At the end of December 2019, public health officials from China informed the WHO that there is a new unknown virus causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan. The new virus is then identified as coronavirus and since then has spread quickly through and outside of Wuhan.
With death tolls climbed to 2,130, the new form of coronavirus which is called Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov) has now been identified as a more deadly virus than its siblings SARS-CoV which infected over 8,000 people and MERS-CoV which has caused death to 850 lives since 2012.
In response to the spiralling public health crisis, many cities in China are locked down and people are being isolated. The outbreak is also predicted to have an impact on the global and local economic losses, as more countries are enacting travel and trade restrictions. In 2003, the losses from SARS outbreak totalled $40 billion and the world’s gross domestic product suffered a 0.1 percent hit. That said, there is a chance that the current outbreak will bring the same losses.
As a matter of fact, global disease outbreak will not leave anything but losses. To prevent it from affecting workplace productivity, leaders are urged to raise awareness among the employees and educate them about the illnesses. Understanding how the virus is spreading as well as its symptoms will be very helpful to protect everyone from catching it.
According to Tyrrell and Myint, the new coronavirus is reported as a physically large virus – in relative terms, at just 125 nanometres with a surface of spike projections. The virus is too big to survive or stay suspended in the air for hours or travel more than a few feet. Like influenza, coronavirus spreads through both direct and indirect contacts. Direct contact occurs through the physical transfer of the microorganism among friends and family through close contact with oral secretions. Indirect contracts are usually transmitted via inhalation of contaminated droplets. The virus can also be transmitted by the hands to the nose or eyes membranes.
The common symptoms of coronavirus are runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, and a general feeling of being unwell. After a few days of the infection, the virus can get the infected human into lower-respiratory tract illness, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. However, before the virus gets stronger and causes pneumonia, it is advisable for HR to take or encourage employees to go see doctors.
In addition, HR might need to treat in private for those who have been infected to avoid chaos within the company. Allowing the infected employees to take medical leave with a doctor’s prescription should be encouraged. This is the safest way to prevent the virus from spreading throughout the workspace since vaccines are not currently available. The private talk will also prevent infected employees from exclusion once their health restores and is ready for work again.
HR should also encourage and reduce the likelihood of transmission by practising hygienic measures within the workplace. Supporting employees to eat healthy and well-cooked meals are also the best way since coronavirus is largely found in animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.
Although the virus and major deaths happen in mainland China, a handful case of this outbreak has been confirmed in 12 other countries, including the U.S., South Korea, Thailand, France, Australia, and Japan. WHO has declared the pandemic as a global health emergency.
Statement on the second meeting of the International Health Regulations regarding 2019-nCoV, WHO cited that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided countries a strong measure to detect disease early, isolate, and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk. It is also important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce the spread of the infection.
WHO advised all countries and individuals to prepare for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of the virus infection. In addition, the global community should continue to demonstrate solidarity and cooperation in supporting each other on the identification of this new virus.
For workplace community, it is important to practice hygiene around the workplace area. Therefore, always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands especially when you have just touched raw meats, and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Human resources managers should also diligently remind their employees to stay calm in combating the virus, panicking will only make things worse. To support employees who might undergo a mental breakdown due to this virus outbreak, HR can find the solution here.
Updated on Thursday, 20 February 2020.