Coronavirus: Businesses urged to plan for cases of the virus in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 06:30 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:45 10 March 2020
Businesses have been urged to act now to make sure they are prepared for the impact of coronavirus on their workforce, as the county’s director of public health warned cases are soon likely to be diagnosed in Norfolk.
Hundreds of people in the county have been tested for COVID-19, and while there are no cases in Norfolk to date, one has been confirmed in Suffolk.
Nationally the number of positive cases had gone up to 319 as of Monday. Five people have died, the latest was in the London borough of Sutton, while another earlier on Monday was being treated in Wolverhampton - both had underlying health conditions.
In the East of England the number of positive cases has risen by one to 24.
Dr Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, said it was likely to be a matter of time before the first cases are diagnosed in Norfolk - and firms have been urged to brace themselves for their workforce being off, either through illness, self-isolation or because schools have to close and people need to look after their children.
The Norfolk Resilience Forum, made up of organisations responsible for planning for emergencies, has been meeting to discuss the next steps.
Under the terms of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, a number of organisations, such as councils, police, ambulance service, hospitals, public health and the fire service, have a statutory duty to plan for emergencies.
Nick Baker, vice chairman of the forum, said members had been working to come up with an overall plan for how to deal with an outbreak, including how councils would keep providing services.
But he said it was also important for Norfolk's businesses to make sure they had their business continuity plans in place, amid government predictions that up to 20pc of the workforce could be off sick during an epidemic's peak.
Large businesses, such as insurance company Aviva, have already brought in measures, including a halt to business travel to high-risk locations and improving computer systems, so more people can work from home.
Mr Baker said it was crucial smaller businesses also make sure they have a plan for what to do in an outbreak.
He said: 'There's still time to plan for this. We are still at the point where the numbers nationally are low, so there is time for businesses to look at what they can do.'
He said companies needed to look at whether it is practical for employees to work from home and to reduce face-to-face contact in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus.
Mr Baker also said councils may need to prioritise what services they can provide - which could mean changes to bin collections depending on how many people end up unable to work.
He said: 'It's about how we continue to provide public services in the light of a coronavirus outbreak. We recognise it is going to get bigger, but we are planning for the worst and hoping for the best.
'We are likely to have to prioritise what services we could do without, what we could do less off and what services we have to keep going.
'At a district level that might mean making sure benefits get paid, which is important because some people are on the breadline.
'But it might be that the garden waste bins are not collected if we have not got enough people on the refuse rounds because of illness.
'The recycling collections might be the next to go, but we would look to maintain the household waste collections for as long as we could.'
Dr Smith said hundreds of people had been tested in Norfolk, including people who had travelled to high risk areas - and people who they had come into contact with.
Public Health England experts based in Cambridge have been tracking back those they have come into contact with and getting in touch with them to organise testing.
That has included drive-through testing, where people are invited to an appointment in their car, during which community nurses carry out a swab in the nose and mouth, which are checked and assessed, with people asked to self-isolate while checks are completed.
People in Norfolk, either because they live in the county or are visiting, who have links to positive coronavirus cases elsewhere in the country are also being tested, as are people being treated by health services for viral pneumonia.
Dr Smith urged against the type of panic buying which has seen shelves cleared in some supermarkets.
She said: 'Don't stockpile, because if you have got more than you need, it means someone else might not be able to access what they need.'
How to avoid catching or spreading coronavirus
- Wash your hands with soap and water often - do this for at least 20 seconds
- Wash your hands when you get home or into work
- Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
- People who think they might have coronavirus should not go to GP surgeries, pharmacies or hospitals.
- They should call 111 if they need to speak to somebody, while NHS 111 has an online service.
- If there's a chance you could have coronavirus, you may be asked to stay away from other people (self-isolate).
- That means staying at home, not going to work or school for up to 14 days.