The coronavirus respiratory infection - known officially as COVID-19, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms - has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The virus has infected nearly 84,000 around the globe with 94 percent of those cases in China, nearly three percent in South Korea and the remaining three percent distributed around the world with Italy and Iran showing large recent increases.
Italy has seen the largest number of cases in Europe – over 650 to date. Italian authorities have announced measures to try to halt the virus's spread. More than a dozen towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been placed in lockdown, leading to 50,000 residents now unable to leave without permission. This quarantine could last for weeks, and schools and other public spaces, including theaters and museums, have emptied. An estimated 100,000+ people are likely to be affected by the travel restrictions. Many U.S. universities are canceling study abroad programs in Italy and urging students to return to the U.S. amid the escalation of COVID-19.
Some NEI clients and other companies have expanded their restrictions to now include EMEA countries. On-site visitors, consultants, and supplier visits are being restricted by several companies unless they can document their travel destinations for the 14 days prior to their visit.
CDC Specific Guidance for U.S. Companies
The U.S. declared the outbreak a public health emergency and the UK declared it a "serious and imminent threat" to public health, announcing new authority to fight its spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a comprehensive list of considerations for U.S. employers to consider within their “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020”.
Recommended strategies for companies include:
- Actively encourage sick employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness to stay home
- Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies
- Separate sick employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or who become sick during the day and send home immediately
- Perform routine environmental cleaning of all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs
- Take additional action steps for employees who are well, but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19
- Advising employees before traveling to take specific steps, such as: Checking the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices
- Checking themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before travel and notifying their supervisor and staying home, if they are sick
- Instructing employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment to notify their employer and promptly call a healthcare provider
- Following company policy for obtaining medical care if the employee is outside of the U.S. and becomes sick or contacting a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to help them find an appropriate healthcare provider in that country
For the full details on the above CDC recommended strategies and more information, please see the report on the CDC’s website at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html
Insurance Plan Considerations
NEI recommends companies review their group health insurance plans - as well as any separate assignment, business traveler or other insurance plans covering their employees - to determine how charges related to the virus might be covered. It is NEI’s understanding that some clients have noted certain caveats or clauses within their policies that may exclude coverage for employees that have traveled to countries with a U.S. Department of State warning.
We encourage all clients to review their policies with their benefits teams to understand in advance how COVID-19, related to travel or not, may be covered.
COVID-19 Impact to Global Mobility in China
Several of our household goods partners have reported the following global mobility impacts of COVID-19 in China.
- Most of their partners in China have resumed operations on a very limited level
- In many cases, a small number of staff members are in the office and working long hours
- The process to get the required permission to enter buildings and expat communities requires much more time than normal
- Coordination with transferees, many of whom are no longer in the country, is also taking extra time
- Tight security throughout the country restricts the flow or movement of the staff and the goods
- Flights and sailings continue to be cancelled, which has ripple effects throughout the global shipping industry
- Shipments are moving very slowly without specific timeframes for an expected delivery date
For any questions on a specific shipment targeted for delivery in or out of China, please reach out to your NEI contact.
NEI Global Relocation Assistance
NEI continues to monitor the situation as it progresses and will share updated information as it becomes available. Our pulse survey results were distributed recently and you can access a copy from the below link. Please understand that the survey results are from responses made from 4-6 of February.
If you would like to discuss a plan of support for your traveling or on-assignment employees, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NEI representative or Mollie Ivancic, NEI’s VP, International Services.