The COVID-19 or Coronavirus outbreak has brought the world to a near-halt situation. We discuss rights, responsibilities, powers, dos and don’ts for RWAs and housing society residents.
The Coronavirus scare is getting more and more attention everyday. The exponential growth of outbreaks such as this, calls for preparedness and not panic. Over 52 lakh people globally have been caught in the grip of this virus while over three lakh have lost their lives. World-over, schools have shut their gates as have gyms, swimming pools, cinema halls, parks and such other social areas where people come together. Offices too have tried experimenting with the work-from-home method and housing societies have seen people staying indoors. Do all of these steps add to your worry? Housing societies and apartment complexes are bringing in rules to ensure that every family is safe. Take for example, Prestige St Johnswood in Bengaluru. The rules laid out in this society has asked every resident to self-declare if he/she suspects or is tested positive for COVID-19. Not just government and medical officials, housing societies too are insisting that strict measures should be followed. Here’s a guide to help you navigate these uncertain times.
Housing.com reached out to Dr Gaurav Singh, Senior Medical Officer, Central Hospital, Central Coalfields Ltd and Ex-Resident, AIIMS Bhubaneshwar, to help our readers with medical solutions. “Those who do not have the symptoms but were exposed to an infected person should go in for quarantine. This is different from self-isolation. The latter is for those who are already sick. You isolate yourself so that you do not pass on the infection to anyone else. It is recommended for a period of 14 days when a sick person should refrain from going outside the house or using public transport. If you need medicines, get them delivered to your home and don’t run unnecessary errands.” The self-isolation period can stretch depending on how long the person is showing the symptoms.
“Minimum interaction is the key but it is not totally possible especially if you are living as a family,” says Dr Ratneshwar Prasad Singh, Communicable Diseases Officer at Sadar Hospital, Chhapra. He has the following advice for such families:
- Only one family member should help the infected person if the latter needs help.
- Do not handle the used-clothes of such a patient directly with your hands. Do not wash these in the washing machine along with clothes of other family members.
- Use a sanitiser before and after meeting the infected person. Change your clothes if they have touched you by mistake.
- In case a family member is tested positive for COVID-19, it is important that all other family members also quarantine themselves for a period of 14 days even though there may not be any symptoms. If there are symptoms, immediately get yourself tested too.
- All items and surfaces touched by the infected person should be disinfected. This includes table, chairs, shelves, toilets, clothes, utensils, etc.
- Separate personal care items like soaps, shampoo, towels. Do not use the same bathrooms, if possible.
- Self-declare the condition to your housing society or neighbours so that you do not have any visitors during such a period.
Additionally, if possible an isolation room in your house should also be equipped with gloves, hair cover, masks, gowns, hand-rubs, liquid soap, single-use towels, disinfectants and surface cleansers, large disposable bags with instructions on it to be handled with precaution. In case of an emergency, call on the coronavirus helpline number in your state for the way forward.
“First of all, there is no need to panic. If you are maintaining a social distance, there are least chances of an infection,” says Dr Gaurav. For housing society residents who are in the know of an infected person or a suspected case near them, the following steps should be taken:
- Do not visit or come in contact with anyone who has a recent history of having travelled back from a corona-affected region.
- If you have, by chance, come into contact and show certain symptoms, quarantine yourself till you feel alright and the lab results are negative.
- Avoid assemblies and congregation to maintain a safe distance from other people.
- Depending upon your state authority, if COVID-19 cases are being reported from a particular colony, town, settlement, the district administration may even ask to seal the area, bar entry and exits, ban vehicular movement in the area, initiate passive and active surveillance, designate certain buildings for isolation. If you feel that this must be done, do not hesitate to inform the authorities.
Dr Nileena Koshy, Additional Professor of Community Medicine at Government Medical College, Manjeri, Kerala, says “A stand-still is not possible but should be adhered to as much as possible.” While housing society residents continue to inhabit the neighbourhood, there are some tips you should follow to ensure that you are not traumatising the family in any way.
- Do not ostracise an affected family. It is harassment and causes trauma to everyone in the family.
- You can always help by giving provisions or any medical supply, to the family. Just leave it at their doorstep. Don’t enter the premises.
- Quarantine is just physical isolation. Do keep in touch with the family by means of other mediums such as WhatsApp or phone calls.
- Respect their need for privacy.
“In cultures where social-distancing is common, such as in Singapore, the coronavirus outbreak can be checked. It is not so easy in India where people like to meet and greet closely. Therefore, quarantine and self-isolation may be difficult but should not be ignored,” emphasises Koshy.
Delhi’s Mayur Vihar I, Pocket 1, Resident Welfare Association’s vice-president Man Mohan Singh says that their staff is monitoring the use of common areas and facilities in the locality. It is advisable that:
- Playgrounds with swings and slides should be closed temporarily so that children who are at home these days are not tempted to use these.
- Indoor sports areas, gyms, common yoga or meditation rooms should not be frequented now.
- Avoid going to clubhouses even if it is within your society.
- Do not use common taps, public washrooms and toilets as much as possible.
- If your apartment/building is provided with lift, restrict the use. If that is not possible, ensure that you are using a handrub or a sanitiser immediately after.
- Ensure that reception areas or lounges within such societies should be used only if necessary. Ensure that the housekeeping staff are in proper gear to clean such areas.
- Medicial and other waste from an infected person should not be dumped in open dumping grounds either. Alert sanitation workers and secure the waste in multiple bags so that the workers do not come in contact with these. Unfortunately, while some societies insist on segregating bio-degradable, non-degradable and medical waste, some others do not. This prevents thorough treating of infectious waste.
- Be careful while using or handling milk bags, elevator buttons, door knobs, door bells, newspapers, car doors, counters at shops, couriers, shared cabs, public transport, shoes, garden seats, grocery items, currency notes, ATMs, etc. It has been estimated that coronavirus can live on certain surfaces up to three days and therefore, it is better not to take risks.
- Do not assemble in large groups, postpone any celebration your housing society might have planned.
- Ensure that kids are taught about hygiene. Give them alternative play options at home or engage them in creative and entertaining ways.
- Make hand-washes, masks, easily available for visitors and household helps.
- Ask your local body to fumigate and disinfect your premises. Make sure that workers carrying out this task are well-protected and in proper gear.
- To make more residents and visitors aware, you could also try putting banners and pamphlets sharing dos and don’ts during the outbreak of such a pandemic.
- Residents must be transparent about their health condition. If there is a suspected/sure case of coronavirus, make sure that the person is quarantined and outsiders (maids, drivers, delivery people, visitors) maintain a safe distance.
- To each his own – carry your own plate, glass, spoons, bottles whenever necessary. This should be communicated to housekeeping and maintainance staff at your housing society. If they have been in the habit of sharing such vessels, this may not be the right time to continue doing so.
- Be kind to your neighbours. Transparency should be expected not just from others. If you suspect that you may be down with coronavirus, quarantine yourself and stay isolated for two weeks. You could also alert others in the society to avoid visiting you.
a) Avoid over interaction: You may want to restrict yourself from visiting others at this point of time as not just you but other families too may want to take a social-break. Authorities have pointed out that social distancing is the need of the hour and it is in everyone’s interest that families in your housing/apartment complex stick to this public health advisory for now. b) Keep the elderly at home safe: If you have an elderly at home who was used to morning and evening walks, create alternatives for them at home to exercise so that their contact with outsiders is lesser. c) Educate the underprivileged: Domestic helps, security guards, your grocery vendor, newspaper vendor, delivery boys, etc., must be educated about the importance of personal hygiene. Usually, in large apartment complexes, one part-time domestic help may be working in three to four households. In such cases, even if you have ensured personal hygience, there is a high chance that your domestic help may contract the disease from elsewhere if the other family hasn’t been as careful as you.
Use Aarogya Setu to fight COVID-19
The authorities have leveraged technology to fight the pandemic through the Aarogya Setu app. Going forward, the government insists that this app will be made mandatory for use and as more and more people use it, its accuracy and effectiveness will increase. As of May 22, 10.96 crore Indians are using the Aarogya Setu app. The app gives daily updates on COVID-19 status in cities, as well as alerts you about your health situation post a self-assessment that you can do through the app.
On contact tracing of an infected person, the app gets the information and without revealing the identity of the infected person, the government of India may contact persons that may have come in touch with the infected. This is only for administrative intervention so that identifying hotspots and possible containment zones and red zones is easier. All information is kept secure and confidential. The app may also help you secure an e-pass. Housing societies must encourage the use of this app by all residents and domestic helps, maintenance staff and everyone around you.
Delhi’s Mayur Vihar I, Pocket 1, Resident Welfare Association’s vice-president Man Mohan Singh says that the RWA body is taking necessary steps to ensure that the risk is minimised. For example, security guards, maintenance staff and workers on the pay-roll of the association have been educated about hygiene. “We are not allowing outsiders in these premises for now. All the staff is our own and we are also urging residents to use the facilities that are provided within the society. There are many who hire private sanitation workers. As a result, there are too many outsiders coming in. This is a potential risk. We have urged residents to use the services of East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). EDMC vans for garbage collection frequent all lanes every day.” What if an infected person or their family refuses to follow the quarantine rules? ”Fortunately, we have not had to tackle this situation yet but we can take extreme steps like disconnecting services to the particular house, if need be. Such families can be a potential health risk for others,” Singh says. Aditya Pratap, advocate, Bombay High Court, differs. He says that individuals should adhere to public health guidelines but the freedom to restrict people’s movement is only with the statutory authorities. This is a pandemic and it requires urgent measures but RWAs should exercise power in conjunction with the law. They can definitely intimate the police and the health authorities but on their own, RWAs cannot take any forceful action against individuals/families. They can impose measures but not stigmatise.”
How can the law help you enforce the prevention of COVID-19 guidelines?
Advocate Pratap gives the following advice:
- If you suspect that someone in your housing society may be a COVID-19 positive case, you can report it to the police or health officials. If it doesn’t turn out to be correct, it will not be taken an offence on your side since it was in true faith that you had decided to do so. However, make sure that you convey that your action is based on a suspicion. Let authorities take the next step.
- Anyone publishing the identity and details of a suspected case or a confirmed case with malicious intent will be regarded as violating the privacy of the person and is liable for a defamation case. Only statutory authorities have the right to publish such details. Section 72 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 states that breach of privacy and confidentiality can amount to up to two years of imprisonment or a penalty of Rs 1 lakh or both. Therefore, if you have access to any electronic content, register, record, document, information, etc., and leak it without the consent of the concerned person, it is an offence.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
Provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 has been brought in to combat COVID-19 across many states. The provision helps authorities to put in place emergency steps to minimise the risk and spread of coronavirus in this case. Note that apart from such steps, the Act also empowers authorities to take action in the following cases:
- Any person disobeying regulations or orders issued under this act shall be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Know of someone like this? Approach the authorities.
- No legal proceedings shall lie against any person for any action that has been done under the provisions of this Act. However, ensure that you are not misusing this privilege.
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 (to bring into action immediate steps to check the pandemic’s outbreak) and the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 (to prevent hoarding, black-marketing of essential items like masks and sanitisers) have also been invoked.
Other important things to know
Strategies to adopt, post-lockdown
As of June 26, 2020 there were close to five lakh COVID-positive cases in India with Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Telangana being the most affected. While several states are lifting their lockdowns in phases, it is important to follow the rules in the same spirit, as during the lockdown.
If you are stepping out of your home for work:
Many government and private offices are functional now and working at 33%-50% capacity. If you happen to step out for work, remember the following:
- Do not leave your home without your mask and sanitiser.
- Download the Aarogya Setu app, as you may be asked to show your safety status at your workplace.
- If you fear exposure to the virus, it may be advisable to use face shields, gloves, PPE, etc.
- Treat all the safety and protective clothing as biohazards and air dry these or keep it aside, away from other members of the family.
- Do not touch, hug or hold any family member upon your return and wash your clothes and take a shower.
45-year-old Satyendra Malik, who lives in east Delhi, says that there are a number of people who come out of their homes, without wearing masks. “They could be a potential threat to others, especially elders who take a stroll in the evenings. Some complain of breathing difficulty and therefore avoid the mask. They are not just putting themselves at risk but others, as well,” says Malik adding that in his housing society, representatives are also discussing other pain points, including the risk from asymptomatic carriers, those who do not use the Aarogya Setu app and people with pre-existing medical conditions. There have also been instances of people hiding their health status in the self-assessment section of the Aarogya Setu app, simply to avoid giving out their data, he says.