Based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK remains very low. As at Wednesday 29th January 2020 there are currently no confirmed cases in the UK. However, the risk is under constant review by the World Health Organisation, Public Health England, DEFRA and the NHS and we can expect updated information from them on a regular basis.
The best source of advice for recommended measures will be the various official sources, including the following: -
Having reviewed these, we have summarised below some of the current guidance available. If you have issues affecting your organisation relating to Coronavirus, please do keep up to date with the official advise – it is changing daily.
What steps, if any, should employers be taking?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all travel to the Hubei Province; and the FCO advise against all travel to mainland China with the exception of essential travel.
In light of this, if you, or any of your employees, are due to travel to any part of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macao), you need to consider if it is essential.
If you have employees who have travelled to the Hubei Province for work purposes, you should explore the viability of them leaving the Country and retuning home.
It is widely reported in the media that various airlines are cancelling flights – some until the end of February at the earliest.
Employees returning from affected areas, in particular Wuhan and the Hubei province
The NHS advises that anyone returning from Wuhan within the last 14 days should:
- Stay indoors at home and avoid contact with other people until they are no longer ill, as is the case for ordinary flu virus.
- Call NHS 111 to inform them of their recent travel to the city; and follow the advice given.
In summary, the Government are asking people to take simple, common-sense steps to avoid close contact with other people as much as possible, like they would with other ‘flu viruses.
However, the Government has announced that hundreds of British citizens being flown back to the UK from the main affected area, Wuhan, will now be put in quarantine for two weeks on their arrival. It is believed the passengers will be required to sign a contract committing to the quarantine period.
Employers who know an employee is returning from Wuhan, will need to work around the employee being absent from work for the quarantine period. In this situation, we believe the absence should be authorised, subject to evidence of being quarantined. There has been no government announcement on whether anyone quarantined will receive any compensation. It will be for an employer to determine whether the absence should be unpaid, paid full pay / holiday pay or sick pay (SSP); and this will need to be assessed on a case by case basis depending upon the circumstances. In this situation, you may wish to obtain advice.
Imported Products / Handling Packages from China
We believe the authorities are working to identify how well the new virus spreads through surface contact, but the current view is that the virus is generally spread mainly through close contact with infected people or animals by inhalation of contaminated droplets of body fluid (i.e. coughs and sneezes). However, companies who import products and or handle packages from China must keep an eye out for any guidance in this respect.
If WN-CoV is capable of being spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, basic personal hygiene controls such as hand-washing and sanitising should significantly reduce any risk to people handling packaging or products.
Preventing the spread of general viruses and bacteria
If any of your employees are feeling unwell now, it most likely that they are suffering from influenza (“flu”) or the common cold and employees should not panic or jump to conclusions.
According to the NHS the best way to prevent the spread of any infection, such as flu is to practice good hygiene, and the same rules apply to other viruses such as the coronavirus. Therefore, it may be prudent to remind employees of the following simple measures to prevent the spread of infections:
- Always wash hands regularly with soap and warm water.
- Regularly clean surfaces around the home and at work, particularly keyboards, handrails, telephones and door handles.
- Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth for coughs and sneezes.
- If you don’t have a tissue, try to sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow, covering your mouth and nose as much as possible.
- Put used tissues in the bin as soon as possible and wash your hands.
- If you become ill, avoid contact with other people to avoid spreading the infection by staying off work or school until you feel better.
- Flu should be treated at home with paracetamol or ibuprofen and by keeping warm and rested with plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Antibiotics have no effect on flu or the coronavirus – antibiotics are only effective on bacteria so, for most people, a trip to the doctors for flu is unnecessary and will not result in a prescription for medication.
When should employees contact their doctor?
At the time of going to press, WN-CoV has not yet spread to the UK. Therefore, employees should not worry that their symptoms are connected to the Coronavirus unless they have travelled to the Wuhan area or Hubei Province in the last few weeks. Their illness is more likely to be a common cold or flu.
Employees who are suffering from flu-like symptoms should contact their doctor in the following circumstances:
- They are 65 years of age or over
- They are pregnant
- They have a long-term medical condition – such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease
- They have a weakened immune system – for example because they are having chemotherapy or have HIV
- They develop chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or start coughing up blood
- Their symptoms are getting worse over time or haven't improved after a week
In the event that confirmed cases of WN-CoV are found in the UK, employees suffering from symptoms which they believe could be Coronavirus should contact the NHS 111 helpline.
We have unfortunately run out of face masks