The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease in Hubei Province, China to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

In January 2020, WHO stated this coronavirus (COVID-19) has a high risk of spreading to other countries around the world. Last Wednesday, March 11, 2020, WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. 

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the following during a media briefing:

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. 

We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.

It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.”

In this regard, all sectors of our society, including all businesses and employers, must play a huge role to slow down and to stop the spread of the disease. 

How can we prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our workplaces? How do we get our business ready in case COVID-19 spreads in our community? Before we tackle these, let’s keep ourselves informed on how COVID-19 spreads. 

How COVID-19 spreads

According to WHO:

When someone who has COVID-19 coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables or telephones.

People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. 

If they are standing within one meter of a person with COVID-19 they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them. In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to flu.

Most persons infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care.

Risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40.

People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.

How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace

According to WHO, the low-cost measures below will help prevent the spread of infections in your workplace, such as colds, flu and stomach bugs, and protect your customers, contractors and employees.

Employers should start doing these things now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where they operate. They can already reduce working days lost due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives at one of your workplaces.

Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic.

Surfaces (e.g.desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly. Contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads. 

Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers.

Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled. Display posters promoting hand-washing–ask your local public health authority for these or look on

Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefings at meetings and information on the intranet to promote hand-washing.

Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water because washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents the spread of COVID- 19.

Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace.

Display posters promoting respiratory hygiene.

Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefing at meetings and information on the intranet etc.

Ensure that face masks (ordinary surgical face masks rather than N95 face masks) and/or paper tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them because good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of COVID-19.

Brief your employees, contractors and customers that if COVID-19 starts spreading in your community anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home.

They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection. 

Keep communicating and promoting the message that people need to stay at home even if they have just mild symptoms of COVID-19. Display posters with this message in your workplaces. Combine this with other communication channels commonly used in your organization or business.

Your occupational health services, local public health authority or other partners may have developed campaign materials to promote this message.

Make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.

Also, advise employees and contractors to consult national travel advice before going on business trips.

How to get your business ready in case COVID-19 arrives in your community

According to WHO, businesses can develop a plan of what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 at one of your workplaces.

The plan should cover putting the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others in the workplace, limiting the number of people who have contact with the sick person, and contacting the local health authorities.

Consider how to identify persons who may be at risk.

Support them, without inviting stigma and discrimination into your workplace. This could include persons who have recently travelled to an area reporting cases, or other personnel who have conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness (e.g. diabetes, heart and lung disease, older age).

WHO added that you can tell your local public health authority you are developing the plan and seek their input.

Promote regular teleworking across your organization.

If there is an outbreak of COVID -19 in your community the health authorities may advise people to avoid public transport and crowded places. Teleworking will help your business keep operating while your employees stay safe.

Develop a contingency and business continuity plan for an outbreak in the communities where your business operates.

The plan will help prepare your organization for the possibility of an outbreak of COVID- 19 in its workplaces or community. It may also be valid for other health emergencies. 

The plan should address how to keep your business running even if a significant number of employees, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business – either due to local restrictions on travel or because they are ill.

Communicate to your employees and contractors about the plan and make sure they are aware of what they need to do – or not do – under the plan.

Emphasize key points such as the importance of staying away from work even if they have only mild symptoms or have had to take simple medications (e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen) which may mask the symptoms

Be sure your plan addresses the mental health and social consequences of a case of COVID-19 in the workplace or in the community and offer information and support.

For small and medium-sized businesses without in-house staff health and welfare support, develop partnerships and plans with your local health and social service providers in advance of any emergency.

Your local or national public health authority may be able to offer support and guidance in developing your plan.

It is important to keep yourself informed.

Follow official sources of information like the World Health Organization, the national government, and the government health departments. 

Stay in touch with your customers, too, through your website, email, and social media channels. Inform them about the measures you are taking to make sure your products, services, and premises are safe.

If you are canceling planned events as the result of COVID-19, announce on social channels like Facebook. 

Be ready for the barrage of questions and requests from your customers, too. Be patient and be responsive and transparent as possible.

You can draft templated responses with information you expect your customers to ask.  You can also prepare a list of Frequently Asked Questions and give as much detail as possible in your answers. This is the best time to connect with your customers in real-time when needed. 

It is also an opportunity to connect with businesses similar to yours. Share best practices in preventing and preparing for COVID-19 in case it spreads in your communities. 


Find the latest information from WHO on where COVID-19 is spreading:

Advice and guidance from WHO on COVID-19:

Thanks for sharing!