The current strain of coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, is part of the same family of viruses that includes the common cold and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). There are now three confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK and the outbreak has spread across China and to at least 18 countries globally.
If the new strain of coronavirus follows the same pattern as the SARS outbreak in 2003, it may be that the impact on the UK is quite limited. Coronavirus is not, however, an issue that employers can just ignore. At present, the risk level is assessed as being low to moderate, but the situation is evolving all the time. Providing a safe and healthy workplace for employees is a legal requirement and employers should consider the following:
- In general terms, the government advice is for people who may be infected by the coronavirus to take simple, common-sense steps to avoid close contact with other people as much as possible, much as they would with other flu viruses.
- If any employees are required to travel to China, employers should be sure to follow up-to-date government advice (see advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Consideration should be given to cancelling visits to affected areas and assessing whether any meetings could be done via electronic means such as Skype or other online video meetings instead.
- Business continuity plans should be reviewed.
- Where employees have recently returned from China, consider allowing them to work from home until it is certain that they are not infected.
- Good hygiene standards should be enforced across businesses with clear hand-washing instructions displayed in kitchens and bathrooms.
- In the event that coronavirus spreads rapidly in the UK, employers will have to review sickness absence policies and add instructions to follow if employees believe they may have been exposed to the virus.
Advice on infection prevention and control for healthcare providers, including care homes, can be found here on the GOV.UK website.
Updated on 6 February 2020 with new number of confirmed cases in the UK.