After a COVID-19 lockdown which lasted since 12:01 AM on March 25, Sikkim, the one state in India with zero confirmed cases of the coronavirus present, is taking the first careful steps to allow its residents to resume normal life.
A view of Sikkim, India, where the only state in the country where zero cases of COVID-19 have been reported. Photo: Image by Pralay Pal from Pixabay
The announcement of the first relaxed rules came down on April 18 from the Chief Minister’s office.
Among the new announcements were that as of April 20 many farms are now being able to return to normal operations, along with a larger set of essential services such as IT firms which will now be able to open to some extent. In both cases, since this is just a first step before the reopening of the region to full normal operations, these businesses are being asked to take special steps to ensure the safety of their workforce.
Among them is the requirement that, for newly reopening enterprises such as those in the information technology industries, the offices should be kept at 50% of less of the total number of employees the company is used to have in place.
According to measures agreed on with the Ministry of Home Affairs for the Government of India, even at these early stages, employers must:
Secure special passes for each employee who may begin coming to work prior to the national government authorizing full reopening of the entire state.
Make arrangements for temperature screening of every individual coming to the office, ideally using infrared temperature devices.
Ensure workplaces must have a gap of one hour between shifts and stagger lunch breaks for staff. Both steps are being taken to avoid having too many people in one place at any given time.
Encourage any person above 65 years of age, parents of children below the age of 5 years, and people with other medical issues may be encouraged to work from home.
For manufacturing facilities, the national government has also issued additional regulations, including that:
Employers must arrange for frequent cleaning of common surfaces, sterilization where appropriate, and mandatory handwashing for all.
All organizations must sanitize their workplace between shifts.
Large meetings in offices are strictly prohibited.
For the time being, one barrier for employers in Sikkim is that public transportation is still shut down. Employers wishing to arrange their own private transportation for more than one passenger in a car must coordinate with local officials. The government also encourages that those private vehicles be sanitized in between uses.
Barnabas Sherpa, the manager for Bid Ocean Consultancy Pvt. Ltd., an IT-related enterprise based in Amdo Golai, said that his team was already preparing for some people coming back to the offices within a few days.
He said that his staff had already arranged for many of the group to work effectively from home, with higher-speed internet installations for those mostly involved in pure data entry. For those who already are doing these, his company plans to ask them to stay at home for now, so that those most needing to be present in the office can do so.
Besides the government policies which have been asked of employers, other steps Mr. Sherpa said would be put in place at the office include:
Arranging for a minimum gap of 3 meters between workers in the office. Those who work in cubicles will be spaced at least this far apart.
Adding air purifiers in the facility wherever practical.
Taking the temperature of employees each day as they enter, using approved fever monitoring equipment. If temperatures exceed a given level, the employees will be sent home and encouraged to seek medical attention.
Providing transportation for all employees coming from home to work, including for the cook and the cleaning staff.
Another step with all companies are being asked to do is to have their employees download and sign into the government-approved Arogya Setu COVID-19 tracking mobile application on their smartphones. The application allows individuals to report on their particular symptoms related to COVID-19, enter any test results connected with the coronavirus, tracks where the individual is and whether they may be in the vicinity of someone who may be infected with the coronavirus.
As a gesture of support for the crisis everyone is dealing with, Bid Ocean Consultancy is providing free support to the government to help out with the Arogya Setu App, in coordination with government authorities.
A further step which is expected to roll out soon is to distribute a new “Rapid COVID” test kit deployed via all employers who will be open. With this test, if someone is suspected either of having been exposed to the virus or has symptoms consistent with it, they can take the test right away. The test makes it possible, according to Sikkim’s Chief Minister’s office, to have patients know in just 15 minutes whether they have the coronavirus.
At Sikkim Manipal University, one individual employed there praised what he saw as the care with which SMU was carefully tending to the care of its staff. He said that, “it’s good to see that our work culture in office is being strictly monitored every day by the authorities in charge. Even the staff buses are been sanitized every per ride to maintain the safety of our employees.”
Another employee also acknowledged that, “We are privileged here in Sikkim [as contrasted with other major cities in the country] to resume work operations.”