Focus/Spotlight

Transitioning from curfew to lockdown

By Sarah Hannan

The recent community clusters infected by Covid-19 shocked the public, showcasing the speed of the virus spreading if necessary precautions are not promptly taken.

Health authorities have warned that Sri Lanka is already in the third stage of the virus and the infected are easily traced back to one or more carriers from the starting cluster. However, if the country moves to the fourth stage a much larger number of persons could be exposed to the virus.

“Even the 10-20% of the workforce that would report to work as the first batch should adhere to health and safety guidelines that are in place,” said Deputy Director of Public Health Service Dr. Paba Palihawadana.

When the curfew was in place, the security forces, public health inspectors (PHIs), and healthcare personnel were mainly responsible for ensuring the virus did not spread further, but only with the support of the public.

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Ajith Rohana said the law enforcement authorities will be monitoring the movement of the public once the curfew is lifted islandwide.

“We urge the public to follow the guidelines and only step out of their houses for work or essential services. Some individuals are allowed to use their office ID as a curfew pass, but if we find out that they are misusing it, necessary action will be taken,” he stated.

He said that travelling between districts is still restricted and will be only allowed for essential service providers, who also need to have the necessary paperwork permitting travel on the selected route at all times with them.

In addition, in order to control the crowd stepping out of their houses when the curfew is relaxed, the Police will also look at the last digit of the national identity card (NIC) number and the corresponding date with it.

Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) are required to facilitate transport for the workforce that will be returning to work from 11 May. Only persons allowed to report to work will be permitted to use the transport facilities, while factories as well as state and private institutions have already been instructed to make the necessary arrangements with the SLTB and SLR to plan out their routes. Tri-forces and the Police will assist the SLTB and SLR to ensure passengers adhere to the transport usage guidelines.

Meanwhile, the Directorate of Environmental Health, Occupational Health, and Food Safety of the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services issued a guideline titled “Operational Guidelines on Preparedness and Response for Covid-19 Outbreak for Work Settings” outlining the general preventive measures and addition precautions workplaces should adopt when commencing operations.

General preventive measures

Restructuring the workplace, employers should establish policies and practices such as limiting operations to essential processes and flexible work hours to increase the physical and social distancing strategy.

Employers are advised to establish alternate days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a workplace at a given time, allowing them to maintain distance from one another.

Furthermore, work stations should be arranged in such a way to keep a distance of one meter between workers, and all employees and employers must wear masks at all times.

All workplaces should identify a suitable focal point (e.g. a nursing officer, a safety officer, Human Resource Manager, or any officer found to be suitable and responsible for the position) to monitor the control activities implemented against Covid-19 infection within the work space as well as to provide necessary guidance in case of queries.

A separate isolation room, preferably with an attached bathroom/toilet, is also identified as essential in the workplace in order to transfer workers suspected of having the infection.

Workplace safety measures

Entering the workplace:

  • Anyone entering the premises should wash their hands with soap and water before entering. Alternatively, hand rubbing with alcohol-based sanitizer (minimum 70% v/v alcohol) can be adopted, especially when after using the fingerprint scanner
  • While the temperatures of all the staff at the time of entering the workplace should be checked, any person recording a temperature above 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celcius should be re-checked after 10-15 minutes of rest for confirmation
  • Practising respiratory etiquette and keeping direct verbal communication at a minimum is advised

Employees should refrain reporting to work:

  • If they have fever, with or without acute onset respiratory symptoms such as cough, runny nose, sore throat, and/or shortness of breath
  • Those who have had contact with suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 for the last 14 days
  • Those who are quarantined for Covid-19. The employer should ensure that if a sick person reports for work, he/she is sent back home immediately

Discourage workers from:

  • Using other workers’ mobile phones, pens, and other common telephones, fax machines, desks, or other work tools and equipment, whenever possible
  • If any object has been shared, it must be cleaned with soap and water or with minimum 70% v/v alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Shaking hands/hugging and adopt other non-touch techniques of greeting

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces:

  • Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine wiping/cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other items in the work environment
  • After cleaning by damp dusting/wet mopping or washing with soap and water or a general-purpose detergent, all metal surfaces should be disinfected with minimum of 70% v/v alcohol solution while all non-metal surfaces are disinfected with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite solution
  • Door knobs/handles shall be cleaned and disinfected before every shift in every three hours. Floors, office equipment, and furniture should be cleaned with disinfectant minimum twice a day
  • Strip door curtains should be avoided and if they are absolutely necessary, they should be cleaned and disinfected three times a day

Transportation of workers:

  • Every part of the vehicles should be cleaned and disinfected before transporting passengers to prevent possible cross contamination
  • Arrange a vehicle with an appropriate seating capacity according to the number of workers in order for them to maintain at least a meter’s distance
  • A designated officer must be present to open and close doors of the vehicle for passengers

Entering your house after work:

  • Remove the clothing and shoes/slippers and leave them outside, and wash them before taking inside or wearing them again
  • Leave all your belongings outside. If any item is taken inside the house, either wash it with soap and water or disinfect with alcohol sanitizer. (This applies to your mobile phone, spectacles, wrist-watch etc.)
  • Enter the house only after a bath