This Travel (Health) Advisory is a continuation of the Travel (Health) Alert Coronovirus COVID-19 Update 03. The intent of this Advisory is not to scare nor to issue advice contrary to international or national lead authorities which remain the prime sources of information to be followed (see links below).
Despite best efforts of the international community, the indicators are that the battle to contain Coronovirus COVID-19 could be lost. New cases are appearing around the world and some new cases are now appearing that have not so far been linked to travellers from an infected country. This could be an early indication of a much larger infected population currently asymptomatic or ‘hidden’. There is a real need therefore for all to plan ahead. The intent here is to provide some practical and proactive advice based on years of corporate crisis management and international travel safety experience safeguarding staff, contractors, families and communities in some of the most challenging parts of the world.
The behaviour of the disease is still not fully understood however it is thought that it is spread by droplets for example from sneezing or coughing. Tissues used to ‘catch’ a sneeze or cough should be immediately and properly disposed of. In many countries, masks are being used to control the spread of infection however their effectiveness after just a few minutes and when wet is questionable unless they include a professionally fitted respirator. The good news is that the virus is susceptible to hand washing with just soap and water (for approximately 30 seconds – or two choruses of ‘Happy Birthday’!). Although the situation remains serious, the mortality rate of the disease remains low. The focus of activity includes containment and the slowing of spread and infection rate as long as possible in the hope that the virus is susceptible to the oncoming warmer summer season and naturally ‘dies out’. Delays will also provide opportunity for a vaccine to be developed before the risk of wider infection of the population.
Travellers should seriously reconsider the need for international travel to avoid becoming stranded by sudden imposition of quarantine either in the destination country and / or when trying to re-enter their home country. Unfortunately for those that have booked, in most cases the ability to reclaim travel costs from insurers depends upon national government travel advice (such as the UK FCO) that by nature is typically reactive. Where travel is essential then avoid areas known to be infected. Travel equipped and prepared for an unplanned stay or delay of at least 14 days. When contingency planning or balancing a decision to travel against personal financial loss, do not rely on support from insurers or national governments.
Keep mobile phones charged, carry contingency funds (cash and credit cards) and sufficient prescription medication in case of delays. Monitor local news and radio and follow international and relevant national government advice. Avoid crowds and mass public events as they present a higher risk of infection; this includes restaurants, bars, events such as sport events or theatre.
Those ‘overlanding’ should register with their national Embassy in country and carefully monitor and follow associated travel and health advice. Make sure that supplies of all consumables including fuel, food, water and prescription medication are kept fully ‘topped up’. Be ready if necessary to self quarantine and / or to manage an extended stay in case borders are suddenly closed. If infection breaks out in a country you are visiting, consider the need, risk and benefits of moving onwards early but only if everybody in the vehicle is free from associated symptoms.
If symptoms do appear, utilise your travel medical health provider and follow their advice but at least in the first instance, until told differently, it may be better to avoid hospitals and clinics in infected countries. Where possible avoid crowded areas and mass gatherings.
Advice provided in previous Travel (Health) Alerts remains valid. Businesses that have not already done so should now start pandemic contingency planning in earnest. In the workplace, staff health education programs should be enhanced to reduce the risk of spread of the disease both in the workplace and at home. Provide cleaning materials for individual work areas and work stations. Implement regular deep cleaning routines out of hours; this should include keyboards, telephone handsets and keypads, cafeterias, desks, flat surfaces and conference rooms. Areas such as lift buttons, door handles and bannisters merit particular attention.
Business should plan for the wider impacts of COVID-19 on all their activities including but not limited to management, operations, planning, finance (cash flow), logistics and market demand for products and services. A pandemic will impact all business sectors but remember to seek the opportunities. Culture within businesses and associated sectors will influence prevention strategies but consider the need to implement screening of visitors (temperature checks) entering your office.
Home working and absentee policies should be reviewed and tested. If school closures are ordered then parents may need to remain at home to provide childcare. Next of Kin Forms should be updated.
Non-essential business travel should be suspended; where possible organise virtual meetings and use video or other conferencing technologies. Companies should monitor the situation closely and stay in touch with their business travellers (daily) following up if / when calls are missed. Where travel is necessary, high risk travel should be approved at an Executive level remembering duty of care for staff and contractors wherever they may be. Ensure plans are in place to support expatriates, business travellers and their families should they become quarantined overseas. Travellers returning from infected countries should be directed to stay out of the work place (self quarantine) for the gestation period of the disease, this is currently thought to be 14 days.
If your businesses crisis management, business continuity and disaster management plans do not include comprehensive pandemic planning then this investment is strongly recommended and should start now.
and finally.................. remember that disease does not respect ‘rank’.