With the world seemingly emerging from the worst the pandemic has had to offer, and with life slowly returning back to a semblance of normal, there are a handful of new realities businesses will have to contend with. Hygiene and disinfection now top the list of priorities for every business, as everyone has a role to play in preventing a second wave of mass cases. Until a vaccine is developed, we are not out of the woods yet, despite what anyone says.
Ironically, we got into this mess in the first place because of bad hygiene habits – in the 21st century of all times. Viral origins aside, COVID-19 found us an easy target because of our carelessness and poor hygiene. Yes, we can indeed defeat this pandemic by simply washing our hands and adopting basic hygiene standards. Businesses are now tasked with enforcing strict hygiene standards and observing stringent social distancing measures, even as the curve is flattening.
In the UAE, one of the first countries to instate a lockdown and one of the first to now accelerate reopening efforts, we are already seeing the extent of disinfection practices. During the early days of the pandemic, we saw the UAE launch the National Disinfection Programme (NDP), a precautionary measure to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19 made possible through a coordination between the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHaP), the Ministry of Interior (MOI), and other relevant authorities. Under the programme, public facilities, public transport and streets will be disinfected every night from 10pm to 6am. In Dubai, the programme is scheduled from 11pm until 6am daily.
On the private side of things, businesses are taking precautions of their own.
In the travel sector, one of the areas with the highest risk factors, rigorous action is being taken. Advanced screening machinery and preventative measures are being employed in airports such as DXB, and with Dubai officially allowing residents to travel starting Tuesday, June 23rd, and tourists starting July 7, these measures are now more critical. You can find a ful list of the new travel rules here. Emirates also detailed its Health and Safety measures today following the announcement that travel will be permitted again in Dubai.
The hospitality sector, like the travel sector, has been severly impacted, due to the nature of the sector’s business model. With countries gradually reopening, hotels are having to enforce unparalleled levels of hygiene, as a minor oversight such as forgetting to disinfect a contaminated surface in a hotel room could lead to the next guest getting infected. It’s a PR – and health – disaster waiting to happen.
For example, Marriot International will be “introducing electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitize surfaces throughout the hotel rooms, lobbies, gyms and other public areas, as well as adding disinfecting wipes to all guest rooms,” Condé Nast Traveller Middle East magazine said. “Furniture across hotel lobbies will also be rearranged to help guests adhere to social distancing protocols, hand sanitizing units will be installed at more touch points across hotels, and the company is even evaluating adding partitions at front desks to further limit person-to-person contact.”
At restaurants, the 30% capacity restriction has been lifted in Dubai (still at 40% in Abu Dhabi), but a distance of 2 meters between tables must still be maintained. Either that, or screens must be set up to separate customers, while any groups of more than four must all be family members, according to Hotelier Middle East. All previous hygiene directives such as wearing gloves and masks and providing regular temperature checking of both staff and customers will continue to be carried out.
Perhaps one of the most important places where hygiene standards will need to be maintained is at the office. Workplaces can be breeding grounds for viruses if hygiene protocols are not followed, particularly with a highly contagious virus such as COVID-19.
Speaking with AMEinfo, Gensler, the world’s largest design firm, said: “The coronavirus pandemic will cause major shifts in how we experience the world and the workplace.”
“We are currently seeing a high demand for a ‘touchless workplace’ – a workplace that not only is frictionless but also very much ‘touchless’. Virtual assistants may soon be integrated into the workplace environments to help us control lighting, climate and appliances, just like in our homes. Motion sensor gestures will become the new touch initiated actions, like waving your hand to slide open a door.
“We will be seeing a lot of advanced technologies that are currently being used discretely in other industries like hospitals. UV lighting disinfection is another example that will be implemented in the workplace design. Another change that we see implemented to help us curb viral transmission is ‘data rich work environments’. With the help of data collecting technologies, we will be able to track patterns and identify risks in the workplace. Whether it is through monitoring oxygen levels or supplying fresh air to detect employees’ temperatures through thermal imaging.”
Even on the lower end of the spectrum, the tiniest of businesses have a role to play. Take your average baqqala for example. Usually small and compact, these grocery stores could be understated sources of infection. Luckily, a tradition we’ve seen long-observed in the GCC is now proving an effective social distancing measure.
In the Gulf, a common service tradition we have when it comes to baqqalas is a sort of Drive-In experience. You pull up in you car, honk a couple of times, and a baqqala staff member comes out to take your order. Previously a convenience, this is now an effective measure of social distancing, where one individual alone handles all goods in the store, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). It is crucial however that this individual regularly disinfects his person, and regularly change their PPE to avoid cross-contamination if in contact with an infected individual. It’s crude, but it works – for the most part.
And so goes The Hygiene Revolution. Every business has a part to play, no matter how big or small, all in the hopes of holding off the novel coronavirus until a vaccine is eventually developed.