Business groups welcome revisions to COVID-19 control protocols

Business groups welcome revisions to COVID-19 control protocols

Observer staff reporter

Monday, September 21, 2020

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THE business community is welcoming news from the Ministry of Health and Wellness that once they consistently observe the protocols in their daily operations, they are not mandated to close their doors if employees become exposed to the virus.

In recent weeks, buisnesses have been increasingly reporting that they are closing for a day or two for sanitisation and deep cleaning.

But at a digital press conference last week, chief medical officer, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, communicated that under the updated infection prevention and control guidelines necessitated by the community spread of the virus, more frequent cleaning is more efficient at slowing the spread.

“What employers and employees have to recognise is that we no longer know who the positive persons are because there are several positive persons in our community. They look just like you; they move around just like you; they are not having symptoms; they don't know that they are positive and you are not going to know they are positive,” she said.

“It makes sense therefore that everything that you do in your daily operations, whether it is in your home, whether it is in community, whether it is in your workplace, that those measures are sufficient to protect you and to protect others...Wearing a mask, physical distancing, hand sanitising and infection control measures in the workplace, such as daily cleaning and frequent wiping of frequently used surfaces will be sufficient to reduce exposure,” the CMO added.

Lloyd Distant, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the update in the protocols.

“In relation to the guidance provided by the Ministry of Health where they say it is not necessary to shut down, we appreciate that guidance. I think it has become clear over time, in accordance with the science and the data, that there is no significant benefit that comes from temporary shutdown. The activity that is most important is to ensure that we have proper and intensive deep cleaning on a more regular basis.

“The most important thing, because we are in community transmission, is to ensure that everyone is taking the necessary steps to be personally responsible and the expectation is that businesses will continue to be responsible for their environment, their demands of their employees, and the protection of their customers,” said Distant.

He added, however, that the new guidelines do not prevent businesses from taking other steps that they believe are necessary.

“What we have said to our members and other businesses is that they should do more intensive sanitisation; using a higher concentration in cleaning agents and cleaning more regularly. That would significantly reduce the risk of transmission. We are of the view, though, that where there are direct contacts, businesses ought to take a more cautious approach than is recommended by the ministry. And in that instant, anybody who was in direct contact, they should either get them tested to ascertain the extent to which they have been exposed and any additional testing and ensure that they stay out of the office for a couple of days to ensure that there are no symptoms; whatever those steps are that the business considers to be prudent, they should follow that,” said Distant.

Distant said that most businesses and the entities of our members have indicated that they are following, as far as possible, protocols and that since we have hit the community transmission phase, they have become more vigilant in ensuring that their employees and customers are following the protocols.

Meanwhile, in the tourism industry, which saw several hotels and resorts shutting down at the first showing of the virus in the island in March, new approaches have since been adopted, according to president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Omar Robinson.

“Thankfully, there have been no known cases in the hotels, but that is the direction in which the JHTA would go to recommend to its members to sanitise. We would definitely not close, but to sanitise and get the areas ready again for use.

“It's impractical to close the entire operation and we welcome those revisions in the protocol,” said Robinson.

He added that some of the more robust set of protocols were implemented in hotels since the country's borders were reopened.

“We had full adherence to the protocols, so all that members are doing now is just ensuring that everything continues to go according to those protocols. For us it's just the ongoing monitoring to ensure that there is full adherence.

“We were compliant and we will remain compliant. There was nothing that needed to be changed because we have a robust set of protocols that we were already using,” said Robinson.

The global services sector (formerly business process outsourcing) is another industry where stringent safety measures were implemented after a workplace cluster at the Alorica call centre in Portmore, St Catherine, triggered a spike in positive cases in April.

According to Gloria Henry, president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica, call centres continue to have 45-50 per cent of their employees work from home, in addition to observing a set of environmental guidelines approved by the ministry in May.

“In respect of any change to our protocols, we are engaging a disaster risk management consultant that will be looking at a more science-based set of protocols to guide us, to see to what extent the ones that we are using need to be improved, just to ensure that they are suitable. So far they have been working,” said Henry.

Henry said also that companies will take their own decision in relation to work-from-home.

“Work-at-home is not just for the employer, it's also to protect the employee. They have to travel; some of them have children that they are homeschooling because of the closure of schools. Some of them have elderly relatives with co-morbidities. It's a number of factors that go into a decision in terms of work-at-home.

“Even with the Government easing the restrictions, companies may still decide that it suits them to continue to have a percentage of their workforce working at home.

Additionally, Henry said that since the country entered the community transmission phase, call centres have become more stringent in enforcing safety measures.

“Companies are stepping up their restrictions. They are strictly enforcing the wearing of mask in multiple places. Usually workers are asked to wear a mask when they enter the site. Now they are insisting a mask must be worn once they are at work.

“They are reinforcing, with more stringency, individual protection and they are insisting that they follow the protocols, considering that anybody could be infected, and that they take no chances in respect of how they protect and safeguard themselves. Some companies have gone ahead and installed separation barriers, an added protection to keep the workers safe,” said Henry.

As of Saturday, the country's COVID-19 tally since March reached 4,988. Of that number, 3,489 are classified as active.

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