Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new illness that can affect an individual’s lungs and airways. It was identified in Wuhan City, China and has now spread to other countries around the world – including the UK. At the time of writing, nine patients in the UK have tested positive for coronavirus. Eight of these have now been discharged.
So what do employers need to know about the virus?
The UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from low to moderate, but the risk to individuals in the UK remains low.
Health professionals are working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus.
What are the symptoms?
The typical symptoms of coronavirus are a cough, a high temperature and shortness of breath. In people with weakened immune systems, older people and those with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and lung disease it is more likely to progress and cause more severe symptoms.
How is coronavirus spread?
It's a new illness, so it is not currently known exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person – however, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.
Health professionals have pointed out that it is highly unlikely that coronavirus can be spread through packages from affected countries or through food.
While there is currently no vaccine for coronavirus, there are things that can be done to help prevent germs like coronavirus spreading. Here are the basic ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’…
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in the bin straight away
- wash your hands with soap and water often – and use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
The above is, of course, good advice for preventing the spread of any germs around the workplace.
Individuals should call 111 as soon as possible if they have been:
- to Wuhan or Hubei Province in China in the last 14 days (even where there are no symptoms)
- to other parts of China, including Macau and Hong Kong, in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if these symptoms are mild)
- to Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Republic of Korea or Malaysia in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if these symptoms are mild)
- in close contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus
Individuals are told not to go to a GP surgery or hospital. They should instead call 111, stay indoors and avoid close contact with other people.
If there's a chance an individual could have coronavirus, they may be asked to isolate themselves. This means that for 14 days after returning from China or other specified areas, they should:
- stay at home
- not go to work, school or public areas
- not use public transport or taxis
- ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands on their behalf
- try to avoid visitors to their home
While the risk to individuals in the UK is low, these steps can help reduce the possible spread of infection.
Please bear in mind that the information contained in this article, while accurate at the time of writing, may change and should not be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice.
For further information, visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public for the latest government advice.