Tamil Nadu

Anticipating, preparing for workplace clusters

Rising count: The tests done in many commercial establishments threw up a positivity rate of over 30% in Chennai, putting a question mark over easing of lockdown norms.   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

The world over, as lockdowns are eased or lifted and people get back to work, clustered outbreaks of COVID-19 in occupational settings have been reported. Chennai is no exception to this. As several of the restrictions were relaxed, even as the lockdown per se continues, employees were allowed to return to their workplaces, concerns have begun emerging.

The Greater Chennai Corporation has said the positivity rate has been rising among workers of commercial establishments over the past few days. “The government has relaxed e-passes [norms] to revive the economy in the unlocking phase. As a result, the number of cases is rising. We anticipated it. So we have taken measures to contain the spread,” says Corporation Commissioner G. Prakash.

“These are not large clusters in the sense we understand that word. They are smaller groups of people who have started to come back to work, and subsequently test positive. They could, of course, have been infected at home, or anywhere outside. But when people work in an enclosed space, without observing certain norms, the chances of transmission are high,” clarifies Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan.

30% positivity rate

According to the Corporation, the positivity rate in tests done in many commercial establishments has indicated a positivity rate of over 30%. For instance, 20 out of 60 employees tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday in a commercial establishment in George Town on Friday. Last week, the positivity in commercial establishments was around 10%, they claim. In such instances, the establishments have been sealed and workers isolated.

“We will reopen the establishments in a few days and permit workers who tested negative for COVID-19. Health experts will give assistance to commercial establishments and advise them how to resume operations,” said a Corporation official.

“We do not want anyone to feel threatened or agitated. We are basically looking to address the challenges in the workplaces,” Dr. Radhakrishnan says. Those who go back to work should strictly follow the protocol, and if there are symptoms, they will be encouraged to avail the government’s free testing facilities.

The incidence of such clusters must be anticipated, and preparations made, given the global experience.

An European Centres for Disease Prevention and Control report recorded that 15 European Union/European Economic Area countries and the United Kingdom reported 1,376 clusters of COVID-19 in occupational settings which occurred between March and early July.

WHO guidelines

While relaxations of lockdowns are inevitable, and essential, Ivan D. Ivanov, team lead, Occupational and Workplace Health, WHO, lists certain precautions that must be taken at the workplace. Besides the usual recommendation for physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene and periodic disinfection of common surfaces, he calls for regular risk assessment and interventions to reduce social mixing. Managements should split teams and stagger work and rest hours for employees so that gathering together for lunch or coffee breaks can be avoided.

The document calls for informing health authorities once someone tests positive and facilitate proper contact tracing.

Prabhdeep Kaur, deputy director, ICMR’s National Institute of Epidemiology, who is on the State’s health expert team, tweeted similar advice: “1. Implement 100% mask policy. 2. Enable social distancing by reorganising workspaces. 3. Provide hand sanitisers in multiple places. 4. Limit the number of people using cafeteria at a time.”

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 3:48:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/anticipating-preparing-for-workplace-clusters/article32469844.ece

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