Return Protocol – Are we ready to return?

Alonso Indacochea -Partner

On March 29th, 2020, by Supreme Decree No. 4229 (hereafter the “SD”), the Bolivian Government extended the quarantine period until May 31st, 2020 under certain conditions known as  “Conditional and Dynamic Quarantine”. The DS  divides the quarantine conditions under  three risk levels (high, medium and moderate) to be determined by Bolivian Health Ministry on current COVID19 conditions for each Bolivian department and/or municipality, bearing in mind that medium and moderate conditions allow employees to progressively return to their workplaces starting on May 11th.

The DS  establishes the following   general health guidelines in order to prevent and refrain COVID-19 expansion in Bolivia: (i) Physical distance of at least one and a half meters; (ii) use of facemasks; (iii) permanent hand washing; and (iv) compliance of hygiene and biosecurity protocols. Likewise, in its Article 8, the DS indicates that  public and private companies must provide the appropriate sanitary material to its employees and adopt the necessary biosafety protocols. Finally, through the Bi-Ministerial Resolution 001/2020 dated March 13th, 2020,  its Article 4, also establishes certain general health guidelines that public and private companies must adopt. This resolution was not repealed by recent SD so we believe companies must keep its observance.

Regardless of whether the Bi-Ministerial Resolution was issued before  the strict lockdown in Bolivia (since 03/19/2020) and regulations issued during COVID-19 lockdown, it would be prudent (and I believe they will) that the Government issue regulations with  specific guidelines for companies – to adopt their Biosafety Protocol  or Return Policy  as some clients have called it(for practical purposes, the “Protocol”). The questions we are facing, whether we have specific guidelines or not, is are we ready to return?

Below please find some recommendations for  Protocols that should be adapted to each companies sector and with the support -in addition to the legal aspect- – of a biosafety professional:

  • Exclude employees determined by the WHO (World Health Organization) as risk patients.
  • Provide a hygienic kit to Its personnel.
  • Have transport regulations for employees.
  • Internal and external procedures to report a COVID19 infected individual;
  • Recommendations to prevent personnel getting infected including during non-working hours.
  • Prioritize home office standards and a progressive return to their physical workplaces.
  • Conduct training in relation to COVID-19 implications and its risks;
  • Have employees sign Sworn Declarations in acceptance of the Protocol; and
  • Hold rules of social distancing in work meetings, prioritizing videoconferences (Zoom, Teams, etc.).

The Protocol, unlike some procedures that are not practiced to the very detail, must be strictly enforced. I mention this, not due to the legal implications that a breach from an employee breach could imply , but due  to the severity of this pandemic, which may not even be the only one we face in the next years.  .

What I’m certain is that COVID-19 has marked us forever. Biosafety protocols will be as important as sales , logistics, operations, marketing strategies and financial planning, among others. . Don’t be surprised that from now on companies not related to health matters, will probably count with a   CHO (Chief Health Officer) executive and crucial   business decisions will  require his or her’s   approval.

Are we ready to return? Probably not, but we must reinvent ourselves and our companies, return more responsible than ever, committed to succeed and grant health matters due respect as this pandemic has harshly taught us.