On December 31st 2019 – the Chinese Division of the World Health Organisation heard the first reports of a previously unheard of coronavirus. As of 5th of February, there have been nearly 500 deaths with no sign of the death toll slowing down. Furthermore, several cities are on lock down.
Novel or ‘new’ coronavirus is a member of the coronavirus family that has not yet been discovered before. The virus comes from animals, and it has been reported that this most recent outbreak is associated with exposures on one seafood market in Wuhan.
Although this most recent outbreak has not been encountered before, there have been similar coronaviruses such as ‘SARS’ (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) and ‘MERS’ (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome). These viruses were extremely serious, for example in 2002 SARS spread to 37 countries and killed more than 750, whilst MERS , although it did not infect as many people it has a greater lethality rate killing 35% of about 2500 people.
As of the 12th of Jan, it was not clear whether human to human transmission could spread the disease. However, there are now major concerns that the Coronavirus will spread more like an influenza, due to its highly transmissible nature – unlike its ‘cousins’ SARS and MERS which are much slower moving.
What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?
The main symptom of coronavirus is that it can cause pneumonia. Those who are infected will likely suffer coughs, fever and difficulties breathing. Recovery of those infected depends on the strength of their immune system, and therefore many of the fatalities so far have come from older patients and those who are already in poor health.
How is Coronavirus spread?
It has been confirmed that the virus can be spread via human to human transmission. In China there have been 17,238 confirmed infections. Initially, it was feared that the virus would spread even greater than this. However, the spread may have been hindered as a result of authorities in Wuhan ordering cinemas, theatres and exhibitions to shut. Beijing also cancelled all major Chinese New Year celebrations.
Outside of China there have been 150 cases confirmed so far, with 2 confirmed (from the same family) in the UK.
What Should Employers Know About Coronvavirus?
Unsurprisingly, many now fear entering public spaces as a result of coronavirus. However, for most that work this is a reality they can’t escape. Since the virus originated in China – it is those who travel who will perhaps be acting with the most caution.
So what should employers do to help their employees who usually travel overseas? Below, we offer a range of tips and advice for employers in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
- Employers need to ensure there are robust policies, procedures and controls in place. These should be displayed clearly and concisely to all the relevant parts of your organisation.
- Employers should assess to what extent their employee travelling is necessary. Perhaps there are alternatives that would suffice, such as video calling. This will reduce the risk posed to travellers especially if the situation worsens and travellers are stranded or quarantined. Checking official government travel advice will help employers decide on whether to ask their employees to fly or not.
- If travel is necessary, then employers will need to effectively but proportionately manage the risk. Employers should implement the controls necessary that reflect the severity of the risk. Use travel risk assessments to identify the controls that need to be implemented. It should assess factors such as travel, accommodation and the work itself.
- Employers should always be aware of their employee’s whereabouts, including where they are scheduled to go. This is particularly the case when threats such as coronavirus exists. This is because employers may hear vital information such as levels of risk, which will be useful to inform their employees of before entering certain areas.
- Employers will need to ensure they have corrected structures in place should an emergency occur. The ability to offer support should your employees find themselves in an emergency is essential. Employees should be adequately trained and equipped with the relevant information which may be determined through the travel risk assessments.
- Employers need to also ensure that their employees wellbeing is not affected by the prospect of travelling whilst there is a serious risk of virus. Employees may develop great anxiety.