Coronavirus is knocking at our doors and there is an acute fear among the masses in India. Most of us have already started refraining from going to malls, public places, travelling out of the country and attending public events. However, an important and unavoidable part of our lives is going to work and a person spends 8-12 hours on average at work. While work from home can be an option in the worst-case scenario, it is also important for startups who are today at the forefront of many revolutions in India, to immediately start taking necessary precautions for the safety of employees at work.
India has tens of thousands of startups with a massive workforce being employed. It makes all the more sense for startups to take this as an opportunity to re-evaluate employee welfare and jump into action before others.
The disease caused by the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). It was referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV’ earlier. “COVID-19 is still affecting people in China with some outbreaks in other countries. Most people who become infected experience mild illness and recover, but it can be more severe for others,” says the World Health Organisation.
We may have hoped against hope that India stays immune to the epidemic, however, the deadly virus has reached our shores. 22 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus have been found in India, said Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan today (March 4). Globally, businesses have been hit, investors have pressed the panic buttons and the economy is expected to slip into recession.
While we at Inc42 primarily delve into the world of technology and Indian startups through our stories, considering the seriousness of the situation, here we bring authentic information on coronavirus for startup founders to share with employees along with dos and don’ts for tackling coronavirus at the workplace.
Facts On Coronavirus From Reliable Sources For Startup Employers
The fear of Coronavirus, medically now termed ‘coranxiety’, is so huge that it has led to the spread of misinformation and fake resources, especially on social media. The number of forwards and posts on WhatsApp, Facebook, other social media platforms and fake news websites is increasing with the increase in the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases.
Disseminating factually correct information is becoming a challenge for health authorities across the world. Andrew Pattison, digital business solutions manager, for the WHO in fact called the spread of fake news on the outbreak an “infodemic” that was spreading faster than the virus.
So, we decided to talk to Dr K K Aggarwal, former president and former honorary secretary-general of Indian Medical Association and some leading doctors to help startup founders pass on facts with their employees.
- Trust resources like WHO and UNICEF for preventive measures
- Talk to reliable doctors in case of any doubt or clarification. They will be the first ones to have access to the latest information
- Do not trust social media advice and restrain from posting anything on the virus even if it’s claimed to be true
- Do not spread rumours; you are not a doctor or a health expertDo not buy any brands or products that claim to cure coronavirus
- Clarify doubts from national and local medical authorities as they will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area
WHO Guide For Workplaces
- Wash your hands frequently: Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
- Maintain social distancing: Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth: Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Practice respiratory hygiene: Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then, disposing of the used tissue immediately.
- If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early: Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
- Stay informed and follow healthcare advice: Stay informed on the latest developments about Covid-19 and follow the advice given by your healthcare practitioner or public health authority or employer on how to stay safe from COVID-19.
“Coronavirus is large in size where the cell diameter is 400-500 micro and for this reason, any mask prevents its entry so there is no need to use trade muzzles. The virus does not settle in the air but is grounded, so it is not transmitted by air. Coronavirus when it falls on a metal surface, it will live 12 hours, so washing hands with soap and water well enough is important,” Dr Aggarwal told Inc42, based on information from various authentic reports available with him.
“Coronavirus, when it falls on the fabric, remains for 9 hours, so washing clothes or being exposed to the sun for two hours meets the purpose of killing it. The virus lives on the hands for 10 minutes, so putting an alcohol sterilizer in the pocket meets the purpose of prevention. Also drinking hot water and sun exposure will do the trick. And staying away from ice cream and eating cold is important,” he added.
Authentic Resources For Teams & Coworkers:
- Official Indian government resources on Coronavirus
- Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): What Parents Should Know
- Coronavirus outbreak updates: WHO
- Guidelines and Travel advisory: Government of India
- Health tips: Government of India
Tackling Workplace Risks In The Times Of Coronavirus
Promote hygienic washroom practices: “Sanitising rub dispensers must be placed in the most frequented office spots and thorough handwashing must be promoted with the help of posters (such as the one below) and other communication measures such as guidance from occupational health officers,” said Savitha Kuttan, cofounder & CEO, Omnicuris. Employees should be asked to head to the washroom to wash their hands immediately after entering the workplace and every three hours, say doctors.
Get door handles and frequently used surfaces cleaned with disinfectants every 3 hours: “At this point of time especially, surfaces and objects must be wiped with a disinfectant because contaminated surfaces are one of the main ways that the virus spread,” Kuttan added.
Train office helpers and canteen managers: Startups should also ensure their canteens are clean and the chefs should be briefed about the process. Startups who do not have an in-house cafeteria or canteen should advise employees to carry their own food. “Avoid raw meat, fish, eggs and while preparing food, cook it thoroughly. Ensure a high degree of personal/food hygiene,” added Mehra. Utensils should be cleaned regularly as they can be carriers of infection.
Clean desks before starting to work: All laptops and mobiles should be disinfected every three hours and first thing in the morning using a disinfectant wipe or a linen-free cloth dipped in isopropyl alcohol. “This is mandatory. Coronavirus when it falls on a metal surface, will live 12 hours,” Dr Aggarwal said.
Conduct an awareness workshop: It is very important to educate people that coronavirus might be a serious threat but a majority of people are recovering from the disease, feel doctors.
“There have been over 90,000 cases so far and a little over 3,000 deaths. Most deaths have occurred in people with compromised immune systems such as the elderly or people with other serious existing illnesses. So, there is a need to exercise caution but not panic. The infection can be avoided by following strict hygiene protocols and awareness and alert behaviour is the key,” added Kamal Narayan, CEO, Integrated Health & Wellbeing Council (IHW) Council.
Startups can opt for an online workshop to avoid gathering or share this resource with the team.
Strict ‘NO handshake’ policy: As we all know any virus spreads through hands first. So use a ‘namaste’ to greet people. In fact, this form of greeting is now being followed in the US as well. Encourage your employees to strictly avoid handshakes.
Keep stock of face masks and paper tissues: “Employers must also make it a point to stock face masks and paper tissues for people who develop a cough or a runny nose, along with closed dustbins for hygienic disposal,” Kuttan added.
Counselling for employees with symptoms: If an employee exhibits symptoms, employers must counsel the importance of a medical exam and facilitate the process. This is all the more applicable for startups who predominantly have young employees working away from family.
Allow pregnant employees to work from home: Talking about the importance of giving work from home option for women employees who are pregnant, Dr Neeru Mehra, obstetrician and gynaecologist, Apollo Cradle Hospital, Gurugram said, “Anyone suffering from coughs and fever, along with breathing difficulties, should seek medical attention immediately. Those who have low immunity, especially infants and children, are more at risk. Besides, pregnant women should exercise caution both inside and outside the house in terms of maintaining personal hygiene.”
“The new strain of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is more infectious than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Both show some common flu-like symptoms, but SARS mostly affects the upper respiratory tract, while novel coronavirus is affecting the lungs and causing breathing issues,” she added.
Offer Vitamin C tablets prescribed by a doctor: Since the coronavirus has cold-like symptoms, it is important employees are told to take necessary precautions against the common cold, so as to prevent confusion. Another idea that doctors suggest is offering employees Vitamin C tablets that can prevent common cold and access to warm water. “Women and children have low immunity. If they have fever or cough sick women should avoid going to work. Take vitamin c regularly, keep sipping warm water. In India, government hospitals are overcrowded and under-equipped barring few centres,” said Dr Chetna Jain, head of department, obstetrics & gynaecology, Miracles Mediclinic.
Limit or cancel travel and public events: This is a problem workplaces across the world are grappling with. Many organisations have strictly limited foreign travel for employees as well as international conferences that might expose them to people from abroad. At Inc42, we decided to cancel our Founders Meetup scheduled for 12th March as a precautionary measure.
Allow work from home for anybody with flu-like symptoms: In countries with more serious outbreaks, organisations are contemplating work from home options for employees.
“For now, most organisations are asking employees to be alert and stay at home in case they have cold symptoms or even mild fever. This is the right approach to take. Anyone with even mild symptoms must be asked to take leave or work from home until he/she recovers,” IHW’s Narayan added.
Warn your team against spread misinformation: There are various products on social media that claim to cure coronavirus. Tell employees to not fall for products that claim ‘cure for Coronavirus: There is no approved medicine for the virus. So it is important to refrain from spreading fake information and claims. The WHO has also asked ecommerce to sell any such products. So, tell your employees not to panic and buy such products.
Keep doors and windows open, turn off AC: “If the virus is exposed to a temperature of 26-27 ° C. it will be killed, as it does not live in hot regions. So, keep windows open, shut the AC and allow the sun to come in,” said Dr Aggarwal.
Train delivery and service executives too: Delivery executives of food delivery companies such as Swiggy, Zomato and ecommerce platforms such as Flipkart and Amazon must be made to follow the same hygiene precautions. They must be asked to scrub their hands before they pick up the food. “They must be made to wear face masks while they are in transit. If the virus spreads, then delivery apps can introduce measures to ensure that delivery executives and customers do not have to meet face-to-face. Users just have to add a note asking them to leave the food at their doorstep or at the reception,” said Omnicuris’ Kuttan.
As doctors, health experts and organisations do their bit in helping us stay healthy and the government looks for coping mechanisms, startups, spearheading many changes, have to do their bit in stopping this epidemic. Help us in our journey to keep workplaces safe by sharing this article with your teams and community!