Health ministry issues guidelines for hotels and places of worship

As the country continue forming its unlockdown policy, the Health ministry has issued guidelines for hotels and places of worship to prevent coronavirus pandemic.

Frequently touched surfaces such as door knobs at hotels must be disinfected regularly, disposable menu cards are recommended at food courts in malls, just 50% seating capacity can be utilised at restaurants, and offerings at religious places will be prohibited for now — these are some of the guidelines released by the health and family welfare ministry on Thursday as part of a three-phased plan aimed at lifting restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The standard operating procedures (SOPs) came four days ahead of the opening of malls, religious places, and hotels and restaurants in several parts of the country from June 8 in the first phase of what the Centre calls Unlock 1, and gives a glimpse of life in the aftermath of a pandemic.

“This is an exhaustive list…that must be followed to help in containing the spread of Covid-19. We are working on some more (guidelines) that should be out in coming days,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, Union health ministry.

The list of dos and don’ts has some common themes: physical distancing of at least six feet; mandatory use of face covers; frequent hand washing with soaps (for at least 40-60 seconds); use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers; and covering mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing.

Those above 65 years, children below 10 years, persons with underlying health conditions and pregnant women have been advised to stay at home. People have been advised to install and use the Aarogya Setu app. The directive also said temperature setting of all air conditioning devices should be in the range of 24-30 degrees Celsius, and the relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70%.

Hotels

The specific guidelines for hotels and hospitality units include thermal screening at the entry; proper crowd management on hotel premises and parking lots; disinfection of car steering, door handles and keys; separate entry and exits for guests, staff and goods/supplies if possible; restriction on the number of people on elevators; and markings for social distancing.

Additionally, details of the guest (travel history, medical condition etc.) along with an identity card and a self-declaration form must be provided at the reception. “Hotels must adopt contactless processes like QR code, online forms, digital payments like e-wallet etc. for both check-in and check-out,” the guidelines said, adding that luggage should be disinfected before sending the luggage to rooms.

For room service, communication between guests and in-house staff should be through intercom, and room service should be provided while maintaining adequate social distance.

Regular disinfection of frequently touched surfaces (door knobs, elevator buttons, hand rails) will be made mandatory, and deep cleaning of all washrooms shall be ensured at regular intervals.

Room service or takeaways will be encouraged, instead of dine-in. Food delivery personnel should leave the packet at a guest’s or customer’s door. While disposable menus are recommended, the guidelines favoured the use of good quality disposable paper napkins in place of cloth napkins.

Shopping malls

Only asymptomatic people will be allowed, with a staggered entry system. Any shops, stalls, cafeteria etc. outside and within the premises will have to follow social distancing norms. Gaming arcades, children’s play areas, and cinema halls will remain shut.

In food courts, the management will have to ensure adequate crowd management. Staff and waiters should wear masks and hand gloves. Seating arrangement should ensure social distancing. Contactless mode of ordering and digital mode of payment will be encouraged.

Restaurants

All directives for restaurants in hotels and food courts will be applicable. Also, just 50% of the seating capacity of a restaurant must be utilised for dine-in customers. Also, specific markings should be made to manage queues and ensure social distancing when patrons are waiting for a table.

Religious places

“Shoes or footwear to be preferably taken off inside own vehicle,” the directive said. Touching of statues idols, holy books etc. are not allowed. Large gatherings will continue to remain prohibited.

Recorded devotional music and songs recommended, while inviting choirs or singing groups is not advisable.

“Avoid physical contact while greeting each other. Common prayer mats should be avoided and devotees should bring their own prayer mat or piece of cloth which they may take back with them,” said the guidelines. Physical offerings such as prasad distribution or sprinkling of holy water are not allowed. Community kitchens/langars will have to follow social distancing.

Offices

Staff living in containment zones will not attend office, which are already functioning unlike malls and religious places. Such staff should be permitted to work from home, and it will not be counted as leave period.

The issuance of visitors’ or temporary passes is suspended, and those with proper permission should be allowed to meet an officer after being properly screened. Meetings through video conferencing are advised.

“The next stage of transmission can be managed only if we can adopt an approach similar to that of Japan, which focused on ‘3 Cs’ that denote high-risk places and situations — closed spaces, crowded places, close-contact settings. The confluence of these three together accentuates the risk in closed places such as religious places,” said Giridhara Babu, head, life course epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India.


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