Yesterday afternoon, 30 January 2020, the WHO Director-General in Geneva convened the second meeting of the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019 in the People’s Republic of China, with exportations to other countries. Following the meeting, the Director-General declared that the outbreak of 2019-nCoV constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). With the PHEIC declaration by the WHO, we expect that Vietnam Government / Ministry of Health (MOH) may also soon declare a national emergency in Vietnam during the course of today or upcoming few days. Previously, the MOH issued temporary guidelines on the 2019-nCoV, which identify the disease as an infectious disease class A (designating it as the highest level of danger).

According to the MOH’s statistics as of 15:00 pm Vietnam time on 31 January 2020, Vietnam has detected five nCoV-positive cases in total, including two Chinese citizens from Wuhan and three Vietnamese citizens also returning from Wuhan. 140 others have been placed in quarantine for displaying similar symptoms or having come into contact with suspected nCoV-infected cases.

In light of 2019-nCoV’s viral impact, on 30 January 2020, the Vietnamese Government announced plans to restrict cross-border trade and tourism with China. Vietnam will stop granting visas to Chinese tourists. Flights to and from infected areas will be limited and border control will be increased. The Ministry of Labor – Invalids and Social Affairs will closely monitor workers coming from infected areas, and cooperate with the MOH to quarantine suspected nCoV-infected employees.

This outbreak has raised various legal issues, requiring employers to review their legal obligations and liabilities, stay fully alert and be prepared to respond quickly to the fast-changing situation. Such issues include whether employers can refuse employees' entry to the workplace and on what basis; whether employees can be placed on leave; whether employees can be required to travel and what employment law risks surround this issue; whether employees can request to work from home due to health concerns; whether employers can order the shut-down of the workplace, and in such case, whether the State statutory social and health insurance schemes will pay or offer any allowances or support to the employees who must stop working.

Planning for and responding to a potential pandemic requires that employers focus on three key issues: (1) how to maintain a safe workplace; (2) how to maintain operations in the face of the pandemic; and (3) how to minimize exposure to potential liabilities that may result. For a detailed checklist for employers to get ahead of the coronavirus outbreak, please refer to the insightful alert "Getting Ahead of the Coronavirus Outbreak: A Checklist for Multinational Employers" that our US Employment team have prepared.