As everyone is aware, the Department of Health has confirmed the first few cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) in South Africa. The World Health Organisation (“WHO”) has described coronaviruses as a “family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe illnesses”.

At the end of 2019, a novel strain of the coronavirus (now known as Covid-19) broke out in Wuhan, China.Since the outbreak, the WHO has reported thousands of confirmed cases.

At the end of January 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak of Covid-19 as a public health emergency of international concern.

Symptoms associated with Covid-19

Covid-19 is a highly transmissible and contagious illness.The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some people may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell.

Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

Simple ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace

The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, places an express positive obligation on an employer to maintain a healthy environment that is safe and healthy.In terms of a healthy working environment, employers must ensure that steps are taken, as far as it is reasonably practicable, to ensure that the workplace is free from any risk to the health of employees.

Employers can ensure a healthy working environment by ensuring that the workplace is clean and hygienic, surfaces and objects are wiped with disinfectant regularly, promoting regular hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers, promoting good respiratory hygiene by employees and keeping employees informed on developments related to Covid-19.

Employees should also be advised to consult national travel advice before going on business trips.

Reporting

Employees are encouraged to disclose to employers if they have any symptoms indicative of the virus, been in close contact with anyone who they know has the virus or travelled to any affected areas, travelled to or intended to travel to the affected areas.

Employees are further encouraged, should they show any symptoms of the virus, to seek urgent medical assistance and get tested for infection.If any employee suspects they may have the virus, employees are encouraged to stay at home and isolate themselves until they have been tested, receive medical attention, and recover.

If any employees are aware of any reported cases of the Coronavirus in the workplace, employers must immediately contact the Department of Health or a known medical official to enforce them that their workplace has been compromised so that it can be reported to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

Action Steps

Employees should follow the below basic preventative measures against the Covid-19 virus:

  • wash hands regularly;
  • avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth;
  • cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing;
  • practice respiratory hygiene;
  • if an employee has a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early;
  • stay informed and follow advice given by healthcare providers.

Conclusion

Employers should be committed to acting proactively in respect of Covid-19. This will not only ensure that its employees are protected but will also ensure that the business can continue to function as effectively as possible.

Employees are encouraged to stay calm, keep informed and wash their hands regularly.