Coronavirus: employers urged to avoid business travel

Passengers arriving at Heathrow airport from Wuhan.
Image: WILL OLIVER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Employers should postpone or cancel business travel to the region of China that has been hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus, experts have warned.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan, a city in the country’s Hubei province, which has seen a wave of people diagnosed with virus.

The Chinese authorities have suspended all air and rail travel into and out of the city and has also expanded travel restrictions to the surrounding area, including the cities of Ezhou and Huanggang.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “In light of the latest medical information, including reports of some person-to-person transmission, and the Chinese authorities’ own advice, we are now advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan.

“The safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern, and we advise British nationals travelling to China to remain vigilant and check our travel advice on gov.uk.”

Paul Holcroft, an associate director at HR consultancy Croner, reminded employers that their duty of care towards their staff could extend to cancelling any trips to somewhere that poses a health risk.

“Employers who had intended to send any staff to the affected areas may want to consider postponing the trip or assessing whether any meetings could be done via electronic means such as Skype or video conference,” he said.

“If staff do travel, employers should keep up frequent communication with them, ensure they take all precautions to keep themselves safe and be aware of what to do if they do feel ill.”

Passengers who arrived in the UK from Wuhan have been met by health teams who have checked for symptoms of the condition. The government is also considering expanding its monitoring to direct flights from other Chinese airports.

Today, four suspected cases coronavirus were being tested in Scotland, and there have been reports of cases in the US, Japan and Thailand. So far 17 people have died and more than 570 have contracted the disease.

The risk of the virus spreading to the UK had been considered low, but the risk to people visiting Wuhan is moderate, said Dr Nick Phin, deputy director, National Infection Service at Public Health England.

“If you are traveling to the area, you should maintain good hand, respiratory and personal hygiene and should avoid visiting animal and bird markets or people who are ill with respiratory symptoms,” said Dr Phin.

“Individuals should seek medical attention if they develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of visiting Wuhan, either in China or on their return to the UK. They should phone ahead before attending any health services and mention their recent travel to the city.”

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