Stagger office timings, allow only asymptomatic staff: Health Min SOP

As India readies for a new normal after a stringent 70-day nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus and enters into Unlock 1.0, the Union Health Ministry on Thursday released the standard operating procedures (SOP) for workplaces and asked to opt for staggered office timings.

The SOP said that only asymptomatic staff or visitors should be allowed in the office and temporary passes for visitors will remain suspended.

In the detailed guidelines, the Health Ministry said that offices will remain closed in the containment zones across the country and only those outside the containment zones will be allowed to open as outlined by the states.

The SOP prepared by the Health Ministry outlined various generic precautionary measures to be adopted in addition to specific measures to be taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It said that people above 65 years of age, people with comorbidities and pregnant women are advised to stay at home, except for essential and health purposes.

For all the establishments, the government has recommended ensuring proper social distancing norms and disinfection of spaces and wearing of masks.

The ministry said that offices and other workplaces are relatively closed settings with shared spaces like work stations, corridors, elevators and stairs, parking places, cafeteria, meeting rooms and conference halls etc. and the Covid-19 infection can spread relatively fast among the staff and visitors.

There is a need to prevent the spread of the infection and to respond in a timely and effective manner in case a suspect case of Covid-19 is detected in these settings, so as to limit the spread of the virus, it said.

The Ministry advised staggering of office hours, lunch hours or coffee breaks, as far as feasible. It said that any shop, stall, cafeteria etc., outside and within the office premises, shall follow social distancing norms at all times.

The ministry said that routine issuance of visitors’ or temporary passes should be suspended and only visitors with proper permission of the official whom they want to meet should be allowed after being properly screened.

It further said that meetings, as far as feasible, should be done through video conferencing.

The ministry also said that only asymptomatic staff or visitor shall be allowed in the office premises and any officer or staff residing in the containment zone should inform the same to the supervisory authority and not attend the office till the containment zone is denotified.

“Staffs residing in containment zones should be permitted to work from home and it will not be counted as leave period while drivers shall maintain social distancing and follow the required dos and don’ts related to Covid-19,” it said, adding that it shall be ensured by the service providers or officers or staff that drivers residing in the containment zones shall not be allowed to drive vehicles.

“Seating arrangements need to be made in such a way that adequate social distancing is maintained,” the fresh guidelines said.

It also said that the number of people in the elevators shall be restricted, duly maintaining social distancing norms for all settings.

“Also, for air-conditioning/ventilation, the guidelines of the Central Public Works Department (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, and relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70 per cent,” it said, adding that proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises — duly following social distancing norms — be ensured.

The new SOP also advised that the seating arrangement in offices should ensure a distance of at least one meter between patrons as far as feasible.