Singapore’s Zika Outbreak: What Companies and Employees Should Do

More than 200 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infections have been confirmed in Singapore since August 27, 2016. Local government authorities have taken measures to attempt to control the spread of the virus, as well as to educate people and companies in order to encourage them to partake in the efforts. Several countries have also issued travel advisories against non-essential travel to the city-state.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes. People contracting the Zika virus disease may display symptoms including fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and/or headache. Symptoms usually last for up to seven days.

There is scientific consensus that the Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, while links to other neurological complications are also being investigated. There is no specific treatment or vaccine available for the disease.

The WHO also says that the Zika virus is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus – the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. This virus can also be transmitted sexually. Other modes of transmission such as blood transfusion are also being investigated.

Review employee health and benefits policies to ensure coverage for medical expenses related to the Zika virus. Review work-from-home policies to allow employees to perform their duties remotely, if required

Damage to Business

Ways in which businesses may be affected by the Zika virus include:

  • Operational and workforce disruptions as a result of employees being unable to report to work.
  • Disruptions arising from worksite closures as ordered by the authorities.
  • Negative impact on employee morale and productivity levels.
  • Potential supply chain disruptions in the event of border closures.
  • Loss of goodwill and confidence amongst business partners and clients, especially in transnational business networks.
  • Meeting and event cancellations or postponements as a result of other countries issuing travel advisories to their citizens.

Actions by Organizations

To mitigate the potential economic fallout in the event of Zika virus infections within your organization, Marsh recommends the following strategy and contingency actions:

  • Plan early for contingencies instead of being caught off guard when a situation arises.
  • Devise, communicate and rehearse contingency measures to ensure that all members in your organization are able to respond appropriately and confidently when these measures are activated.
  • Periodically review inventory levels.
  • Prioritize operations and/or production schedules.
  • Review contingency options with clients and business partners.
  • Review and prioritize service delivery commitments.
  • Prepare external communications to clients, business partners, stakeholders, regulators and media in advance, so that responses are swift and well-crafted when required.
  • Perform the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout recommended by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to prevent mosquito breeding in offices and worksites.
  • Monitor the websites and advisories of government agencies like the Ministry of Health and the National Environment Agency for the latest updates.

Employee Management

  • Review employee health and benefits policies to ensure coverage for medical expenses related to the Zika virus.
  • Review business travel insurance policies to ensure coverage for medical expenses or travel cancellations related to the Zika virus, while employees are travelling abroad for business purposes.
  • It may also be worthwhile to review company leave/absence policies to ensure adequate provisions for employees affected by the Zika virus.
  • Review work-from-home policies to allow employees to perform their duties remotely, if required.
  • Provide employees with amenities, food and drink in the event foreign workers who cross the border daily are affected by border closures.
  • Prepare communications in advance so that instructions and advisories can be promptly disseminated to employees when required. Communications may cover business operations status updates, alternative work arrangements for employees, health advisories, and so on.
  • Proactively plan for employees to cover one another’s duties in case staff members are infected.

Actions by Employees

  • Avoid travel to outbreak areas.
  • Ensure travel insurance coverage if travel to affected areas cannot be avoided.
  • Wear long, covered clothing and apply insect repellent.
  • Stay in air-conditioned places or those with window and door screens.
  • Adopt safe sexual practices, especially if you or your partner is pregnant.
  • Perform the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout recommended by Singapore’s National Environment Agency to prevent mosquito breeding in your immediate environment.

Should you develop any or some of these symptoms, or otherwise suspect that you may have contracted the Zika virus, seek medical attention immediately and avoid going to the office:

  • Mild fever
  • Rashes
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pains
  • Conjunctivitis

As most people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, precautionary measures therefore remain crucial even if no symptoms are displayed, in order to prevent transmission of the virus.

Information Sources

For further information and updates, please refer to the following pages on Zika by the Singapore government and international agencies:

World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/

Singapore Ministry of Health: http://www.moh.gov.sg/zika

Gov.sg: www.gov.sg/factually/content/5-things-to-know-about-zika-virus

National Environment Agency: http://www.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases

5-step Mozzie Wipeout: stopdenguenow.com/main/five_step_mozzie_wipeout

About the Author

Marsh is one of the Marsh & McLennan Companies, together with Guy Carpenter, Mercer and Oliver Wyman. This document is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. Marsh shall have no obligation to update this publication and shall have no liability to you or any other party arising out of this publication or any matter contained herein.

Copyright © 2016 Marsh LLC. All rights reserved. 

Photo credit: Government of Singapore

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