CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION FOR EMPLOYERS
The information contained in this document is current as of 11 February 2020. This situation is rapidly changing and we suggest employers keep themselves frequently informed of federal and state government advice.
What is Coronavirus and how is it transmitted?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They cause illnesses that can range from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A new coronavirus (COVID-19) case was identified in China in early 2020. This strain has not been previously identified in humans.
Initial human infections of the novel type of coronaviruses were acquired from exposure to animals at the live animal market in Wuhan, however on 20 January 2020 Chinese authorities confirmed that the novel coronavirus is spreading person-to-person, with medical workers in Wuhan confirmed to have contracted the disease from cases they had been treating. How easily the virus spreads from person-to-person remains unknown.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Regulations Emergency Committee has declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. As at, 11 February 2020 the World Health Organisation has named the virus COVID-19.
Are there confirmed cases in Australia?
A small number of cases have been reported in Australia in recent weeks.
What are the symptoms of the Coronavirus?
The virus can cause a range of symptoms. Symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Affected people may experience:
- flu like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue
- shortness of breath
Symptoms are thought to appear between 2 and 14 days after contracting the virus.
What are the Government Guidelines?
The current guidelines from the Australian Government Depart of Health are as follows:
- If you have travelled to Hubei Province within the past 14 days, you must isolate yourself until 14 days after you left Hubei Province
- If you have left or transited through mainland China on or after 1 February 2020 you must isolate yourself until 14 days after leaving China
- If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days after last contact with the confirmed case.
What do I do if my employees travel to China for business?
We suggest that you follow all current travel advice from The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Smart Traveller. The current travel advice to China (as at 11 February 2020) is:
On advice from the Australian Chief Medical Officer, we now recommend Australians do not travel to China due to the increased risk from novel coronavirus.
As this situation is rapidly changing we suggest you closely monitor travel advice for all countries that your employees travel to for business and respond accordingly.
How can the spread of the Coronavirus be prevented?
The World Health Organisation has released the following basic protective measures against the (COVID-19):
- Wash your hands frequently
Wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Why? Washing your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water kills the virus if it is on your hands.
- Practice respiratory hygiene
When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Why? Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing prevent the spread of germs and viruses. If you sneeze or cough into your hands, you may contaminate objects or people that you touch.
- Maintain social distancing
Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.
Why? When someone who is infected with a respiratory disease, like COVID-19, coughs or sneezes they project small droplets containing the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
Why? Hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with the virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself.
- If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early
Tell your health care provider if you have traveled in an area in China where COVID-19 has been reported, or if you have been in close contact with someone with who has traveled from China and has respiratory symptoms.
Why? Whenever you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing it’s important to seek medical attention promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Respiratory symptoms with fever can have a range of causes, and depending on your personal travel history and circumstances, COVID-19 could be one of them.
- If you have mild respiratory symptoms and no travel history to or within China
If you have mild respiratory symptoms and no travel history to or within China, carefully practice basic respiratory and hand hygiene and stay home until you are recovered, if possible.
- As a general precaution, practice general hygiene measures when visiting live animal markets, wet markets or animal product markets
Ensure regular hand washing with soap and potable water after touching animals and animal products; avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with hands; and avoid contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products. Strictly avoid any contact with other animals in the market (e.g., stray cats and dogs, rodents, birds, bats). Avoid contact with potentially contaminated animal waste or fluids on the soil or structures of shops and market facilities.
- Avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products
Handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
What guidelines should I be following as an employer to limit the spread and provide a duty of care to my employees?
A number of major Australian businesses have ordered team members who have recently visited affected areas to stay at home for 14 days to avoid any potential spread.
Employers should follow current government recommendations. As such we suggest employers:
- Put out a generic communication to all employees advising that you are seeking to mitigate the risk and respond to the outbreak and as such have put reasonable precautions in place
- Advise that you are following the government guidelines and as such any employee who meets the criteria will be required to stay away from the workplace and self isolate.
- Advise that affected individuals need to immediately consult with their managers
- Provide general health advice encouraging anyone who develops flu-like symptoms (including fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose or shortness of breath), seek medical advice immediately.
- Advise the precautionary stance is to maintain a safe environment and provide a duty of care for all employees. Include some basic protective measures employees can follow.
- Reiterate that you will continue to monitor the situation and be guided by advice from the Australian Government Department of Health in relation to your response.
- Suggest employees keep updated on current advice and information.
What Other Things Should Employers Be Thinking About When it Comes to the Coronavirus?
- Employers need to be aware that should an employee be required to stay away from the workplace, they are entitled to receive full pay and should not be disadvantaged in any way. Where possible, arrangements should be made for an individual to work from home (if it is safe to do so) or if this isn’t possible explore alternative duties they may be able to complete from home.
- To avoid any claims of discrimination ensure that you are taking the ‘front foot’ and sending out generic communication to all employees. You must not target specific people.
- Closely monitor the overseas destination your employees are travelling to for business & personal leave. This helps you respond with reasonable precautions should the virus spread and further restrictions and recommendations be put in place.
- The Coronavirus situation is rapidly changing, employers should keep themselves informed by following federal and state government advice and updating their communication to staff accordingly.