As the tussle with the spread of COVID-19 is prevalent, the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray recently announced a new set of guidelines/ restrictions called the “Break The Chain Order” dated 13th April 2021 to curb the further spread of COVID-19 in the State of Maharashtra. These additional restrictions are a result of the exponential increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra.
The latest restrictions require closure of all industries except those that considered “essential services” upto 1st May 2021. It is imperative to note these restrictions also provide for an “exempted category”. The difference between the “essential category” and “exempted category” is that under the “essential category”, activities are spared from the restrictions under the Break The Chain Order, however, under the “exempted category”, activities are permitted to operate only from 7.00 AM to 8.00 PM without restrictions.
They key impact areas are discussed below:
A bare perusal of the Break The Chain Order makes it evident that it has been issued to prevent the movement of individuals. There exists no restriction on the movement of products, commodities and goods. Notwithstanding the idea that e-commerce is falling within the purview of the “essential category”, Section 2 of the Break The Chain Order has restricted the e-commerce activities only for supply of essential goods and services. A Supplementary Order dated 21th April 2021 has been issued which provides for a limit on attendance for “essential category” and “exempted category”. The office works required for “essential services” should be at the lowest capacity and should under no circumstance exceed 50%. Personnel who are actually delivering the essential services on the ground are also required to have minimal attendance, however, it can be extended upto 100% depending on the requirements.
The organization involved in e-commerce activities shall organize vaccination drives for the personnel of the organization, provided that the concerned personnel is eligible under the Government of India’s criteria for workplace vaccination.
Section 5 of the Break The Chain Order also provides for regulations to be followed by individuals under “exemption category”. It is of utmost importance for those individuals/ personnel who are involved in home delivery activities to get vaccinated at the earliest as per Government of India’s criteria.
Offices (Including Legal Firms)
The Break The Chain Order has been implemented to prevent unnecessary movement of individuals in public, this is specifically mentioned under Section 1(b) of the said Order. However, any movement to attend offices under Section 5 shall be categorized as an exception to Section 1(b). Offices under the “exemption category” have been permitted to operate with minimum employees, this implies that not more than 50% of normal capacity of employees will be permitted. However, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra, the aforesaid capacity has been further reduced from 50% to 15% of total attendance or 5 people whichever is more, through the Supplementary Order.
It is imperative to reiterate, that since these offices are classified under the “exemption category”, they must adhere to the timings declared by the Maharashtra Government i.e. from 7.00 AM to 8.00 PM. Although the offices of advocates are encompassed within the “exemption category”, this exemption is subject to whether the “operations of Courts, Tribunals or Commission of Enquiries are on”.
This exemption given to certain offices is not absolute in nature and is attributed to the fact that the local authorities have the discretion to add exceptions to offices, if and when needed.
Cooperatives, PSUs and Private Banks
These categories fall within the purview of Section 5(a) of the Break The Chain Order regarding “Offices”. They have similar restrictions as for the offices mentioned in the aforementioned paragraph.
All units that manufacture items needed for essential services and EOUs that need to fulfill export obligation have been permitted to remain operational with full capacity. All factories/ units with more than 500 workers shall set up their own quarantine facilities. If a worker is detected with COVID-19, then he/ she shall be allowed medical leaves and shall be entitled for full wages.
Checklist For Businesses Operating In The Lockdown
Few tips for businesses to continue to be able to function during the “Break The Chain” lockdown:
- Create robust and comprehensive work from home policy (this appears to be a long haul);
- Update all data security and privacy policies;
- Take inventory of all IT infrastructure and review each work from home system to ensure organizational safeguards are intact;
- Leave policies to be updated to ensure employees are aware of sick leaves / casual leaves available;
- Sensitize employees routinely about POSH practices necessary for online work environment – updation of POSH policy, if required;
- Ensure all eligible employees are vaccinated – make it mandatory;
- Tie up with a healthcare service provider to ensure that employees attending work and on the move have valid RT-PCR tests;
- Ensure all COVID -19 insurances, if available, are valid.
These new guidelines/ restrictions are expected to aid in breaking the chain of transmission of COVID-19 cases in the State. The addition of the “exempted category” in the Break The Chain Order would have a long term effect on the economy as not all services have been closed down. It is also evident in the Break The Chain Order that the Government is urging the citizens to get vaccination at the earliest as per Government of India’s criteria, which symbolizes the Maharashtra Government’s effort to control and curb the further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.