Coronavirus – What should employers do?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently declared the outbreak of coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China as a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. Steps are being taken at points of entry to the UK and beyond to identify and potentially quarantine people who may be a risk.
There are lots of sensationalist headlines around the issue, which have heightened public concern, despite the very limited actual cases discovered in the UK . Statistics from the WHO determine that fatality related to the virus is around 2% of those who catch the virus, and that figure is largely driven by other medical conditions, generally lung conditions – almost all people who catch the virus will suffer some mild to medium symptoms and recover. Further, thanks to the public health measures currently in place, there have only been two confirmed cases in the UK, discovered a week ago, and who were both Chinese nationals.
From an employers perspective, there is potentially concern amongst employees driven by the publicity surrounding the virus. At the moment, the main risk would be for staff travelling to and from China who may be subject to health assessments on departure from China, and arrival back in the UK. The Foreign Office currently advises against non-essential travel to mainland China. The Foreign Office issues its latest advice via https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home. If staff have returned from mainland China in the last 14 days, then they should follow the advice here https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov. This link also contains some general avoidance measures and more general information about hygiene control.
If employees have genuine concern, then they should self refer to their GP or to NHS 24 (via 111) and follow that advice. It may that employees are asked not to attend work and to restrict their movements if assessed as being at risk. As an employer you should use your discretion in individual cases as you normally would. There is no requirement on employers to introduce any special measures beyond normal hygiene control, and it may that any communication may give rise to further and unfounded concern, so it’s a matter of your own discretion.
If the situation changes or develops we will keep you updated.