Prof. Robert Quigley, M.D., is SVP and regional medical director in the Americas for International SOS Assistance and MedAire. Here he stresses a conscientious approach to the spread of the coronavirus and offers guidance for organizations and their travelers.
The continued increase of confirmed cases of Covid-19 globally, as well as in the United States, indicates that the outbreak is a serious issue. We should treat it as such. The highly contagious novel coronavirus can transfer from person to person, and object to person, much like the flu.
There is certainly no reason to cause or enable widespread panic, but when it comes to the health of employees and especially business travelers, it is the organization’s duty of care to prioritize those people’s health and wellness in the interest of business continuity.
Workplace managers and decision-makers should keep the following in mind as it concerns coronavirus preventative measures:
• Encourage employees to pay strict attention to personal hygiene, including washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not readily available. We have created a downloadable pocket guide of precautionary measures, accessible on our Covid-19 web page for travelers and organizations to disseminate, as well as a continuously updated map of travel restrictions.
• It is crucial that employees also use preventative measures to avoid touching the face and mouth, especially after touching objects that are handled by many people, such as handrails and doorknobs in public areas. Cover hands or use arms or paper towels to open doors. In the spirit of social distancing, avoid handshaking and hugs. Regular cleaning of work stations with alcohol products is advisable as a best practice.
• Employees should avoid sharing items such as food, drinks and personal effects. Most importantly, to help keep everyone healthy in work environments, if you are sick, stay home.
• Some organizations are asking people to work from home, and many will be requesting that employees self-quarantine for 14 days if they have been to a location impacted by Covid-19. Consider teleconsultation so employees can see doctors face to face and avoid congregating in public spaces such as waiting rooms.
If employees are traveling for business, the organization and traveler need to stay flexible and aware of the current travel restrictions in the places they are going. Many countries and destinations have already implemented heightened health screening precautions. It’s also important to remember that the means of seeking medical attention may vary by country; however, should you seek medical care, use private transport and avoid contact with others to prevent further spread of the illness.
While we are still learning about Covid-19, we do know that it is a rapidly spreading respiratory disease, reaching over 75 countries so far. The symptoms of the disease include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and, in extreme cases, pneumonia. Apart from the direct symptoms of the virus, the outbreak is also causing other potentially serious implications, including worldwide psychological stress, and unpredictable disruption to travel and general workforce movement.
Companies need to be mindful of traveler concerns, and those of the wider workforce. They should not underestimate the stress this situation is creating. Even with all the appropriate preparation and awareness, an evolving and escalating situation can considerably increase traveler stress. There is an element of the unknown, and conditions can change quickly. Travelers can feel increasingly isolated and vulnerable. In these circumstances, it is essential to provide access to timely, accurate, verified information.
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