Coronavirus – What is it, what are the risks and what do you need to do?

Coronavirus under a microscope
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There is currently an international outbreak of Coronavirus. Here’s the health & safety precautions that you need to take.

The International Coronavirus Outbreak is continuing with the World Health Organisation reporting 20,595 confirmed cases from 24 countries and 362 deaths as of 3rd February 2020. There have been 2 confirmed cases in the UK.

If you work in a sector where the customer base and staff is highly mobile – like hospitality and further education – then you may need to take extra measures with your health and safety. Here’s your complete guide to what the coronavirus is, how it spreads, and how you can protect your teams and your customers from infectious disease.

What is the coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are types of viruses that typically affect the respiratory tract of mammals, including humans. The novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. The new, or “novel” coronavirus, now called 2019-nCoV, had not previously been detected before the outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It’s likely that an animal source from a live animal market in China was responsible for some of the first reported human infections.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

As with other respiratory illnesses, infection with 2019-nCoV can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. Its symptoms are very similar to the common cold & Flu. It can be more severe for some people and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes and heart disease), appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

How is coronavirus spread?

The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through contact with an infected person through respiratory droplets generated when a person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. It can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient, for example, in a household workplace, or health care centre.

Is there a risk of a coronavirus outbreak in the UK?

There are now 2 confirmed cases of this new infection in the UK. The risk to the UK population has been moved from low to moderate based on the World Health Organisations declaration that this is a public health emergency of international concern. Despite this, the risk to individuals in the UK has not changed and public advice remains the same, although a 14 day self-isolation recommendation is now in place (see below).

People living or travelling in an area where the 2019-nCoV virus is circulating may be at risk of infection. At present, 2019-nCoV is circulating in China where the vast majority of people infected have been reported. Those infected from other countries are among people who have recently travelled from China or who have been living or working closely with those travellers, such as family members, co-workers or medical professionals caring for a patient before they knew the patient was infected with 2019-nCoV.

WHO recommends that people who have cough, fever and difficulty breathing should seek medical care early. Patients should inform health care providers if they have travelled in the 14 days before they developed symptoms, or if they have been in close contact with someone with who has been sick with respiratory symptoms. A 14 day ‘self-isolation’ period is required to be followed in any such circumstances.

What hygiene precautions are required?

Basic hygiene precautions are essential. To prevent spreading any type of infection it’s important to:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly using an alcohol based hand detergent and apply hand sanitiser
  2. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
  3. Avoid sharing food, drink and utensils
  4. Regularly clean surfaces with disinfectant

Extra controls for the hospitality and education sectors

For hostels, hotels, schools, colleges and universities – and any workplaces where there have been any associated travel by staff and customers – the following enhanced infection control procedures are recommended, as applicable:

  • Regular hand washing by all Staff followed by use of Alcohol Hand Gel.
  • Encouraging hygienic practice of covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, ideally with paper tissues which are immediately disposed of.
  • Availability of Alcohol Hand Gel in Public Areas (e.g bar, reception, lounges, drinks stations) and Toilets.
  • Enhanced disinfection (increased frequency of cleaning) of all hand contact points throughout the property (including door handles / door touch plates, wash basin taps, toilet flushes, light switches, etc), ensuring the correct contact time for the chemical in use is applied.
  • It is still not known how long the 2019-nCoV virus survives on surfaces, although preliminary information suggests the virus may survive a few hours. Simple disinfectants can kill the virus making it no longer possible to infect people. A disinfection frequency of every 2 hours is therefore recommended.
  • When carrying our bedroom / bathroom housekeeping, touch point disinfection is recommended to be carried out first before commencing any other tasks.
  • Standard precautions when handling any clinical waste from bedrooms, which must be placed in leak-proof clinical waste bags or bins and disposed of safely.
  • Ensure disposable PPE and body Spill Kits are readily available for use.
  • Ensure linen laundered on-site is washed at the appropriate high temperature cycle. Any soiled bedding must be safely and promptly contained for safe removal from site.

It is safe to receive packages from China – People receiving packages are not at risk of contracting the new coronavirus. From experience with other coronaviruses, we know that these types of viruses don’t survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.

Advisory Notice sited at Reception

To protect your workplace from coronavirus, it’s a good idea to make your health and safety measures as transparent as possible. We have prepared this advisory notice for venues to use in their reception areas so that staff and customers are clear on what to do if they suspect exposure to the coronavirus:

International Coronavirus Outbreak: Please notify a member of staff if you are a traveller from the affected areas of China as a 14 day self-isolation recommendation is now in place. 

If you have travelled from Wuhan or Hubei Province to the UK in the last 14 days you should immediately:

  1. Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu
  2. Call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the area
  3. Please follow this advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus.
  4. If you have travelled elsewhere in China within the last 14 days and develop any symptoms including cough, fever and shortness of breath, the above advice should be followed.

Government Surveillance

Enhanced monitoring remains in place at ports and airports.

Expert heath and safety advice to protect your business

If you need support or further information around your health and safety practices and preventing/containing infectious diseases, please contact us and we can put you in touch with one of our EHO trained experts.

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