Coronavirus disrupts the workplace as firms send workers home, ban travel

As published by Daily Nation on March 4th 2020

Written by Nasibo Kabale (knasibo@nationmedia.co.ke)

Amid fears of the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus), companies are cancelling business travel and corporate off-site events around the globe and making contingency plans for staff.

In Europe, companies like Chevron sent more than 1,100 employees home, while Lufthansa requested workers to take unpaid leave. Here at home, Bonfire Adventures has asked clients to suspend non-essential travel to mainland China and other high-risk areas.

Bonfire Adventures’ CEO and co-founder Simon Kabu said they are not receiving clients from high-risk countries such as South Korea, Italy and Japan, which have reported the disease.

Fear of epidemics

“We’re capitalising on countries that have no cases of the virus such as South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius and Zanzibar. We’re also asking all our clients to take up mandatory travel insurance”, he said.

“Until now”, he said, “most travel insurance policies did not cover cancellations for fear of epidemics as they did not consider that a good enough reason for cancelling trips. Clients who had booked trips to areas considered high-risk have been asked to push their plans forward after special arrangements were made for them with the airlines and hotels”.

Health insurance companies such as Minet have issued advisories to their clients on how to take care of themselves at this critical time. “Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser” are among the measures Minet have asked their clients to take.

Reckitt Benckiser (RB) Group, a British multinational consumer goods company, whose brands include the antiseptic brand Dettol, said they are visiting schools and major public hospitals to create awareness on hand washing. “We’re creating awareness on the importance of hand hygiene towards prevention of illnesses”, said Treza Kinoru, senior brand manager Dettol East and West African Markets.

Business travel

The company is currently visiting schools and hospitals, targeting a million schoolchildren and 300,000 new mothers. Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, said they were discussing with the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Airports Authority how to create awareness. The firm has asked its 291,000 staff to avoid international business travel until mid this month. “Domestic travel should be replaced by alternative methods of communication where possible,” the company spokesperson said. A similar advisory at L’Oréal, the owner of the cosmetics of global brands like Lancôme and Maybelline, extends through March 31.

While the spread of an infectious disease is the essence of public health work, there has been a scale of efforts by national, county health departments and private companies to prepare for possible outbreak of coronavirus in the country. The government is also training staff on screening of travellers. During a spot check at the Jomo Kenyatta International (JKIA) yesterday, the Nation found staff of the Kenya Airport Authority carrying out simulation exercises. The exercise that was done jointly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) included staff from Wilson Airport.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said ministry personnel are also carrying out simulation exercises to ensure they are prepared for a possible outbreak. “We want to ensure that they are fully prepared for everything that there is to practise in the event of an outbreak. We will meet with Healthcare executives on Wednesday (today) so that we ensure the same is replicated in the counties”, he said. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Africa convened a meeting with key health partners this week.

A wake-up call

Representatives from the Health ministry, the African Union, the United Nations and key partner agencies attended the meeting. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said Covid-19 cases in Algeria and Nigeria should be a wake-up call for governments across Africa. The director noted that governments must do all they can to prepare for an eventual outbreak.

“We’re calling on all countries to invest urgently in preparedness for the arrival of cases, and to prioritise the protection of health workers, individuals at risk and to communicate better the risks of transmission to their people” she said.

The WHO regional boss added that the continent should not only be ready for its first case, but for the first cluster of cases – the first evidence of community transmission – and even for the possibility of sustained and prolific community transmission.

Meanwhile, the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus has suspended flights from North of Italy, specifically Verona and Milan, which charters flights to the Kenyan Coast from yesterday. “This part of Italy is currently experiencing coronavirus incidents, which could affect the safety of Kenyans”, CS Kagwe said.

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