff and waiters should wear masks and hand gloves and take other required precautionary measures, it said.
Seating arrangement should ensure a distance of at least 1 metre between patrons as far as feasible, the SOP mentioned.
“If there are large numbers of contacts from a pre-symptomatic/asymptomatic case, there could be a possibility of a cluster emerging in workplace setting. Due to the close environment in workplace settings, this could even be a large cluster (>15 cases),” the document said.
In such cases, essential principles of risk assessment, isolation and quarantine of contacts, case referral and management will remain the same.
However, the scale of arrangements will be higher, it underlined.
The ministry, however, stated that despite taking the measures, the occurrence of cases among employees working in the office cannot be ruled out.
When one or few person(s) who share a room/close office space are found to be suffering from symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, the ill person should be isolated from others, it said.
The nearest medical facility or the state or the district helpline should be informed and a risk assessment undertaken by the designated public health authority. Accordingly, further advice shall be made regarding the management of case, his/her contacts and the need for disinfection.
The suspect case, if reporting very mild/mild symptoms on the assessment by the health authorities, would be placed under home isolation while if assessed by health authorities as moderate to severe, will be treated as per the health protocols in an appropriate health facilities, the SOP stated.
The rapid response team of the district concerned shall be requisitioned and it will undertake the listing of contacts, it added.
The necessary actions for contact-tracing and disinfection of workplace will start once the report of the patient is received as positive, the SOP stated.