The UK government published its action plan for dealing with the coronavirus Covid-19 today. You can read the update here > Right now, we’re still in the containment phase of Covid-19, and the advice is for the UK to keep acting normally. At this stage, it doesn’t make sense to implement widespread closures of public spaces such as schools and workplaces. However, should the situation escalate with sustained transmission, such measures may become necessary. These actions are backed by contingency plans for the NHS and other essential services. Publication of these plans is an ideal opportunity for us to take stock of the current situation. And in particular, we’ll look at what to do if someone in a workplace tests positive for Covid-19.
Where we are with Covid-19 coronavirus
There has been some confusion about the name of the virus and the disease it causes. Several different names are currently in circulation for the disease, so for the avoidance of doubt we're talking about the Wuhan novel coronavirus infection. This has often been referred to as 2019-nCoV, but it was officially named Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11 February. To add to the confusion, it was more recently labelled as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Two (Sars-CoV-2) by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. However, Covid-19 is the most common way of referring to the disease.
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has spread across the globe. As of 3 March 2020, there have been over 90,000 reported cases of the disease across 73 countries and territories. This has sadly led to 3,115 deaths, especially among older people and those with existing respiratory health conditions. The incidence of the disease and fatalities have still been disproportionately based in China; all but 172 of the reported deaths have been in mainland China. But there are significant clusters of the disease in Iran, Italy and South Korea. In contrast, 51 people have to date tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, according to a statement in parliament today.
The spread of coronavirus, and steps for Covid-19 containment
Health and epidemiology experts have determined that Covid-19 is spread via direct contact or droplet contamination. But it is also believed that Covid-19 is infective during a 14-day incubation period, so it can be carried without having any symptoms. These can include a cough, a high temperature and shortness of breath.
Primarily Covid-19 is spread in close quarters, when it becomes airborne after an infected person coughs or sneezes. Such direct transfer from an infected person can include transfer from unwashed hands (e.g. from handshakes) after they have coughed or sneezed. It also seems likely that the virus is able to linger on hard surfaces. Contamination can therefore come from droplets landing on hard surfaces and then being transferred via hands on to eyes and nose.
In the current Covid-19 containment phase, it’s personal action that makes the biggest difference. There has been much focus on hand hygiene. Everyone should frequently wash their hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds and dry them thoroughly. Failing that, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol may help with containment. Respiratory hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette are also powerful tools. The mantra ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ is one that has been revived in recent weeks. When coughing or sneezing, people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue and dispose of it in a lidded bin or down the toilet.
A welter of advice on coronavirus, backed by practical actions
Of course, self-isolation is the most important plank of Covid-19 containment to stop the spread of the illness. What makes it particularly difficult is that the main symptoms of Covid-19 are similar to many other cold and flu symptoms. If anyone who has recently visited a badly affected area shows coronavirus symptoms, they should isolate voluntarily and arrange prompt medical treatment. Even without symptoms, people who have been in the worst-affected areas should spend 14 days in quarantine.
The government has issued clear guidance for employers and workplaces.
One element is what action to take if someone has tested positive for Covid-19 in a workplace. Closure of the workplace is not recommended. The Public Health England (PHE) local Health Protection Team will contact the management team of the office or workplace to discuss individual cases. They’ll identify people who have been in contact with the infected person and advise on actions or precautions that should be taken.
One key measure in the event of workplace transmission will be deep cleaning and disinfection. All surfaces that the symptomatic person has come into contact with must be cleaned. This includes all surfaces and objects which are visibly contaminated with body fluids and all potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as toilets, door handles, telephones. Additionally, all waste that has been in contact with the individual should be double-bagged, and the Health Protection Team will advise next actions.
We’re on hand to help with deep cleaning as part of Covid-19 containment. As the situation develops, we’ll be responding in coming weeks with more information on our blog. So stay tuned – and keep washing your hands and practising good respiratory hygiene in the meantime.
Contact one of the team today for more information about our range of specialist cleaning and deep cleaning services which contribute to Covid-19 containment.