As more than 8000 people have died due to Coronavirus worldwide, 166 positive cases of the deadly virus have been reported in India. With experts warning for more dangerous times to come, the Indian Council for Medical Research has given thirty days for Indian authorities to prepare the strategy to mitigate the risks of the spread of Coronavirus in the community. Presently, India stands at stage II of the infection.

Amidst the growing cases of Coronavirus, Central Pollution Control Board has come out with guidelines on handling the bio-medical waste being generated from the isolation wards, clinics, hospitals and other health care units handling COVID-19 cases. The guidelines were officially notified on 18 March 2020. The guidelines will be applicable to all the state and central isolation wards, quarantine centers, sample collection centers and labs dealing with COVID-19 pandemic.

CPCB has issued the guidelines for all the states. Guidelines state that along with the handling of bio-medical and solid waste as per the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 and Bio-medical Waste Management Rules 2016, the steps enshrined under guidelines are also to be taken into account. The additional guidelines issued by CPCB talks about proper segregation of the bio-medical waste as per the color codes enshrined under the Bio-medical Waste Management Rules 2016. To collect waste from the isolation wards, the practice of collecting the waste in two bags (double layering) should be adopted so as to ensure adequacy in strength and prevent any leakage.

A separate container labeled COVID-19 waste to be installed in the isolation wards and all the related waste to be collected in such dustbins before handling it to Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBWTF). CBWTF will pick the waste directly from the isolation wards. The guideline calls for urgent and prior treatment of waste arising out of COVID-19 operations. The simple waste needs to be disposed of as per the guidelines of Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. The guidelines also call out for recording waste being generated in COVID-19 isolation wards. COVID-19 labels to be stick on all the trolleys and carriages handling waste from COVID isolation wards.

The inner and outer surface of bins handling the bio-medical waste to be disinfected with 1% Sodium Hypochlorite solution, mentions the guidelines. Opening or operation of isolation wards needs to be reported to the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB). The guidelines also call for deputation of separate sanitation workers for handling bio-medical and solid waste. The opening and operation of labs for COVID-19 cases should also be reported to the concerned SPCB.

The guideline talks separately about bio-medical waste arising out of quarantine camps and home care. The guidelines acknowledge the fact that waste arising out of quarantine camps will not be much in quantity. Still, the normal waste needs to be treated as per the provisions of the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 while the bio-medical waste needs to be stored separately in the yellow color bag and hand it over to CBWTF. For homes, citizens have been asked to keep medical waste separate in the yellow color bag and hand it over to the authorized waste vendor, rendered by the municipal body. Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have been instructed to engage CBWTF to pick up waste from houses or designated spots.

Duties for CBWTF have also been defined. They have to report about the receiving of COVID-19 waste from isolation wards, quarantine centers or any other health care facility to SPCBs or Pollution Control Committees (PCCs). Regular sanitization of workers engaged at CBWTF has also been proposed under the guidelines.  Adequate protective gear to be provided to sanitation workers like goggles, suits, masks etc. as per the guidelines. COVID-19 waste to be transported in a specific vehicle that needs to be sanitized after every trip.

As soon as the facility receives the waste, it has to get rid of it. After giving information to SPCBs or PCCs, the facilities can work for extra hours for disposing off the bio-medical waste generated through the handling of COVID-19 cases. A separate record of COVID-19 waste to be maintained by the facility and no worker to be allowed to work if showing symptoms of illness, with protection to his/her salary, has also been provided for in the guidelines.

Lastly, the guidelines talk about the duties of SPCBs to maintain the records for COVID-19 treatment wards, quarantine centers and homes in respective states. It talks about ensuring proper collection of waste as per the Bio-medical and Solid Waste Management rules 2016. SPCBs are also required not to insist on the authorization of quarantine facilities as such places do not qualify as healthcare facilities.

(Author is Lead – Public Policy and Communications at SDC Foundation. He tweets at @Writer_Rishabh)