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Coronavirus advice for employers

The UK government has declared coronavirus a “serious and imminent threat” to public health, as it announced new powers to fight its spread. Under the measures, people can now be forcibly quarantined and will not be free to leave.

Based on the World Health Organization’s declaration that this is a public health emergency of international concern, the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate. This permits the government to plan for all eventualities.

However, the risk to individuals remains low. According to the WHO’s latest Situation Report (25 February 2020), there have been:

  • 80,239 confirmed cases globally;
  • 77,780 confirmed cases in China, with 2,666 deaths recorded;
  • 13 people known to be infected in the UK.

Other countries reporting cases include South Korea, Italy and Iran.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a new respiratory illness that has not previously been seen in humans.

Where do Coronaviruses come from?

Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals but some of them are also known to affect humans. After they have infected humans, they can eventually be transmitted to humans.

What is the mode of transmission? How does it spread?

Because it’s a new illness, it is not known exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person, but similar viruses spread by respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale. While animals are the source of the virus, this virus is now spreading from one person to another (human-to-human transmission). At time of writing, there is currently not enough epidemiological information to determine how easily and sustainably this virus is spreading between people.

What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?

The main signs of infection are fever (high temperature) and a cough as well as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

How to protect yourself

The NHS advises the following measures to help stop germs like coronavirus spreading:

  • Always carry tissues with you and use them to catch your cough or sneeze. Then bin the tissue, and wash your hands, or use a sanitiser gel;
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after using public transport. Use a sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell;
  • If you have arrived back from China or specified areas in the last 14 days, follow the advice on this page for returning travellers.

Protecting travelling workers

IOSH has issued some advice covering key actions that organisations can take to manage traveller health, safety and wellbeing:

  • To effectively manage travel risk, organisations must ensure they have proportionate and robust policies, procedures and controls in place. Communicate them to all relevant parts of the organisation, providing information, instruction and training as appropriate.
  • Consider whether the travel is necessary: can the same result be achieved with video conferencing, for example, sparing the organisation and traveller the risk, time, cost and environmental impact? Situations such as the coronavirus outbreak in China as well as geopolitical conflicts, terrorism and natural disasters can change rapidly, potentially leaving travellers stranded or quarantined. It is therefore important to make ‘fly/no fly’ decisions based on best available guidance such as government travel advice.
  • If travel is deemed necessary then organisations need to effectively but proportionately manage the risk, with controls identified and implemented that reflect the nature and severity of the risk. Such controls should be identified through a travel risk assessment incorporating not only the travel, accommodation and work itself but also the traveller’s physical and mental capabilities. The travellers themselves should be involved in this process.
  • Organisations must always know where their workers are and where they are going. Some travel management systems provide tracking and alert functions, and there are also products utilising GPS in either discrete equipment or smartphone apps which can provide live location tracking.
  • If travelling workers become involved in an incident or emergency, organisations need to have a means by which to provide support for them. Considering issues such as number of travellers, international time differences and weekend travel. It is potentially cost and resource-effective to implement a travel assistance scheme such as those provided by business insurers or commercial organisations. Most schemes and business travel insurance packages offer a 24/7 helpline which triggers support services for the traveller, providing assistance with medical treatment and repatriation due to injuries and illness as well as helping with lost documents, stolen money and other common travel-related problems.
  • Organisations should also provide relevant information, instruction and training to travellers, the nature and extent of which should be identified during the risk assessment process.
  • Organisations should remember their travellers’ wellbeing. According to a white paper by International SOS, frequent international travel has been shown to have negative effects on both physical and mental health, with situations such as a disease outbreak providing further sources of concern.

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