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Trade and industry say mandatory COVID-19 testing is impractical

On Thursday, several commercial establishments in Coimbatore Corporation limits started receiving notices from the civic body saying the workers should be tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours after receiving the communication.

This is practically not possible, say business owners across sectors. “No other city or State in the country has such a rule. So, why in Coimbatore ?,” asked one of them.

The huge cost involved in testing the workers, problems in sending the workers and staff to laboratories, and lack of standard norms to be followed if workers test positive are some of the concerns among them. Some of the association heads plan to meet the District Collector on Friday.

There are several practical challenges in testing all the workers, according to J. Ganesh Kumar, chairman of Confederation of Indian Industry, Coimbatore. The government should conduct camps in different localities. Otherwise, it will be difficult to mobilise the workers and send them to the laboratories for testing. If 500 to 1,000 people are working at an industry, how many should be tested ? There should be clarity in the order and the government should conduct testing camps at least two or three days a week at a particular locality, he said.

The migrant workers are just returning to work. They will feel uncomfortable and will develop fear if they are tested every 10 days. The workers will not come to Coimbatore and the economy of the district will collapse, say textile mill owners.

In the construction sector, workers who stay at the site take precautionary measures. Nearly 50 % of the workers come as daily workers and live across the city. It is not possible to test them as they will move from one work site to another depending on the job available, says Panneerselvam, head of Builders’ Association of India, Coimbatore chapter.

B. Muthuvenkatraman, president of Coimbatore Jewellery Manufacturers’ Association, says if the workers in a jewellery shop are tested and they report negative for COVID-19, the next day they will be at the shop meeting customers. “How do we protect them ?” he asks. The jewellery manufacturers suggest that the district administration can instead go in for one week to two weeks complete lockdown, he says.

“We are already operating just 50 % of the capacity. The MSMEs will not be able to test all the workers and that too every 10 days because of the costs involved,” says Coimbatore District Small Industries Association president R. Ramamurthy.

“A micro unit that employs 10 workers will have to shell out at least ₹10,000 for testing the workers once a month. When business is down and there is no support from the government, this is an additional financial burden to the micro units,” says J. James, president of Tamil Nadu Association of Cottage and Tiny Enterprises.

Small traders, who employ three to five workers, will just shut down their business. These workers do not stay at the accommodations arranged by the employer. They come to work every day. So there is no point in testing these workers regularly, according to C. Balasubramaniam, vice-president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Coimbatore.

Some of the association heads say the officials should discuss with the trade and industry and take their suggestions before announcing such measures. So far, trade and industry have kept their premises largely safe. Making testing mandatory, giving just 24 hours time, threatening action, and shutting down the industry or shop only create fear among the workers and the employers, they say. There is no standard norm on how long a shop or industry will be closed if there are just one or two positive cases and whether the rest of the workers will be quarantined. The officials should explain these to the trade and industry, they add.

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