A growing number of corporate organisations and business establishments in the Sultanate are adopting measures designed to safeguard their employees from potential exposure to the deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that has claimed over 3,000 lives around the world, mostly in China.

The measures include advisories on overseas travel, work-at-home policies that encourage those with flu-like symptoms to stay away from the office, and protocols to be followed if cases of suspected coronavirus are discovered among the ranks of employees.

International companies are taking the lead in implementing policies to keep their staff secure from the infection. Notable is the example of global professional services firm EY, which has put in place a string of far-reaching precautionary measures to secure the well-being of their staff, while at the same time averting any major disruptions to their operations.

“At EY, there have been communications from global and regional headquarters prescribing strict guidelines in this regard,” said Alkesh Joshi, Partner — EY Oman. “For example, all non-essential travel outside of home locations has been curtailed for the time-being. Employees are encouraged to get on to ‘virtual meeting rooms’, which are online platforms for people to log into, conference, share ideas, and so on. Those who have to travel because of the nature of the work will need to get approvals at the highest levels’’.

Likewise, EY is also encouraging its staff to work from home if they have flu-like symptoms, thus limiting possible exposure to fellow colleagues at the office. At the same time, they are advised to start getting examined for possible COVID-19 infection in line with procedures laid out by the Ministry of Health, Alkesh noted.

“Advisories have also gone out from the HR Department to all employees stressing the importance of personal health and hygiene in the face of this outbreak,” EY Oman’s Partner added.

Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) has set up a “response committee” to deal with any threats to staff and assets arising out of the outbreak. The majority state-owned energy firm, which accounts for the lion’s share of Oman’s crude oil and gas production, said in a statement: “Petroleum Development Oman led by its in-house Medical team is monitoring the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 situation very closely and following the guidance provided by the Ministry of Health to safeguard our people and assets. A response committee comprising of senior executives has been set up from across the Company and a series of prudent measures are being implemented including travel restrictions, additional cleaning at our offices and a staff education programme. We plan to provide regular updates and to respond accordingly’’.

Other energy firms whose operations require their senior executives to travel overseas as part of their activities, have also initiated precautionary measures in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

An official representing a prominent energy trading firm told the Observer: “We have reduced all non-essential travel and overseas meetings, unless they are imperative from the business and operational standpoints. Instead, our staff are encouraged to consider conference calls or other avenues to transact business’’.

Visitors to the company’s Muscat headquarters are required to fill out forms declaring that they haven’t visited or transited in the recent past any of the countries that are currently hotspots for coronavirus infections.

A leading pharmacy chain in the Sultanate said it has obligated its customer-facing staff to don face-masks during business hours at its outlets. Cleaning staff — whether part of the company’s in-house personnel or those working for private contractors — have also been issued face masks to wear when at work, a representative said.

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