COVID 19 Updates
Since our previous update, the Central Government and various State Governments have issued multiple notifications, guidelines and orders detailing measures to cope with the COVID – 19 outbreak in India. We have set out key developments in this regard below:
A. The Prime Minister’s Speech:
The Prime Minister addressed the nation on March 19, 2020 on the ongoing COVID – 19 crisis and advised citizens to take certain precautions. The key takeaways from the speech are that the Prime Minister:
1. Advised all citizens to follow Janata curfew on March 22, 2020, Sunday, from 7 am to 9 pm (i.e., no person apart those involved in providing essential services are to leave their homes). As we understand, this is an advisory and not a directive of the government;
2. Encouraged social distancing;
3. Urged citizens over the age of 65 years to stay at home;
4. Appealed to citizens to stop panicking and hoarding essential supplies;
5. Directed employers to refrain from holding back wages of employees who are unable to report to work;
6. Advocated work from home; and
7. Advised all citizens to follow the guidelines issued by the Government from time to time.
B. Travel and Other Restrictions
1. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting published an Additional Advisory for Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) on March 19, 2020. As per this advisory:
(i) No scheduled international commercial passenger aircrafts will be allowed to land in India from March 22, 2020 for one week;
(ii) States have been advised to ensure that citizens above 65 years of age and children below 10 stay home;
(iii) All concessional travel by railways and airways will be suspended except for students, patients and divyang (persons with disability) category; and
(iv) State Governments have been instructed to require private sector organisations to implement work from home for employees except those engaged in essential/emergency services.
2. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued an Additional Travel Advisory for Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) on March 17, 2020 specifying the following restriction:
(i) With effect from 15:00 IST on March 17, 2020 travel of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines, and Malaysia to India is prohibited with immediate effect. Airlines have been instructed not to board passengers from these countries to India and enforce this at the port of initial departure. These instructions will remain in force till March 31, 2020.
C. Social Distancing
1. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued an Advisory on Social Distancing which will be in force till March 31, 2020. The advisory, inter alia, proposes:
(i) That private sector organizations/employers should be encouraged to allow work from home wherever feasible;
(ii) Meetings should be conducted through video conferencing whenever feasible;
(iii) Meetings involving large number of persons should be rescheduled or minimized; and
(iv) Non-essential travel should be avoided.
2. As an aside, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions has via an Office Memorandum dated March 17, 2020 issued certain precautionary measures, do’s and don’t’s required to be taken by Ministries/Departments and their employees.
D. Ministry of Corporate Affairs: Board Meeting Requirements Relaxed
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has published the Companies (Meetings of Board and its Powers) Amendment Rules, 2020 amending certain board meeting requirements. Through this amendment, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has relaxed the requirement of physical presence of directors while holding board meetings as required under Section 173 (2) of the Companies Act, 2013 read with Rule 4 of the Companies (Meetings of Board and its Powers) Rules, 2014. Such meetings may be held through video conferencing or other audio visual means till June 30, 2020.
E. SEBI Relaxation:
The Securities and Exchange Board of India has via a circular dated March 19, 2020 temporarily relaxed certain compliance requirements for listed entities. The timelines for certain filings have been extended and the time gap between two board/audit committee meetings has been relaxed.
F. Employees’ State Insurance Contribution Relaxation:
The Employees’ State Insurance Corporation has via a circular dated March 19, 2020 extended the time limit for filing and paying the ESI contributions for the months of February and March. The usual 15 day time limit has been extended to 45 days.
G. State Specific Updates
(i) Brihanmumbai Mumbai via an order dated March 17, 2020 has, inter alia, implemented the following:
a. Non-essential service providing offices to function at only 50% staff capacity; and
b. Private sector companies and public sector companies to encourage all their staff to work from home.
(ii) The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has via orders dated March 19, 2020 passed crowd controlling measures in different wards. Shops and establishments except medical stores and grocery shops on specified road have been directed to be closed on alternate days.
(iii) The District Collector, Pune, has passed an order dated March 18, 2020 to combat the spread of coronavirus in the district. The order, inter alia, provides for:
a. Banning assembly of 5 or more people in private or public places for reasons such office meetings, training camps, workshops etc.,
b. Banning activities involving 5 or more people in private or public places, office meetings, training camps, workshops , national and international tours etc., and
c. Restricting the movement of citizens in public places.
The order is not applicable to certain establishments including IT establishments that cater to critical national and international infrastructure. However, such IT establishments are required to specifically communicate the reasons for their exclusion to the Collector. You can access the translated copy of the order here.
(i) On March 17, 2020 the District Magistrate Gurugram has issued an advisory directing all MNCs, IT firms, industries, BPOs, and corporate offices situated in the district to allow their officers/employees to work from home till March 31, 2020 with immediate effect.
(ii) The Health Department of Haryana has via order dated March 15, 2020 prohibited mass gatherings of 200 or more people in the State till March 31, 2020.
(iii) The Labour Department of Haryana has on March 17, 2020 issued guidelines for factories and establishments in the State. The guidelines, inter alia, provide for:
a. Scanning workers and visitors with an infrared thermometer if possible;
b. Avoiding biometric attendance;
c. Reducing the total number of employees in a facility at a given time by having alternating days or extra shifts;
d. refraining from insisting that employees who suffer from acute respiratory illness to provide medical certificates;
e. Informing the District Administrator/nearest government hospital immediately if a foreign delegate has visited the premises or employees have visited some foreign countries; and
f. Implementing flexible policies such as flexible worksites and work hours.
The Ministry of Tourism has announced on March 19, 2020 that the Meghalaya Government has closed down all tourist places in the State till March 31, 2020. The State has mentioned that there is a possibility of extending this closure till April 15, 2020.
4. Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan, and West Bengal
The Governments of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan, and West Bengal are among the states which have notified regulations under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. These regulations largely provide that any person with a history of travel in the past 14 days to a country or area where COVID – 19 has been reported must:
(i) Report to the nearest government hospital or call the toll-free helpline 104 or the number notified by the respective state government; and
(ii) Isolate themselves at home for a period of 14 days even if they do not have any symptoms.
These regulations also generally state that the prior permission of the Department of Heath and Family Welfare or the designated authority is required for any person/institution/organization to circulate any information regarding COVID – 19. Further, in the event that a person fails to adhere to these regulations, such person may be punished in accordance with the Indian Penal Code, 1860.