ISLAMABAD, Nov 29 (APP): The Ministry of National Health Services on Sunday asked the citizens to rigorously follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in markets, food establishments and restaurants in the country to help mitigate the exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

According to an official of the ministry, these guidelines provide practices that address specific health and safety concerns related to the spread of COVID-19, and to put protocols into practice during shopping and taking food in restaurants.

He said that COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world due to rapid human-to-human transmission and preventive measures play an important role in limiting the spread of a disease and can help reducing the infection transmission and unnecessary burden on health care facilities.

As per guidelines, there are clear directions to prohibit sick employees in the shops or workplace, ensuring and following strict hand-washing practices, maintaining social distancing, ensuring practices regarding surface cleaning and disinfecting and ensuring food safety manager is on site at all times during operating hours.

Similarly, all concerned have been asked to follow SOPs related with equipment and physical structure like making sure utilities are working (electrical, plumbing, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and fire suppression), flush water system and all plumbed food equipment for a minimum of five minutes.

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He said that equipment should be properly washed, rinsed and sanitized and pipes drained, assess and discard food that is no longer safe (expired or spoiled foods), wash, rinse, and sanitize all food contact surfaces, use single-use items as much as possible, such as packets of ketchup or salt, thoroughly clean and repair all physical facilities including floors, walls, and ceilings and display of posters for preventive measures at prominent places.

The official also asked to maintain recommended social distancing guidelines and ensuring ventilation for indoor seating arrangement.

He asked to prefer outdoor dining at tables spaced at least six feet apart from other people, tables must not block entrances, exits, pedestrian or handicapped access, parking spaces may be used for dining tables, but there must be a physical barrier or separation to protect customers from vehicle traffic and ensuring outdoor dining areas are maintained and free of trash and other debris.

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For customer protection, the government has asked to ensure thermal scanning of customers, using menus that are disposable or sanitized between each use, cleaning and disinfecting touched surfaces hourly, maintaining social distance of six feet in any entryway, hallway, or waiting area, ensuring dining groups are seated at least six feet apart and remove or block extra seating, utilizing contactless payment systems, or provide hand-washing or hand gel for employees handling payment, maximizing pick-up or delivery services and encouraging the use of face mask when not eating, he added.

Similarly, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through employee, health monitoring is critical besides steps including training of workers on symptoms of COVID-19 illness and on required hand hygiene, ensuring thermal scanning of employees, encouraging workers to stay home if they are sick, ensuring hand-washing sinks are stocked with soap and paper towels and hand sanitizers are available, ensuring use of face coverings by employees and staggering work schedules as much as possible to reduce employee contact, he said.