Coronavirus Raises Concerns at Companies

Argentina is facing an early start of the influenza and dengue season with confirmed cases, and also confronting the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) with infected people coming from endemic areas or countries where the virus is active.

Published in El Cronista on March 03, 2020
Take China, for instance, that has virtually stopped many businesses as a result of measures that affect whole regions that are isolated in quarantine and militarized. There is a complicated panorama with confirmed cases and an increasing rate of infection and death in Iran, Italy, Spain, Japan, France, Congo, India, Thailand due to business trips or tourism; many crowded events have been cancelled, and meetings or large gatherings have been prohibited. In these last couple of hours shocking news have broken indicating that the Louvre Museum has decided to close as a prevention measure, and Tokyo Olympics or other sporting events that attract crowds are endangered.

The coronavirus (rhinovirus SARS-CoV) has put companies on a state of alert as a prevention measure in case their employees get infected because of business trips on behalf of their companies or because they have been exposed to the disease in risky areas or endemic countries with high infection rates, where they have spent their vacations.

This is a highly contagious virus, three times stronger than Influenza Type A, and passes from one person to others via respiratory droplets produced from the airways, often during coughing or sneezing, or by touching contaminated surfaces. It can stay alive in the air for 45 minutes; that is why it is so important to avoid unprotected contact. There are also cases of healthy carriers of the virus who do not exhibit any signs or symptoms, and go largely undetected.

In a context where autumn is approaching and the Flu (Influenza) and Dengue season is beginning, there are many confirmed cases of people who have been exposed to the virus in endemic areas. Even though the coronavirus spreads in cold weather, the truth is that we should assume that somehow or another it will become an explicit threat.

Some companies where professional employees or executives are coming back from trips to risky or endemic areas are asking them to undergo a medical check-up before returning to work, and if they experience any symptom, they are quarantined at home.

Companies are instituting protocols similar to those against Influenza Type A, recommending employees to wash their hands, use alcohol gel, apply sanitizing products in contact surfaces and areas.

Taking precautions is crucial to avoid an epidemic, including early detection when there are signs such as high fever (above 38 degrees Celsius) and other typical symptoms like excessive sweating, dry cough (non-productive cough), fatigue, that may lead to pneumonia, body ache and instability, diarrhea and vomiting. The use of a facemask is mandatory for infected people.

Although the coronavirus may cause death, it usually affects elderly people or patients with immune problems or any medical condition that may have considerably compromised their defenses. Early detection and treatment may have the effects of a flu or pneumonia in some cases, not leading to death.

The list of actions taken by corporations in areas and countries with high infection rates includes:

  1. Have doctors on call at the workplace permanently for early detection.
  2. Order mandatory immediate reporting of any suspected cases involving an employee or a member of their family.
  3. Keep employees under observation for different periods of time at their homes or at ad hoc primary care health centers
  4. Prepare and hand out prevention protocols or guidelines for personal use at home.
  5. Draft protocols for employees in general, and special functions for middle management and executive staff to take emergency prevention actions.
  6. Order the use of facemasks in special cases, in particular for suspected cases.
  7. Maintain good personal hygiene at home and at the workplace
  8. Establish prevention or hygiene and safety commissions at companies to take supplementary measures
  9. Provide any necessary elements of hygiene, isolation and protection, as appropriate.

If companies take actions similar to those against Influenza Type A (H1N1) in 2009 and 2010, any threat may be faced efficiently. The most important thing is that the moment to take preventative actions is right now.

By Julian A. de Diego
Director of the postgraduate course on Human Resources at the School of Business at UCA.