DUBAI: UAE employers have welcomed new guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO), calling upon organisations everywhere to be pro-active and start adopting preventive measures to check the spread of novel coronavirus, even if it has not arrived in the communities where they operate.
In a statement issued on Thursday, WHO said, “All sections of our society – including businesses and employers – must play a role if we are to stop the spread of this disease.”
It urged employers across the world to adopt “low-cost measures” to help prevent the spread of infections, such as colds, flu and stomach bugs, and protect customers, contractors and employees at the workplace.
“Employers should start doing these things now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where they operate. They can already reduce working days lost due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives at one of their workplaces,” it said.
What UAE-based employers have to say
Surinder Singh Khandari, Chairman of the UAE-based Al Dobowi Group, which employs over 2,000 people, said, “As a group with an office in China as well, we have been taking necessary precautions from a long time. Our 17 Indian employees in Qingdao have been moved to India and the 20-plus local Chinese staff have been working from home. As for our employees here in the UAE, we have stopped all travel to the Far East and are closely monitoring travel advisories for any further updates.”
Sean Baker, Country Manager of Rentokil Middle East, said, “We have put a policy in place in keeping with international and local guidelines. The management has called upon employees to maintain standard protocols pertaining to hygiene and not to panic. They have been advised to listen to what the local government says. We have also been getting calls from residents asking us if there are any pest control measures to keep viruses at bay.”
David Hedley, CEO, Mediclinic Middle East, said: “We as a healthcare organisation follow the strictest protocols laid down by the Ministry of Health and Prevention, Department of Health Abu Dhabi and Dubai Health Authoprity, besides the World Health Organisation. This includes the travel restrictions stipulated to certain countries. We review these guidelines very regularly to make sure they are complied with.”
Ram Buxani, Chairman of the ITL Cosmos Group, said: “This is a very positive move by WHO. The points they have raised should be part of our daily hygiene even otherwise. The WHO warning only serves as a reminder.
“At our company, there has been no recent incidence of travel to coronavirus-hit countries. As far as possible, our employees have been advised to delay their travel plans till things get better and do as much work as possible through correspondence or over the phone.”
If they are standing within one meter of a person with COVID-19 they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them.
In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to flu. Most persons infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover.
However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care. Risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.
What employers can do to keep the workplace safe:
Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic. Surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly because contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads.
Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers. Put sanitising hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled.
Display posters promoting hand-washing – ask your local public health authority for these or look on www.WHO.int.
Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefings at meetings and information on the intranet to promote hand-washing.
Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water because washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents the spread of COVID-19.
Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace. Display posters promoting respiratory hygiene.
Ensure that face masks1 and / or paper tissues are available at your workplace, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing them.
Advise employees and contractors to consult national travel advice before going on business trips.
Brief employees, contractors and customers that if COVID-19 starts spreading in the community, anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home. They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection.
Keep communicating and promoting the message that people need to stay at home even if they have just mild symptoms.
Display posters with this message in your workplaces. Combine this with other communication channels commonly used in your organisation or business.
Your occupational health services, local public health authority or other partners may have developed campaign materials to promote this message
Make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.
Coronavirus: Things to consider while travelling
Organisations and their employees should have the latest information on areas where COVID-19 is spreading. This information is available at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/
Based on the latest information, organisations should assess the benefits and risks related to upcoming travel plans.
Organisations should avoid sending employees who may be at higher risk of serious illness (e.g. older employees and those with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease) to areas where COVID-19 is spreading.
All persons travelling to locations reporting COVID-19 should be briefed by a qualified professional (e.g. staff health services, health care provider or local public health partner).
Employees who are about to travel could be provided with small bottles (under 100 cl) of alcohol-based hand rub. This can facilitate regular hand-washing.
Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly and stay at least one meter away from people who are coughing or sneezing.
Ensure employees know what to do and who to contact if they feel ill while travelling.
Ensure employees comply with instructions from local authorities where they are travelling. If, for example, they are told by local authorities not to go somewhere they should comply with this. Employees should comply with any local restrictions on travel, movement or large gatherings.
Upon return from travel
Employees who have returned from an area where COVID-19 is spreading should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and take their temperature twice a day.
If they develop even a mild cough or low grade fever (i.e. a temperature of 37.3 C or more), they should stay at home and self-isolate. This means avoiding close contact (one meter or nearer) with other people, including family members. They should also telephone their healthcare provider or the local public health department, giving them details of their recent travel and symptoms.