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Deciphering the minimum health standards for business establishments

(First of two parts)

Since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infiltrated the Philippines in early 2020, the government had been implementing issuances aimed at making business establishments safer, while allowing their owners to recover from the consequent economic losses and their consumers to have a sense of normalcy in going about their daily activities.

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As the number of COVID-19-related cases continues to fluctuate, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has recently issued Resolution No. 143, effectively amending its alert levels system for COVID-19 response across the Philippines. This includes adjusting the heightened restrictions on establishments in areas with the corresponding classifications under the system, such as, among others, the operating capacities of food establishments, establishments offering personal care services, indoor and outdoor tourist attractions, fitness centers and recreational venues.

With this development, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) issued Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 21-02, which regulates the health and safety standards for restaurants offering indoor and outdoor dining services. Under this issuance, tabletop clear dividers made of acrylic or any similar, transparent material must be installed in order to prevent droplet transmission in face-to-face indoor seating arrangements. Meanwhile, either the same dividers or in their absence, alternate or diagonal seating arrangements shall be implemented for outdoor dining operations.

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Restaurant owners shall also ensure adequate air exchange in enclosed areas by: (a) opening windows to maximize natural ventilation; (b) using low-cost modifications, such as additional fans or exhaust fans, to improve air flow; (c) identifying and controlling multi-occupant spaces that are used regularly and are poorly ventilated; and (d) installing and regularly maintaining exhaust fans and air filtration devices with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.

Physical distancing will still be maintained. Thus, adequate spacing for chairs and tables shall remain and unidirectional markers shall be used in queuing areas, while seating capacity shall be reduced pursuant to the prevailing alert level system where the food establishment is located. Moreover, visual cues or signages on the physical distancing requirement, cough and sneeze etiquette, proper hand hygiene and infection control, and other critical reminders under the government’s relevant programs, shall be installed in these establishments. Meanwhile, the use of playgrounds and self-service stations in these establishments is prohibited at this time.

Facilities for proper storage, collection, treatment and disposal of used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other infectious waste shall be installed in accordance with Department of Health (DOH) Administrative Order No. 2021-0043. Moreover, all furniture, fixtures, equipment, including those inside the kitchen, food preparation and dining areas, and restrooms, must be properly and regularly sanitized, pursuant to DOH No. 2020-0157.

Food establishments that fail to comply with these requirements will be given a warning and shall be endorsed to the health office of the concerned local government unit (LGU). Food establishments which continue to fail to so comply, despite receiving this warning, may be temporarily closed down in accordance with the LGU’s rules and regulations to correct their deficiencies. They shall only be reopened upon their compliance with said requirements.

Meanwhile, under DTI MC No. 21-32, establishments offering personal care services, such as barbershops, beauty salons and nail spas, shall comply with the same requirements for food establishments, where applicable. Notably, those establishments located in areas under Level 4 of the IATF’s alert levels system may only accommodate asymptomatic, fully vaccinated individuals, upon presenting the necessary proof.

These establishments are subject to DTI’s compliance monitoring through its post-audit mechanism. Inspection by the Department of Labor and Employment, DOH and the LGU’s health office may also be conducted at any time. If they were found to violate DTI MC No. 21-32, they shall be meted with the corresponding penalties, including the temporary suspension of their business operations.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .

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TAGS: Business, Business Establishments, column, COVID-19, minimum health standards, pandemic, property, Property Rules
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