What Your CEO is Reading: Coronavirus

Coronavirus. It’s a topic dominating headlines around the world. Each day brings new updates – increased number of cases, additional countries reporting the virus, new travel restrictions, and evolving decisions from countries and international organizations with regards to response and recommendations.

Coronavirus.  It’s a topic dominating headlines around the world.  Each day brings new updates – increased number of cases, additional countries reporting the virus, new travel restrictions, and evolving decisions from countries and international organizations with regards to response and recommendations. 

A recent China Briefing article, Coronavirus: Impact on China and ASEAN, Businesses Need to Implement Remote Administration” discusses the need for businesses to deploy tactics enabling remote management of operations to allow for business continuity in the weeks and months ahead.  This highlights the impact the coronavirus is having on companies and their employees.  Articles like this one may prompt your CEO to request an update from leaders on the company’s response and plans for business continuity, travel, and employee health.

Why Your CEO May Care

Recent events, including announcements by government bodies and health organizations, have had an immediate impact on employers.  China has enforced an unprecedented quarantine of 17 cities, impacting over 50 million people.  In addition, the Lunar New Year was extended, an effort to reduce the spread of the virus by delaying employees’ return to the workplace.  Some neighboring countries have either partially or fully closed their borders with China.  Certain airlines have suspended or reduced flight service to China.  Several countries have announced entry limitations for those with a recent travel history to certain areas.  In the United States, any foreign national who has a travel history to China within the last two weeks will be denied entry; while any US citizen or permanent resident who has been in China's Hubei province in the past 14 days, will be allowed entry but subject to quarantine for up to two weeks. 

Company reaction is taking many forms.  Many organizations have imposed their own travel restrictions by eliminating all non-essential travel to certain areas.  How companies defined the scope of such travel restrictions varies.  For some it is the Hubei province only, for others mainland China, while for others it extends to other countries as well.  Other company decisions impacting business include certain stores having temporarily closed their doors in China, and some air show exhibitors changing their plans to not attend the Singapore Airshow, Asia’s largest aerospace and defense event.  All of this has significant impact to normal business operations. 

What Employers Can Do

Monitor travel guidelines. The State Department has issued a "Level 4: Do Not Travel" advisory for China.  Countries continue to announce entry limitations for travelers from certain areas.  Airlines have been suspending flights.  These factors should all be considered when reviewing your company’s travel policy for any necessary updates. 

Special consideration for local employees. If you have local employees in the Wuhan area, it is possible they or a member of their family may have taken ill or may be impacted by quarantine measures.  For those who may have traveled recently to the region, their return could be delayed as entry requirements change.  Communicating with impacted employees so they know what to expect is important.

Educate and remind employees of essential prevention practices. Much is still unknown about the novel coronavirus.  Practicing good hygiene; such as washing hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds, carrying alcohol-based hand sanitizer where soap and water may not be available, avoid touching your face; including eyes, nose and mouth, keeping a distance from those who present symptoms; avoiding crowded places if possible, and covering your cough or sneeze are effective ways to limit the spread of this and other diseases. There is currently no vaccine for this disease. However, being up to date on other vaccines, such as the flu, promotes good overall health. The CDC indicates that the elderly and those with compromised immune systems could be the most vulnerable. For employers with on-site clinics, ensure the staff is prepared to answer any questions, recognize warning signs and has protocols in place.

Explore alternate working arrangements.  Many companies are encouraging (and in some cases requiring) employees to work from home for a period of time after returning from travel to certain locations.  Be cognizant of local laws. Where feasible having the employee work from home is a solution.  With travel disruptions and suspensions, in person meetings and site visits may not be possible.  But collaboration across locations still needs to occur.  Encourage web based platforms and virtual meetings to keep momentum with geographically diverse project teams. 

Recognize symptoms. The main symptoms of coronavirus resemble those of a bad cold or the flu; including fever, cough and shortness of breath. The most common way the virus spreads is through the air by coughing and sneezing, but can also be transmitted by close personal contact, touching an object or surface with the virus and then touching your face. In rare cases, the virus can spread through fecal contamination. Employees should be encouraged that if they feel they have symptoms, to make prudent decisions. If sick, one should not travel and avoid going into the workplace where the illness could be spread.  Medical attention should be sought for diagnosis and treatment. 

Review your emergency preparedness plan. Review your emergency response and pandemic protocols, including but not limited to your corporate telework policy. Be transparent with available credible information to your employees. 

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