The Tamil Nadu government has instructed all hotels in Chennai to ramp up testing for coronavirus among its staff members, after two luxury hotels in the city reported two new clusters of over 100 COVID-19 cases last week. While the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) has ramped up the tests of staff members of all hotels in Chennai, the hotel owners have also extended a plea to the guests to strictly practice COVID-19 protocols when visiting restaurants and hotels.
As on Sunday, Tamil Nadu Public Health Department screened 4,391 hotel staff for novel coronavirus infection, of the total 6,416 hotel employees across Chennai. Among the tested employees, 125 staffers have turned positive for the virus while 2,104 people have tested negative. The results of the remaining 491 people are awaited.
Over 100 cases of COVID-19 clusters were reported from two five-star hotel joints â€” ITC Grand Chola and Hotel Leela Palace â€” with 85 and 20 COVID-19 cases respectively last week. Apart from star hotels, other category hotels, too, have 11 positive cases.
Speaking to TNM, KT Srinivasa Raja, honorary president of Chennai Hotel Association said, â€śWe are allowing guests only after a thorough thermal check at the hotels.â€ť However, he admitted that a guest can be asymptomatic for a few days before exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms like fever.
In some cases, Srinivasa Raja alleged that the customers are not cooperating for a thermal test. â€śHowever, we make sure we do not allow anyone entry without a thermal check. If the guests show temperature variation, we do not allow them to step into our joints.â€ť
The Chennai Hotel Association president also said that the city hotels are following the protocols of the state and Union government. â€śThe health department has already issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) and we are following it. As soon as a hotel employee or guest tests positive for coronavirus, we make sure that all premises have been fumigated. However, the government should consider this and think about completely sealing the restaurant,â€ť he said.
To the question of whether the festive season led to the new COVID-19 clusters, the hotel association president blamed the lack of cooperation among the public. â€śThe public should follow the norms, including wearing of masks and maintaining physical distancing, at all times and this cannot be linked to the festive season,â€ť said Srinivasa Raja. He also denied removing masks while eating as a reason for the COVID-19 spread. â€śWe make sure that physical distancing is maintained within the eatery,â€ť he added.
SOPs followed by hotels
The Tamil Nadu government had issued a detailed SOP on August 31 for reopening restaurants and hotels in Chennai. As per the SOP, the government instructed guests to maintain physical distancing of at least six feet, even while queuing up. The face cover/masks have to be worn at all times inside the hotel, the SOP said.
The hotels were also instructed to log in details of the guest (travel history, medical condition etc.) along with asking for their ID proof and self-declaration form. Luggage should be disinfected before sending the luggage to rooms, it said.
â€śRoom service or takeaways to be encouraged, instead of dine-in. Food delivery personnel should leave the packet at the guest/customer's door and not handed directly to the receiver,â€ť the SOP said.
Chennai Corporation ramps up testing
Meanwhile, the Chennai Corporation has ramped up testing in hotels to avoid another cluster following the same protocol. A Corporation Zonal Health Officer said, â€śWe are quarantining people who test positive and isolating their contacts, too. We are following the usual COVID-19 protocol with care. We are tracing the contacts of the positive cases.â€ť
He also said that the Chennai Corporation has decided to follow the existing norms. â€śWe are checking the people who have so far visited the hotel, the source of infection and are thoroughly finding the contacts since we should not let a case go unattended. We are also taking samples of residents near the hotels and the residential areas of the hotel employees who tested positive,â€ť he said.
â€śWe also check if positivity decreases after isolation,â€ť he said. Test positivity rate refers to the number in a group testing positive for the virus. â€śHowever, the increasing positivity rate does not appear to be contributed by the spread within the star hotels. It could be contributed by cases emerging from any other part of the city,â€ť he added.