Accelerating efforts to restart long-stalled business activities to contain the economic cost of the pandemic, the Health Ministry on Thursday released SOPs for reopening offices, hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and religious places. Some of them have already re-opened in parts of the country and a few others are scheduled to re-start in the next phase of unlocking from next Monday.
India will throw open shopping malls, restaurants and places of worship that typically attract large crowds next week, officials said, even though coronavirus infections are rising at the fastest daily rate than at any time in the past three months.
Anxious to jump-start an economy crippled by COVID-19 and put millions of people back to work, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is dismantling its vast lockdown of the 1.3 billion population imposed in March.
Strict guidelines will accompany the loosening of restrictions on Monday, however.
Hotel guests will be tested for fever, masks will be compulsory at all times, and restaurants will have to set tables apart to maintain social distancing when they reopen on Monday, according to rules issued by the federal home ministry.
The aim of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for religious places, shopping malls, restaurants, hotel and offices is to instil appropriate behaviour among people to contain COVID-19 transmission chain while allowing resumption of social and economic activities, the Union health ministry said on Friday..
Anurag Katriar, president of the National Restaurant Association of India, said dining needed to be made safe but restrictions such as reducing seating capacity to maintain distance between people would be difficult to sustain.
“Very few restaurants are planning to open up on June 8, Financially, the 50% seating capacity doesn’t work at all.”
The guidelines for the restaurants specify that seating arrangement in the restaurant also to be made in such a way that adequate social distancing is maintained,.
disposable menus are advised to be used, Instead of cloth napkins, use of good quality disposable paper napkins to be encouraged and room service or takeaways to be encouraged, instead of dine-in.
"The new guidelines aim to instil COVID-19 appropriate behaviour to contain the chain of transmission while allowing social and economic activity to resume," the health ministry said.
In places of worship, people will be asked to wash their hands and feet before entering, and there will be no distribution of food offerings or sprinkling of holy water or touching of idols and holy books.
“In view of the potential threat of spread of infection, as far as feasible, recorded devotional music/songs may be played (but) choir or singing groups should not be allowed,” the home ministry said on its website.
India’s places of worship especially Hindu temples draw many thousands of people and the premises are usually not big enough to permit social distancing to curb any coronavirus contagion.
The large, wealthy Tirupati temple in southern India aims to keep pilgrims well apart by admitting a maximum 6,000 per day rather than the 80,000-100,000 it would normally allow.
Tirupati staff will wear protective suits and take random throat swabs from pilgrims, said Anil Singhal, the executive director of the temple’s trust organization.
For the offices, the guidelines say the entrance to have mandatory hand hygiene (sanitizer dispenser) and thermal screening provisions,only asymptomatic staff/visitors shall be allowed, any officer and staff residing in the containment zone should inform the same to the supervisory officer and not attend the office till the containment zone is denotified.
Such staff should be permitted to work from home and it will not be counted as leave period.
Drivers shall maintain social distancing and shall follow the required dos and don’ts related to COVID-19. It shall be ensured by the service providers/ officers/ staff that drivers residing in containment zones shall not be allowed to drive vehicles.
The number of active COVID-19 cases stood at 1,10,960 while 1,09,462 patients have recovered till Friday 8 AM with 5,355 having been cured in the last 24 hours, the health ministry said, adding the recovery rate was 48.27 per cent. Total coronavirus infections in India have reached 226,770, along with 6,348 deaths, the health ministry said on Friday. At the current rate of growth, the caseload will surpass Italy within the next two days to become the world’s sixth largest.