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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

Latest update 18th March 2020: Keeping informed about the coronavirus will help to protect your people and your organisation from disruption to your daily activities.

​Latest Update 18th March 2020

What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes coronaviruses as a family of viruses found in animals and humans. The coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new strain first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China in 2019 and that health authorities have now identified in several other countries that include Australia. The illness may be passed from person-to-person, showing symptoms of a runny nose, sore throat and a fever. People with the illness may experience common cold symptoms or more serious respiratory diseases or not show symptoms at first. WHO has declared novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern. Though it's not yet clear how easily the virus spreads between people, transmission can take place through the respiratory route (or coughing and spluttering).

In early February 2020, there were 20,647 confirmed cases of the virus from a total of 25 countries. More than 20,000 cases were diagnosed in China. Globally, deaths surpassed 1,000 as infections soared to more than 42,000 by mid-February.  The WHO has now upgraded the outbreak to a global pandemic, and Australia’s health authorities are taking an active and precautionary response to protect citizens at home and abroad, monitoring developments closely.

The Department of Health is working closely with international agencies to monitor what is a developing and changing situation, and countries with confirmed cases are calling for self-evaluation of individuals who may be at risk of contracting the virus and self-quarantine if necessary. Travel between China and other countries is being restricted and under ongoing revision by governments outside of China. Within China, the government has imposed restrictions to travel between cities to curb the spread of the virus.

It's important to know your responsibilities and enact WHS policies and procedures on behalf of workers, contractors, and people under your care.

Keeping informed about novel coronavirus will help to protect your people and your organisation from disruption to your day to day activities. Monitoring the epidemiology of the virus outbreak is ongoing among all affected countries. See WHO and the Australian government situation reports at:  www.smartraveller.gov.au and www.who.int

Some employers are asking workers and students to self-quarantine for a period, if they are considered at risk of having become infected with the virus.

Contracting the virus is a risk for:

  • People that have travelled from mainland China to Australia since 1st February 2020
  • People who have travelled to Hubei Province in the last 14 days
  • People who have been in contact with someone who has a confirmed case of the illness
It's important to remember, the virus can only be confirmed after testing in public health laboratories. Only a medical professional can confirm a diagnosis of novel coronavirus and if you think you have been in contact with the virus you should consult a doctor. 

What can I do to protect people under my care?

The Australian government has advised that people at most risk of serious infection are:

  • Those with compromised immune systems
  • Elderly people
  • Young children and babies
  • People with diagnosed heart and lung conditions
  • Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islanders

Below is a list of activities that your organisation should consider undertaking to ensure that you are prepared:

  • Bring your senior leadership team together or crisis management team (if you have one in place) to meet to discuss measures that need to be taken to prepare and respond to the virus.
  • Undertake an assessment of the risks and potential impacts of the virus on: People in the workplace; Operations; Finances; your organisation’s reputation and strategies. Some of the things you should ask yourself:
    • Which staff are most at risk? How can we protect them?
    • What are our critical activities that we need to keep our organisation running, which could be affected by the virus?
    • What large gatherings / events do we have planned that may need to be cancelled?
    • What overseas travel is planned?
    • How will we communicate to people about what we are doing about the virus?

  • Provide staff with information about the virus and encourage good hygiene practices and social distancing (e.g. staying home when unwell, not shaking hands when greeting people, minimising face to face meetings, avoiding large social gatherings and visiting aged care residents or remote populations). The Department of Health have resources that can assist in distributing information about the virus to staff. 
  • Advise staff on what to do if they have symptoms, travelled from overseas or have been in contact with persons that are infected with the virus.  
  • Review all existing overseas travel plans and reconsider need to travel as per DFAT advice (refer to www.smartraveller.gov.au  for current updates) 
  • Identify staff whose health may be at higher risk if they were infected.
  • Consider implementing working from home arrangements for your staff, particularly higher risk people for a period of time. Consider how your workplace may be impacted by the Australian Governments ban of non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people. Develop a Working from Home Policy which sets clear expectations around aspects such as safe set up of workstations and cyber security. Your organisation should assess the impact to the network and cyber security before implementing any arrangement.  
  • Draft communications for key stakeholders or groups about what you are doing to protect people from infection e.g. parents in a school context or family of aged care residents. 
  • Identify which critical functions may be impacted due to staff absences or closures of buildings or supply chain issues (e.g. shortages of infection control and first aid supplies) and identify strategies to work around any disruptions to these functions. Also, consider how disruptions to your organisation may impact other organisations e.g. your organisation may supply the IT infrastructure for other organisations, such as Schools. 
  • Review any upcoming or planned events for your organisation. Consider cancelling or postponing any event expected to attract large numbers of people. The Australian government has banned non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people. This number could change with other countries recommending public gatherings of more than 10 be cancelled. For smaller events review risk management plans and consider:
    • Can the event be conducted virtually? E.g. by Webinar?
    • Can the event be conducted by phone (e.g. parent teacher interviews)?
    • Can the event be postponed to later in the year?
    • Who is likely to attend and will they be at higher risk if infected?
    • What hygiene measures can be implemented to improve the safety of attendees?  
    • Review Department of Health information for Advice on Public Gatherings 
  • Be vigilant for an increase in criminal activity that may occur during this time. Cyber attacks may increase, as cyber criminals take advantage of people’s fears about the virus, ensure your staff are aware of these threats. As more people work from home and premises are vacated, ensure that that you have physical security measures in place to protect your property.  
If you would like further advice on managing risks during pandemics, contact Risk Support at helpdesk@risksupport.org.au or 1300 660 827. 

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