“We must save lives and save livelihoods.”
This was the word from Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria, as he said the business community wants to do “what’s right to keep our employees and consumers safe” and will obey the safe to open protocols unveiled Tuesday by Ministry of Health officials.
Faria told Guardian Media the chamber had been working closely with the ministry on the protocols for reopening, “looking at global best practices.”
He said the ultimate aim is to ensure there is not a “second wave” of COVID-19.
The ministry unveiled stringent protocols for the reopening of business at the daily COVID-19 news conference, giving the first tangible hint that businesses closed for more than a month now could get the state’s green light to reopen soon.
As the date moves closer to May 10 and this country awaits the removal of Stay-at-Home restrictions, Director of Veterinary Public Health Dr Saed Rahaman confirmed the ministry had been working hand in hand with the business community in preparation for the lifting of current restrictions.
Addressing what he said will be the new normal, Rahaman said there must be a paradigm shift by all stakeholders, employers, employees, as well as the community they serve. He said a committee established by the ministry had been mandated to work with the business community to develop mitigating strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to the normal hazard prevention strategies that already exist, Rahaman said “all employers should now develop and implement infection disease strategies geared towards COVID-19.”
He said business owners have been advised to establish committees within their companies to undertake a risk assessment and develop prevention control strategies.
To achieve this, Rahaman said guidelines have already been developed for supermarkets and street vendors and the Public Health Inspectorate “is conducting surveillance to determine compliance with these guidelines.”
He said these guidelines, as well as those to be developed, are centred around core principles of social distancing, frequent and adequate handwashing, facilities and surface sanitation, respiratory hygiene, use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), procedures to address sick employees as well as employee education.
“Employers must ensure that all employees keep at least six feet away from co-workers and the public when feasible,” he said.
Rahaman said they are advocating the use of barriers to block sneezes and coughs or the opening of windows when social distancing is not feasible.
In addition, he said employers must also keep work stations apart, reduce the number of work stations in use at a given time, move meetings to locations where fewer people are present, control the number of persons entering the building or office and stagger work schedules to avoid crowding and staggering breaks and lunch schedules. The ministry is also advocating for the use of virtual online meetings, text messaging via Whatsapp group or other social media to prevent crowds gathering for such meetings.
Adherence to proper hygiene is a main feature of the protocols.
“It is important for all businesses to provide enough fixed or portable water stations for workplace or job sites so that employees can wash their hands frequently with soap and water,” he said.
He said workers should be required to wash hands frequently and effectively when they arrive at work, when they leave work stations for breaks, use the bathrooms, before and after having something to eat or drink “and even if you go outside for a smoke break.”
Rahaman said hand sanitisers must also be provided with a minimum content of 65 per cent alcohol, as hand-washing may not always be available. To facilitate proper respiratory hygiene, he said cloth face masks must be worn by workers as a best practice.
In addition, there is a recommendation for routine and frequent cleaning at all establishments as it is no longer sufficient for cleaning at the end of the day. The new protocols also advise employers to clean and disinfect fleets of company vehicles regularly.
Under the protocols, employers have been told that employees who are unwell should stay home and if they get sick on the job they should be sent home. Workers with COVID-19 symptoms should also be isolated and transferred to a health facility as soon as possible.
As it relates to employee education about the virus, employers must ensure this is done in an easy to understand manner even for workers who do not speak English fluently.
Rahaman said some of the larger businesses are well on the way to putting some of these measures in place, insisting it is a corporate responsibility to ensure these policies and guidelines are adopted and implemented.
Rahaman said Public Health Inspectors have powers to enter to inspect and make recommendations for businesses to make changes in their policies and practices.
Business owners on Tuesday said they are ready to go once the all-clear is given to reopen.
Downtown Owners and Merchants Association president Gregory Aboud said, “We are more than ready and very willing to follow the guidelines being given to us by the Ministry of Health…because there is a great need to try and get some economic activity going again.”
Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce president Keiran Singh added, “We’ve been suffering for more than a month now. If given the okay in the morning we will be ready to start with the protocols.”
Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce president Vishnu Charran said even before the shutdown they had already implemented the measures.
“We are prepared to open. We need to get back to work, people need to earn a salary, people need to get supplies,” Charran said.
Police also increased their surveillance to ensure businesses obeyed the Public Health Act and shut down those that were in breach.