Coronavirus: supporting your people through a global public health emergency

Coronavirus has hit global headlines in recent weeks, with the World Health Organization declaring a global public health emergency


Since the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, governments around the world are implementing strict curbs on mobility as the overall number of cases tops 110,000. In parallel, many organisations have implemented precautionary measures. 

In February, several countries have halted all air travel to and from China, and various global companies are reducing their operations in the region. McDonalds, Adidas and Starbucks have closed stores or reduced service in China and large hotel chains reportedly are offering free reservation changes or cancellations in China, where the fast-spreading virus has killed over 3,000 people and infected thousands. 

With cases of the virus now confirmed in the region, what steps should employers be taking to prevent the spread of Coronavirus?

Experts believe that the number of people affected by the virus will continue to rise, and health officials around the world are on high alert. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all travel to Hubei Province and South Korea, where the virus originated, and all but essential travel to North Italy.

As people professionals, you can play a key role by keeping your people up to date with the latest advice and guidance issued by government and public health agencies. As the virus continues to spread, it could pose a real threat to businesses. From people management to prevention measures and alternatives to their current supply chains, it’s important to have longer-term plans in place.  

Top tips for supporting your people though this global public health emergency: 

  • Follow official recommendations and keep up-to-date with government advice
  • Hold awareness sessions to educate staff on ways to best prevent the virus and dispel myths
  • Ensure there is extensive internal communications reminding your employees of basic hygiene procedures to contain the spread of the virus
  • Share a number or a contact that staff concerned over coronavirus can contact. It’s important they feel safe to do so. 
  • Look at options for people to work remotely to prevent the spread of infection
  • Ask your employees to not go to work if they feel sick and have recently travelled to China
  • Provide hand sanitizer and hygienic products
  • For customer-facing organisations, consider using customer self-serve options such as telephone and online services to minimise face-to-face interaction
  • Review your policies and procedures on health reporting, office and personal hygiene protective equipment, social distancing and working hours
  • Consider providing additional training to your people working in critical areas, so others have the skills to fill in for absent colleagues

It’s important to remember that people will be worried about the virus. As employers, you do not only have a duty of care to ensure you take reasonable steps to ensure health and safety, but also the responsibility to ensure the well-being of your people. 

You may want to offer enhanced support to people more vulnerable to illness due to age and/or any underlying health conditions. It might also be useful to promote other support mechanisms you have in place, such as Employee Assistance and well-being programmes. Lastly, education remains critical and it’s important to avoid misinformation or the spread of rumours that could lead to casting away some employees or tensions within teams. 

Keep up-to-date with all the latest information: 

Latest updates from WHO

For Singapore:

For Hong Kong:

For Malaysia:

For Indonesia:

For Thailand:

Note:CIPD is not engaged in the practice of law, accounting or medicine. Any commentary in this article does not constitute and is not a substitute for legal, tax or medical advice. Readers of this article should consult a legal, tax or medical expert for advice on those matters.

This article was last updated on Tuesday 10 March 2020.

For more information and resources, explore the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Hub here.

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