As of today, several thousand cases of coronavirus and over 100 related deaths have been reported worldwide. The outbreak of the virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and Beijing has broadened the quarantine to 50 million people. However, the mayor of Wuhan has reported that more than 5 million people have already left the city.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to declare the outbreak a global public health emergency, Committee members “agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested that the Committee should be reconvened in a matter of days to examine the situation further”. Multinational organizations should take action now to protect their people and operations.
What we know about the virus
Coronaviruses are an extremely common cause of colds and other upper respiratory infections. The symptoms can include a cough, possibly with a fever and shortness of breath. There are some early reports of non-respiratory symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Many people recover within a few days. However, some people — especially the very young, elderly, or people who have a weakened immune system — may develop a more serious infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Should you worry about catching this virus?
Unless you’ve been in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus — right now, this typically means a traveler from Wuhan, China who actually has the virus — you’re likely to be safe. In the US, for example, all five cases of the virus were recent travelers to Wuhan.
The CDC maintains the risk is low to Americans, however, “we need to be preparing as if this is a pandemic, but I continue to hope that it is not,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Much like prevention of the spread of any other infectious disease, basic hygiene principles are key to curbing the spread of this virus. Wash your hands often. Cover coughs and sneezes with your inner elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands. Stay home from work or school if you have a fever. Stay away from people who have signs of a respiratory tract infection, such as runny nose, coughing, and sneezing.
Be mindful of:
- Employee wellbeing. Monitor updates from public health officials and governments and keep employees informed and educated about the outbreak and any steps being taken to safeguard their health. Encourage employees to stay home when sick and telecommute if the outbreak worsens.
- Travel policies. As of Monday, January 27th, the CDC has issued a stronger warning about travel, urging Americans to reconsider travel anywhere in China, issuing a stronger level 4 warning for the specific province where Wuhan is located, stating: “Do not travel to Hubei province, China” due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to seek medical care right away if they had traveled to Wuhan in the past two weeks and develop a fever, cough or trouble breathing. It says older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be most at risk for severe illness from the virus.
- Potential supply chain interruption. Identify operational and/or revenue impacts from potential disruptions to key suppliers and vendors. Also consider the possibility of sourcing good or parts from alternative suppliers.
- Insurance coverage. Review insurance policies, prepare for potential claims, and consult your broker if you have questions.
As more information becomes available, public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO) will be sharing key information and strategies worldwide.