A Potential Pandemic Is No Cause For Panic!

A new coronavirus emerged in Wuhan China on December last year. This virus is related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which caused a severe epidemic in China from 2002-2004. As of late January, there have been nearly 850 cases of this new virus in China (mostly in Wuhan) but also in South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and the United States, as well as twenty-six deaths.

For those in the hospitality industry the outbreak of this quickly spreading virus is a compelling concern. 

Like the airline industry, the hotel industry is vulnerable to the disease because it spreads primarily by travelers, who through close contact with an infected person, have been exposed to the virus.  Breaking news reports about the spreading disease conjures up the specter of the 1917 Spanish Influenza, or the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and the 2012 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) outbreaks.  As gripping as these news accounts can be, properties that have a plan in place are prepared for such an exigency, will be able to sustain operations and mitigate fear and anxiety within their workforce. 

Response Actions Begin With Travel Controls

Authorities in China have begun to implement stringent travel controls in an effort to contain the spread of the disease.  Similarly, airlines and public health authorities in gateway cities for travelers from China have begun extensive screening measures to identify and isolate arriving passengers who may pose a potential health risk.  However, these measures can only reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of potential exposure.  It takes approximately five days for symptoms to appear, which means someone could easily be halfway around the world and have passed through any screening controls before becoming ill.  While the risk to hotel operations being exposed to an infected person is possible, the likelihood is less probable and certainly quite manageable. 

The implementation of mitigating hygiene measures can greatly reduce the risk of operations being impacted by this latest outbreak.

Review Your Emergency Response Plans

Although the current outbreak isn’t likely to escalate into a global pandemic, it nevertheless behooves hotels to have an emergency response plan in place to routinely respond to infectious disease outbreaks.  Outbreaks of illnesses such as whooping cough, measles, mumps, and influenza flu can commonly occur.  An infectious disease plan provides an organized approach to responding to and managing specific outbreaks of various infectious diseases – including for example, the current coronavirus outbreak.  In addition to establishing appropriate response and mitigation measures, a plan also establishes the coordination protocols with local public health authorities in order to be prepared and able to implement their instructions, orders and requirements based on the specific illness.

In the context of the current coronavirus outbreak your plan should reflect:

  • Potential means to prevent the transmission of the infectious cause
  • Methods to reduce the transmission of the disease once present
  • Measures to reduce the likelihood of the illness among guests and staff
  • Preemptive meetings of your response team to review actions and consolidate on next steps

Prioritize Hygiene Measures

The current coronavirus disease can be spread through surfaces contaminated by people coughing or sneezing on them, the following mitigating hygiene measures can be helpful:

  • Implement and encourage frequent hand-washing measures. Staff who come into frequent contact with guests (such as at the Front Desk, Concierge, F& B outlets, etc.) should establish a practice of regular handwashing or cleansing with alcohol-based hand rub, especially after direct interaction with a guest who coughs or sneezes.
  • F&B managers should be encouraged to review relevant health and safety guidelines with both Back of House and Front of House staff
  • Provide hand-sanitizer stations and disposable tissues at key locations throughout the property. For example, these may be placed at the Front Desk or at entry points into F&B outlets, etc. with signage that encourages their usage. 
  • Promote the practice of cough etiquette amongst staff (keeping a distance and covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with elbow or disposable tissues).
  • Encouraging staff cleaning public areas and staff servicing guest rooms to wear disposable protective gloves (e.g. Nitrile gloves)
  • Review HR sick leave policies and encourage any sick staff to promptly address the onset of any personal illness and follow guidance about staying home. 

By implementing such precautionary measures, hotels can not only reduce their potential exposure to the current coronavirus outbreak, but also reflect and promote health awareness amongst their guests. Such mindfulness amidst the current environment of traveler angst can help allay their concerns as well as those of who are called upon to assist them.

To stay informed on the current outbreak, readers can visit the following resources:


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