Southern Railway closed its headquarters in Chennai on Thursday, after some officers and staff reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
According to sources in the railways, the headquarters — that houses the offices of the Southern Railway General Manager, Additional General Manager and Principal Heads of Departments — will re-open on Monday.
The offices initially opened with 33% staff as per Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines, and increased to working with about 50% staff a couple of days ago, sources said.
Though safety measures like wearing of face masks, use of hand sanitisers and spraying of disinfectants at public utility spaces were done, some officers/employees whose swab samples were sent to the King Institute of Preventive Medicine & Research, Guindy, tested positive for COVID-19.
In a note, Southern Railway’s Deputy Chief Personnel Officer Siddharth S. K. Raj said that considering the prevailing COVID-19 situation in Chennai, the competent authority had decided that the General Manager’s office and all offices in the Annexe Complex would remain closed on May 28 and 29 to enable disinfection of the entire premises.
“All officers and staff shall work from home and should be available in telephone and electronic means of communication at all times,” he said.
Since a senior official in the Chennai Division also tested positive, the divisional headquarters was also closed, railway sources said, adding that steps were taken to disinfect the area.
“Results of more samples are awaited. Those who tested positive have been admitted to the Railway Hospital. The headquarters has been closed for two days. Health officials are inspecting the premises for further action as per the safety protocol,” a railway official told The Hindu on Thursday.
Soon after the headquarters started functioning with 33% staff attending to administration work, the Personal Security Officer of the General Manager had tested positive for COVID-19, along with a few other Government Railway Police and Railway Protection Force personnel deployed on duty at Dr. MGR Chennai Central Station, the official said.
The Zonal headquarters is located opposite the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital which is a tertiary care hospital treating COVID-19 patients from Chennai and neighbouring districts.
Southern Railway Mazdoor Union general secretary N. Kanniah, said he met the General Manager on two occasions and made a request in writing not to open the offices since COVID-19 was spreading fast and the building was located in close proximity to the RGGH, a containment zone, he said.
Mr. Kanniah said there should be no hurry in opening the offices and the authorities should wait till an absolutely safe working environment was ensured for the employees.
“It is the duty of the railway administration to ensure the safety of the employees and their family members. Since there are no full-fledged train operations now, employees can be allowed to work from home except those whose presence is necessary for operation of freight and Shramik Special Trains,” he said.
Mr. Kanniah, who is also the working president of the All India Railwaymen Federation, also urged the General Manager of Integral Coach Factory, one of the largest rail coach-making units in the world, to close down their office till the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted.