Coronavirus is having a ripple effect on individuals and businesses around the world. The unprecedented outbreak of this new strain of the virus – referred to as 2019-nCoV – appears to have originated from illegal wildlife market in Wuhan, China. It has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is only the sixth time the WHO has declared an international emergency of this kind. What is a coronavirus The term ‘Coronaviruses’ refers to a large family of viruses, some of which cause illness in humans, and others which cause illness in animals, such as bats, camels, and civets. Coronaviruses are believed to be spread by ‘respiratory droplets’ from an infected person – tiny secretions released when we sneeze or cough. The virus may only take 15 minutes to pass from one person to another which means, according to NSW Health advice, people are at risk of catching the virus if they spend 15 minutes in close contact, such as in face-to-face conversation, or two hours in the same confined space with an infected person. While 2019-nCoV is believed to be highly contagious, it is not known as yet whether it is as severe as pandemics from previous years such as the outbreak of the genetically similar SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002–2003 in southern China, which infected approximately 8,000 people resulting in nearly 800 deaths. Important to note is that the incubation period for 2019-nCoV is two to 10 days to cause symptoms and that the virus is contagious throughout this time. What You Should Do As an employer of contractors, it is important to be vigilant in order to protect your employees, contractors, suppliers and customers from the risk of coronavirus. Ask your contractors and employees whether they have returned from an affected area in China or have been in close contact with someone who has visited an affected area. If the answer is yes: Returned travellers who have been in Hubei Province of China must be isolated in their home for 14 days after leaving Hubei Province unless they are seeking medical care. Self-isolation is not currently recommended for travellers from other parts of China or other countries. Ask your contractors and employees whether they have returned from an affected area in China or have been in close contact with someone who has visited an affected area, and has symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat or breathing difficulties. If the answer is yes, they should immediately phone their GP and explain their symptoms and travel history. It is important that a person at risk of having coronavirus informs the GP practice before arriving for an appointment so that arrangements can be made to protect others. They should present wearing a surgical mask or ask to be given one on arrival. Treatment There is currently no effective treatment or vaccination for 2019-nCoV although an international effort is underway to develop both. Those with symptoms should contact their GP or emergency department or call the healthdirect helpline 1800 022 222 and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Precautions in the workplace If you have had an employee or contractor present for work who has returned from China within the past two weeks OR has the symptoms of a respiratory infection (cough, breathing difficulty, sore throat or fever etc), even if they have not been to China recently, the following protocols are recommended by The Centre for Disease Control in the US: Where possible, provide fellow workers and visitors to the premises with a surgical mask as soon as they are identified. Implement basic infection control routines including hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette (regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing), and environmental disinfection. Disinfect all surfaces they have come in contact with, including door handles and frames, chairs, desks, tools etc. 70% Isopropyl alcohol is the most effective disinfection agent. Alcohol wipes are available from pharmacies, Bunnings and Officeworks. People who have been in contact with any confirmed novel coronavirus cases must be isolated in their home for 14 days following exposure. More information Different state health departments may have slightly differing advice. Check-in with the Australian Health Department NSW Coronavirus fact sheet Infectious disease fact sheet Queensland Victoria SA WA Tasmania Northern Territory Call the Public Health Information Hotline in the event of a health emergency or incident affecting the public – 1800 004 599. 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