COVID-19 GUIDANCE FOR WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSES

In Afghanistan, many women-owned businesses are micro, small, and medium enterprises.  Below are information and suggested guidelines on possible precautions to take in order to help prevent and decrease the transmission of COVID-19 among workers and help maintain a healthy work environment. 

Businesses and employers should:

  • Obtain updated and accurate information, in particular from the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) - https://moph.gov.af/, in order to remain best informed on how to respond.
  • Develop, implement, and update as needed a plan that is specific to the workplace. It is important to identify all areas and job tasks that may have potential exposure to COVID-19, and then outline ways to minimize any potential for exposure.  Plans should take into consideration that employees may be able to spread COVID-19 even if they appear to be asymptomatic (show no symptoms).
  • Communicate plans and changes to standard operating procedures with all employees and also request their input.

Whether work is being conducted from the home or an office, it is important to take precautions to help decrease the spread of COVID-19.

Suggested Guidelines for Employers

  • Encourage those that are sick or not feeling well (especially with a respiratory issue) to stay home and not go to the workplace.
  • Make hand washing / sanitizing facilities, complete with running water and soap, available at the workplace and ensure all persons entering use them prior to entry. Liquid soap may be better than a bar of soap because multiple hands come into contact with the bar of soap.  
  • Encourage employees to wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and warm water upon arrival at the workplace as well as frequently throughout the day. Provide paper towels or a clean dedicated towel for each worker that only the worker should use.  If using cloth towels, wash them daily to prevent the spread of germs and possible illness.
  • Provide hand sanitizer so that if soap and water are not available, people have access to hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that people frequently touch, including table tops, desks, chairs, computers, keyboards and computer mouse, telephone, doorknobs and handles, file drawers, bathrooms, kitchens, and anything else.
  • Make sure that common areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, and vestibules are well ventilated and open.
  • Require everyone who enters the workplace to wear a mask and that it cover both their mouth and nose. Provide extra clean masks for those that do not have a mask.  Make sure to have everyone track their own mask so no cross contamination occurs.
  • Limit large gatherings.
  • Maintain social distancing of a minimum of ideally 2 meters. Ensure that employees sit and/or stand at least 1-2 meters apart.  If necessary, rearrange work stations.  If the space is small, then consider rotating employees every other day (or other intervals) as long as the workplace is deeply cleaned and sanitized every evening or early morning in order to avoid sharing of germs.
  • Delay anything that causes employees to gather in one place where they would be located close to each other until the outbreak is over. If that is not possible, then try to hold the activity outdoors and have it last for a short period of time.
  • Rooms and offices should be well ventilated and, if possible, the distance between employees should be at least 1-2 meters.
  • Provide a waiting area for clients in the open air and try to be at least 1-2 meters away from each other. Avoid accepting a large number of clients at one time and in one place and try to divide the clients into different areas and keep them apart.
  • Ask your employees to report if they have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 or the flu. Maintain a log.
  • Maintain a master log of all workers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and/or email addresses so that you can contact them in the event you need to notify them if one of your workers has been infected with COVID-19 within the last 14 days.
  • During flu season, encourage workers to get the flu shot.
  • Avoid business travel as much as possible, especially to provinces where COVID-19 has been found.
  • For employees who have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive patient and do not have signs and symptoms:
    1. The business should allow any employee who has been in contact with a COVID-19 positive patient to stay home in quarantine for 14 days and not permit them to go to the workplace.
    2. The person should be located in a separate room as much as possible and, if this is not possible, consider a minimum distance of 2-3 meters in all situations with all people at the workplace.
    3. Wash hands with soap and warm water every half-hour for at least 20 seconds.
    4. Avoid going to public places such as mosques, bazaars, hospitals, etc. If you have COVID-19 symptoms (see table below), call 166 and follow the instructions.
  • Avoid touching objects that others come into contact with as much as possible, and do not share personal items such as sheets, soap, plates, and towels.
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover the mouth and nose with a handkerchief or tissue or the inside elbow.
  • While not all job functions and tasks can be done outside the employers’ premises or the specified workplace, determine whether any tasks can be performed at home and consider allowing employees to work from home, taking into consideration whether the employee has the necessary equipment, tools, or technology to effectively and safely do so. Communicate to employees working from home that they are responsible for taking care of their own health and safety and the safety of others, using any appropriate devices or protective equipment.
  • Follow the advice and guidance put forward by the Ministry of Public Health and the officials of Ministry of Public Health. For updates, refer to the website of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH.gov.af).  Guidance (e.g. wash your hands, do not touch your eyes and mouth, etc.) provided by the Ministry of Health should be posted in visible areas for staff to read.

General guidelines for everyone (Employers, Employees, and Visitors to the Workplace)

  • Anyone with a cough, fever, or breathing/respiratory problems should stay home and avoid going to work or crowded places.
  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor immediately.
  • Upon arrival at the workplace, everyone should wash their hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds and then dry their hands on a clean towel that has not been used by anyone else.
  • It has been recommended that everyone wash their hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds at a time 30 times daily. While this is the preferred option, if soap and water are not available, then keep hands clean by using hand sanitizer that has at least 60% of alcohol
  • Everyone should carry hand sanitizer to sanitize their hands if a hand washing facility is not available.
  • It is important to wear a mask and make sure that it covers both the mouth and nose. If you forgot a mask, then ask the workplace if they have an extra clean one you can have and wear it.  Once worn, do not give the mask back.
  • Avoid shaking hands, rubbing the face with each other, hugging, and kissing hands, since you do not know if the person you are shaking hand with, or rubbing your face against his face may have been infected. It is possible to be infected, but not show or have any visible signs.
  • When coughing or sneezing, please cover your mouth and nose respectively with a tissue or cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow because the virus can be released into the air and transmitted to others.
  • Avoid touching your face, mouth, nose, or eyes because by doing so, you may spread an infection since your hands may have the virus on them.
  • Keep at least one meter (ideally two meters) away from other people. Maintain further distance if someone is suffering from a respiratory illness.
  • Avoid visiting any sick patients until the spread of COVID-19 has been stopped.
  • If your job requires you to touch people or surfaces that others have touched, then please wear a mask and gloves and change the mask and gloves at the end of each shift change. Do not touch your face with these gloves because they may have picked up germs from a surface.  Dispose of used masks and gloves in a trash can to burn or dispose completely, and immediately wash your hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds.  
  • It is understood that not all job functions and tasks can be done outside the employers’ premises or the specified workplace. When determining whether working from home is an option, identify and decide whether any tasks can be performed at home and whether you have the necessary equipment, tools, or technology to be able to effectively and safely do so.  When working from home, it is important to take care of your own health and safety and the safety of others, using any appropriate devices or protective equipment.

Suggested Guidelines for Home-based Workers

Whether work is being conducted from the home or an office, it is important to take precautions to help decrease the spread of COVID-19. 

  1. If the workplace is based in the home and space allows, it is important to have a dedicated work area for the worker.
  2. Take care of your health and safety and the safety of others, using any appropriate devices or protective equipment, such as a mask.
  3. If there is more than one person who works at the home workspace and that lives elsewhere, then please exercise social distancing, standing or sitting at least 2 meters apart, and wear a mask.   
  4. Clean and disinfect the work area on a daily basis. Let the surfaces remain moist for 1-4 minutes in order to properly disinfect before drying.  Avoid getting moisture in any electronic device opening, and do not immerse your product in any liquid disinfectant unless the manufacturer says it is able to be done. 
  5. Clean any hard and nonporous surfaces, including the:
    1. Computer monitor, keyboard, and computer mouse
    2. Telephone
    3. Desk, table, or chair
    4. Lamp or light switch
  6. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds at a time throughout the day. While this is the preferred option, if soap and water are not available, then keep hands clean by using hand sanitizer that has at least 60% of alcohol
  7. Carry and use hand sanitizer to sanitize your hands if a hand washing facility is not available.
  8. When going outside, it is important to wear a mask and make sure that it covers both the mouth and nose.
  9. If you have a cough, fever, or breathing/respiratory problems, then stay home and avoid going to crowded places.
  10. Avoid shaking hands, rubbing the face with each other, hugging, and kissing hands, since you do not know if the other person may have been infected. It is possible to be infected, but not show or have any visible signs.
  11. When coughing or sneezing, please cover your mouth and nose respectively with a tissue or cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow because the virus can be released into the air and transmitted to others.
  12. Avoid touching your face, mouth, nose, or eyes because by doing so, you may spread an infection since your hands may have the virus on them.
  13. Keep at least one meter (ideally two meters) away from other people outside of your household. Maintain further distance if someone is suffering from a respiratory illness.
  14. Avoid visiting any sick patients until the spread of COVID-19 has been stopped.
  15. If your work requires you to touch people or surfaces that others have touched, then make sure that you clean them prior to using them.
  16. If you are providing products to or receiving products from others outside of your home, then make sure the product is clean prior to handling it.

If an employee is suspected of having or being exposed to the COVID-19 infection

  1. According to the Ministry of Public Health, the following people are suspected of having COVID-19 if someone has:
  2. Returned to Afghanistan within the last 14 days or has symptoms of COVID-19.
  3. Been in contact with a patient that has tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 14 days, and is now coughing, sneezing, and has breathing complications.
  4. Visited a hospital treating COVID-19 patients, and now is coughing, sneezing, and has breathing complications.
  5. Had close contact with a relative, family member, or friend who has had one of the above symptoms in the past 14 days.
  6. In each of the above scenarios, please call the 166 toll-free number or the number for the provincial Directorate of Public Health person in charge of COVID-19 and follow their instructions, and/or go to the clinic or hospital available in your area that is authorized to conduct a COVID-19 test and prescribe COVID-19 related medicines

How COVID-19 spreads

According to the MoPH and CDC, COVID-19 spreads mainly from one person to another, and can even be spread by people who are not showing symptoms through the following routes:

  • Direct Route: When people are in close contact with one another (within a meter), the virus can be released into the air through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.  It can then land in the mouths or noses of the people nearby or be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Indirect Route: Someone may get the virus by touching a surface or object that has been infected with it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. 

How to differentiate between COVID-19 and normal flu

According to the MoPH, below are signs and symptoms for how to differentiate between COVID-19 and normal flu.

Signs and Symptoms of COVID19

Sign and symptoms of the common flu

Severe headache

Normal headache

High fever

Normal fever

No nasal congestion and runny nose

Nasal congestion and runny nose

Ordinary sneezing

Constant sneezing

No sore throat

Sore throat

Severe Shivering

Normal Shivering

Severe muscle pain

Normal muscle pain

Dry Cough

Cough with sputum