Coronavirus: What UK employers and employees should know

The deadly coronavirus has spread from China and entered the United Kingdom. Knowledge, caution and preparation can help protect employees and businesses.

You will have seen the recent news reports regarding the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, and its subsequent spread to a number of other countries. This situation is developing and various agencies are closely monitoring the situation. The UK Government’s website is currently being updated daily with information and advice from the Department of Health and Social Care on the position within the UK. There is further information from the World Health Organisation and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

About the coronavirus

The initial outbreak of coronavirus, which causes flu-like symptoms and severe pneumonia, centred around an animal market, in Wuhan City, China, though there has now been transmission from person to person (including medical personnel) since the initial reports.

Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

Guidance for employers

In terms of your employee group risk, healthcare and international health and risk insurances, the consensus is that your standard terms and conditions will continue to apply. However, it should be noted that the insurances most likely to be relevant for this situation would be life and income protection (and they remain broadly unaffected). Other insurances, such as, private medical, dental and critical illness would either not feature in this situation or have an exclusion as part of the standard terms.

Please note as the Foreign Office now advises against travel to mainland China, there may be exclusions imposed by insurers on planned future travel; however, those exclusions will not have applied prior to the Foreign Office announcement. Please let us know (by return) of any planned travel to China, so that we may check the terms of cover on your behalf.

Advice for travelling employees

  • British people travelling and living overseas following the outbreak of novel coronavirus should check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.
  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK nationals to leave China where possible. If the situation continues to escalate the pressure on the Chinese health system may intensify, and it may also become harder for people to travel.
  • If you have travelled from Wuhan or Hubei Province to the UK in the last 14 days you should immediately:
    • Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu.
    • Call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the area.
    • If you are in Northern Ireland, call 0300 200 7885.
    • Please follow this advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus.
  • If you have travelled from elsewhere in China (but not Macao or Hong Kong) to the UK in the last 14 days and develop symptoms of cough, fever or shortness of breath, you should immediately:
    • Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu.
    • Call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the country.
    • If you are in Northern Ireland, call 0300 200 7885.
    • Please follow this advice even if your symptoms are minor.

Advice for employees

While the threat of coronavirus remains small at the moment, employees should be aware of the following precautions to protect themselves from respiratory infections:

  • Avoid contact with those with respiratory symptoms to the extent possible. Business travellers should also not visit live or dead animal markets.
  • All employees should practice careful handwashing and cough or sneeze into their elbows. Consider avoiding shaking hands too.
  • UK based employees are far more likely to have influenza than coronavirus, but the same precautions are reasonable.

Guidance for those who become ill

Employees should be reminded that if they feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, they should:

  • Stay home, except for seeking medical care and avoid contact with others.
  • Seek medical care right away. Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call and inform them of symptoms. Advise of any travel to China or east Asia.
  • Shield sneezes and coughs with a tissue or shirt sleeve (not hands).
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.
  • These recommendations are appropriate for all employees and others during influenza season regardless of travel history.