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Entire office building needn’t be closed if one or two COVID-19 cases are reported: MoH&FW

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The ministry lists down guidelines on the preventive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in workplace settings

The entire office building need not be closed if one or two cases of COVID-19 are reported there and work can resume after it is disinfected as per protocol, the Union health ministry said.

However, if there is a larger outbreak, the entire building will have to be closed for 48 hours. All staff will work from home till the building is adequately disinfected and is declared fit for re-occupation, it said in the guidelines on preventive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in workplace settings.

The document outlines the preventive and response measures to be observed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in workplace settings.

It stated that any staff reportedly suffering from a flu-like illness should not attend office and seek medical advice from local health authorities. Such persons, if diagnosed as a suspect or confirmed case of COVID-19 should immediately inform office authorities, it said.

“Any staff requesting home quarantine based on the containment zone activities in their residential areas should be permitted to work from home. DoPT guidelines with respect to organising meetings, coordinating visitors shall be scrupulously followed,” the guidelines stated.

The high-risk exposure contacts will be quarantined for 14 days and they will follow the guidelines on home quarantine and undergo testing as per ICMR protocol while low-risk exposure contacts shall continue to work and closely monitor their health for next 14 days, the ministry stated in the guidelines.

It stated that since offices and other workplaces are relatively close settings with shared spaces like corridors, elevators and stairs, cafeteria, meeting rooms and conference halls, coronavirus infection can spread relatively fast among officials, staff and visitors.

“Thus there is a need to prevent importation of infection in workplace settings 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 infection,” the ministry said in the document.

The basic preventive measures include maintaining physical distancing of at least one meter, mandatory use of face covers or masks, practising frequent hand-washing for at least 40-60 seconds even when hands are not visibly dirty and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Respiratory etiquettes such as covering mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing with a tissue, handkerchief or flexed elbow and disposing of used tissues properly should be strictly followed besides self-monitoring of health by all and reporting any illness at the earliest, the guidelines state.

As for offices, guidelines with respect to preventive measures specific to offices issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) should be followed, it said.

The ministry, however, stated that, despite taking the measures, occurrence COVID-19 infection among the employees working in the office cannot be ruled out.

“If there are one or two cases reported, disinfection procedure will be limited to places/areas visited by the patient in the 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,” the guidelines noted.

When one or a few persons who share a room or close office space are found to be suffering from symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, the ill person should be placed in a room or area where they are isolated from others at the workplace and should be provided a mask or face cover till such time he/she is examined by a doctor.

Central or state health authorities concerned should be reported about such cases and a risk assessment will be undertaken by the designated public health authority, and accordingly, further advice shall be made regarding the management of a case, his/her contacts and need for disinfection, the guidelines stated.

If a suspected case reports very mild or mild symptoms on an assessment by the health authorities, the person would be placed in home isolation, subject to fulfilment of criteria laid down by the MoH&FW, it stated.

The rapid response team of the district concerned shall be requisitioned and will undertake the listing of contacts. The necessary actions for contact tracing and disinfection of the workplace will start once the test report of the patient is received as positive, the guidelines said.

According to the ministry, if there are large numbers of contacts from a pre-symptomatic/asymptomatic case, there could be a possibility of a cluster emerging in a workplace setting. Due to the close environment in workplace settings, this could even be a large cluster. The 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. 

Contacts are those who have been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case anytime between 2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the date of isolation or maximum 14 days after the onset of symptoms.

High-risk contact are those who have touched body fluids of the patient, had direct physical contact with the patient, including physical examination without PPE, touched or cleaned the linens or dishes of the patient and was in close proximity (within 1 meter) of the confirmed case without precautions and travelled in same environment but not having a high-risk exposure. 

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