With Chennai becoming Tamil Nadu’s COVID-19 epicentre, the city’s local economy has taken a hard hit. Many businesses are shutting down due to a multitude of reasons varying from reduced demand among citizens to unavailability of labour following the reverse migration to villages.
But as with most clouds, there is a silver lining here too. While most businesses are staring at an uncertain future, the pandemic has opened up a plethora of opportunities for disinfection service providers. The number of advertisements circulating in social media is testimony to it.
Exploring new avenues
According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), it is mandatory to disinfect the house of a COVID-19 patient. Even though it is the job of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), municipal staff crunch raises the risk of inadequate or delayed action. This has prompted many citizens to opt for private disinfection services, which has, in turn, created an alternative business opportunity for people in this space.
M Khan was previously managing a leather business which went bust during the lockdown. “As the city was unlocked, I was looking for an opportunity to launch a new company. Although the idea is still being firmed up, disinfection services are a key part of my offering,” says Khan, Partner at 1 Solutions, a firm providing cleaning services.
|Guidelines for disinfection from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare|
1. All indoor areas such as entrance lobbies, corridors and staircases, escalators, elevators, security guard booths, office rooms, meeting rooms and cafeteria should be mopped with a disinfectant with 1% sodium hypochlorite or phenolic disinfectants.
2. High contact surfaces such elevator buttons, handrails/handles and call buttons, escalator handrails, public counters, intercom systems, equipment like telephone, printers/scanners, and other office machines should be cleaned twice daily by mopping with a linen/absorbable cloth soaked in 1% sodium hypochlorite.
3. Frequently touched areas such as tabletops, chair handles, pens, diary files, keyboards, mouse, mouse pad and tea/coffee dispensing machines should be cleaned.
4. For metallic surfaces like door handles, security locks and keys 70% alcohol can be used to wipe down surfaces where the use of bleach is not suitable.
5. Do not use disinfectant spray on highly contaminated areas (such as toilet bowl or surrounding surfaces) as it may create splashes which can further spread the virus.
6. To prevent cross-contamination, discard cleaning material made of cloth (mop and wiping cloth) in separate bags after cleaning and disinfecting. Wear a new pair of gloves and fasten the bag.
7. Disinfect all cleaning equipment after use and before using in other areas. Disinfect buckets by soaking in bleach solution or rinse in hot water.
What paved the way for the growth of disinfection services in Chennai?
“The virus survives on different surfaces for different periods of time but gets easily inactivated by chemical disinfectants. Hence, it has been mandated that every COVID patient’s house be disinfected soon after diagnosis. The disinfection process stops dissemination,” says G Solomon Jachin Finney, head of operations at Yah Facilities Service.
Insufficient staff for disinfection services at the GCC is probably the primary reason that these businesses are flourishing today, and private players claim to get at least 10 new customers every week.
Soon after Janani Shanmugam, a resident of Mogappair, tested positive for COVID-19 in early June, her family rang up the GCC helpline numbers to get their house disinfected. However, continuous calls and a day’s wait yielded no result. That’s when the family opted for a private package for a sum of Rs 6,000.
“The helpline provided by the Corporation was busy all the time. We wanted to disinfect the house as soon as the tests came back positive, in compliance with GCC norms. We had no choice but to rely on private service. The GCC volunteer checked on us four days after we got the results,” said Jagan G, Janani’s brother.
At the GCC end, the reality is that sanitary workers are struggling under a huge workload, and have to play multiple roles — battling dengue and disinfecting the houses of COVID patients in Chennai.
In localities, such as Kodambakkam and Royapuram, with escalating COVID cases, a GCC conservancy worker disinfects at least seven to eight houses a day. Even that is proving to be inadequate.
“We have to divide the work among the existing workers and disinfect houses even when there is a huge spike in the number of cases,” says a sanitary worker from Anna Nagar.
|Preparing the house for sanitisation|
1. Heavily soiled surfaces should be cleaned with water and floor cleaner prior to disinfection.
2. Trash/waste contents must be bagged, sealed and left in appropriate places for surface disinfection.
3. Open all cabinet doors, drawers, and doors to suites and minimize occluded/covered surfaces to facilitate the penetration of chemicals for disinfection.
4. Air conditioners and heating equipment should be turned off prior to disinfection.
5. Clothes are advised to be stored in a closed cupboard. Disinfection in the kitchen will be done excluding the places where edible items and vessels are stored.
6. The disinfected rooms should not be used two hours after disinfection, post which rooms can be just wiped with a dry cloth.
(Compiled with inputs from Jagan, Shariq and Solomon.)
Sustaining the new business
The opportunity has been tapped, but will it stand the test of time? Yes, say business owners.
Chennai is one of the worst affected cities in India. If predictions made by epidemiologists at Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University are anything to go by, the virus will be around for a few more months. According to the researchers, the pandemic may witness a peak in October-November in Tamil Nadu. If that happens, citizens would need more disinfection services to ensure that their houses and workplaces are sanitised as required.
“Analysing all factors, it appears most probable that the disinfection industry is likely to stay afloat for at least another three years,” asserts Mohamed Shariq, founder of Shariq & Co, a construction firm and disinfection service provider.
In the long term, the service can be diversified feel business owners. Even after the pandemic, users, both residential communities and commercial complexes, can sign an agreement for an annual maintenance contract (AMC). The range of services can be expanded depending on the requirements of the time, as also the size of the firm.
Presently service providers charge on the basis of area. The cost per sq ft is fixed depending on the total area; the larger the area, the less the unit rate.
|Some private disinfection service providers in the city|
1. Yah Facilities Service – 86676 03856
2. Shariq & Co – 98841 50994
3. 1 Solutions – 98411 23524
4. Camaleon Service – 89258 87783
5. Pest Rid – 95518 55050