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.

Read | Staggering of visitors, disposable menus: Guidelines for hotels, malls, religious places ahead of reopening

Read | Centre issues SOPs for malls: Mandatory masks, staggered entry; cinema halls, gaming arcades to remain shut

Watch | India’s total coronavirus cases stand at 2,16,919



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The Health Ministry on Thursday released the standard operating procedure for restaurants and hotels which included measures like allowing only asymptomatic staff and guests inside the premises and proper crowd management.

The ministry asked employees who are at higher risk — like older staff members or those who are pregnant or have underlying medical conditions — to take extra precautions.

“They should preferably not be exposed to any front-line work requiring direct contact with the public. Proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises duly following social distancing norms shall be ensured,” it said.

“Preferably separate entry and exits for patrons, staff and goods/supplies shall be organised,” it said.

The ministry also asked hotels and restaurant owners to encourage contactless mode of ordering and digital payments (using e-wallets).

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.

“Gaming arcades/children play areas (wherever applicable) shall remain closed,” it said.

In SOPs 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. 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.

For air-conditioning and ventilation, the ministry said 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 degrees Celsius, relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70 per cent and intake of fresh air should be as much as possible and cross ventilation should be adequate.

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The wild elephant photographed on May 27 (Picture Courtesy: Facebook @mohan.krishnan.1426)

The death of an elephant in Kerala’s Palakkad district has enraged citizens across the country. Preliminary reports suggested that the wild female elephant ate a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers which exploded in her mouth. This rendered her incapable to eat or drink anything.

Experiencing insufferable pain, the pregnant wild elephant stood for a whole day in the Velliyar river area in Palakkad district before collapsing to her death on May 27.

Ever since a forest ranger posted pictures of the elephant and other officials claimed to have narrated her ordeal, the incident has sparked a new debate about animal cruelty in India. While some aspects of the animal’s unfortunate demise have been cleared up by concerned departments of the Kerala administration, other details about what led to the incident are still unclear.

Background

In a statement he issued on Thursday, Kerala Chief Wildlife Warden Surendra Kumar said that the wild elephant was first noticed by locals in Palakkad district on May 23. The animal went back into the forest before returning on May 25, added Kumar.

The state’s top IFS officer, Surendra Kumar also confirmed that the pregnant wild elephant stood for a whole day inside the Velliyar River before collapsing to her death.

Surendra Kumar also said that while the forest department is probing the circumstances of the elephant’s death, it is difficult to believe that someone would have willingly fed the elephant a pineapple. No one would dare to go near a wild elephant in the first place, Kumar said.

Inquiry

Responding to claims and concerns, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took to Twitter on Thursday to say, “An investigation is underway, focusing on three suspects. The police and forest departments will jointly investigate the incident. The district police chief and the district forest officer visited the site today. We will do everything possible to bring the culprits to justice.”

Kerala Chief Wildlife Warden Surendra Kumar also mentioned that a case was registered in connection with the jumbo’s death in Palakkad on May 28 itself. One person was reportedly detained on Thursday but the police are yet to confirm whether the person has been arrested or charged with a crime.

Preliminary post-mortem

The report of the elephant’s preliminary post-mortem revealed on Thursday that the animal died as a result of drowning. This was followed by inhalation of water that led to lung failure which has been identified as the immediate cause of death.

This preliminary post-mortem was conducted at the Mannarkkad Forest Division.

In addition, the preliminary post-mortem also confirmed the presence of major and incapacitating wounds and injuries in the elephant’s oral cavity that caused localised sepsis. Stating the reason for these oral wounds and injuries, the report said, “have most likely occurred following an explosive blast in the mouth”. The report also said that the oral injury restricted the animal from taking food or water for nearly two weeks.

“Severe debility and weakness in turn resulted in the final collapse in water that led to drowning,” the report added.

Centre intervenes

Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar also took note of the elephant’sdeath. In a tweet, the Union Minister said, “Central Government has taken a very serious note of the killing of an elephant in Mallapuram, #Kerala. We will not leave any stone unturned to investigate properly and nab the culprit(s). This is not an Indian culture to feed fire crackers and kill.”

Political overtones shadow demise

On Wednesday, Lok Sabha MP and renowned animal rights advocate Maneka Gandhi took to Twitter to denounce the wild elephant’s death and the circumstances that caused it. She, however, stated that the incident took place in Malappuram, a district she claimed “is known for its intense criminal activity especially with regards to animals”. The former Union Minister went further to state, “No action has ever been taken against a single poacher or wildlife killer so they keep doing it.”

It was also pointed out that initial news reports suggesting that the death took place in Malappuram district along with the Lok Sabha MP’s tweet led to an online slur campaign.

Taking to Twitter on Thursday, Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor said, “The death of the pregnant elephant moved me terribly, but the disinformation being circulated around it by motivated people needs to be spiked immediately. The incident did not happen in Muslim-majority Malappuram district, but in Palakkad. @RahulGandhi is not MP from there.”

A statement was also issued by KC Venugopal, General Secretary in-charge of the Congress party in this regard.

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan also waded in on the discussion about the site of the elephant’s death. He told media outlets on Thursday, “Death of a living creature which was pregnant is always a painful thing but this was used for targeted campaign against Kerala and Malappuram. People including union ministers indulged in this false campaign. This is not acceptable.”

“Nature consists of humans and animals. To maintain balance we are continuously making efforts to avoid the conflict. But using this as a campaign is not acceptable.They would have corrected had it been a misconception but now that they are unwilling to correct shows that it is a targeted campaign,” CM Pinarayi Vijayan said.

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Gehlot issued the orders on June 4 following which the Home Department initiated the process to write to the CBI in this regard.

The family of the SHO had urged the CM to hand over the case to the CBI amid allegations that the deceased was under tremendous political pressure. (File photo)

The family of the SHO had urged the CM to hand over the case to the CBI amid allegations that the deceased was under tremendous political pressure. (File photo)

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has sought CBI inquiry into a suicide by a police inspector on May 23.

He issued the orders on June 4 following which the Home Department initiated the process to write to the CBI in this regard.

However, it is not sure if the CBI will take up the case or not. Normally, the CBI does not take up such cases and if the agency takes it up, it may well be for political reasons because the state BJP has been demanding it hoping to corner the ruling Congress government.

The family of the Vishnu Dutt Vishno, SHO, Rajgarh had in a letter urged the CM to hand over the case to the CBI amid allegations that the deceased was under tremendous political pressure.

It is widely believed that local MLA Krishna Poonia, an international discus thrower, was the one pressuring the SHO. Poonia, too, has asked for an independent inquiry in the case.

The BJP suspects that a CBI inquiry can throw some light on whether the Chief Minister’s Office had passed on any instructions at Poonia’s behest against Vishnoi.

A delegation of Vishnoi leaders had also met with Gehlot and urged him for a CBI inquiry. Following the meeting, Gehlot announced that he was open to any inquiry that the family of the cop wanted.

Vishnoi had left two suicide notes but in none of them did he specify the reason for the extreme action.

He ended his life by hanging himself at his official accommodation late at night, after he had returned from investigating a murder, alleged to be a gang war. Gehlot had transferred the investigation of the murder to a Special Oeration Group (SOG).

Vishnoi had asked his officers to shift him out of Rajgarh and reportedly also indicated in various conversations and in daily diary report about pressure tactics by certain politicians.

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