South Africa has, as at 12 March 2020, 17 confirmed cases of Coronavirus infections. Of these, 16 cases have been identified in individuals returning from travel in affected countries and 1 local transmission.
Although any form of panic or overreaction must be avoided, the current international scenario suggests that this is potentially an extremely dangerous global threat.
The magnitude of this global dilemma is illustrated by:
- the situation in Italy where, according to news reports, there are already 12 500 reported cases and 827 deaths;
- 2313 new cases were reported in one day (11 March) with the death toll jumping by 196 in one day; and
- according to an article in The Atlantic, the rise in the number of deaths in France and Germany suggests that those countries are where Italy was about 10 days ago.
It is therefore not surprising that President Donald Trump has suspended travel from Europe.
On 11 March the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director said: “Italy and Iran are in the forefront and are suffering but other countries will be in that situation very soon.”
Employers would therefore be well advised to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic in South Africa.
In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employer is obligated to take any reasonable action to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. These steps include elimination or mitigation of any hazard or potential hazard, providing instructions, information, training and supervision as well as the enforcement of such measures as may be required in the interest of health and safety.
This potential outbreak has an impact on employers in the following areas:
- practical preventative measures;
- the potential devastating financial impact on business and individuals;
- the applicable labour law framework; and
- intervention by and the role of the State.
NEASA will continuously provide information and assistance in these areas.