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Coronavirus: Canadian companies demand employees who have traveled to self-quarantine

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Some Canadians planning overseas trips are being told by their employers to self-quarantine for weeks upon return in an effort to minimize the spread of a novel form of coronavirus.

Manulife Financial Corp. told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that it is requiring employees who have visited China, South Korea, Iran and Italy to observe a 14-day self-quarantine after they or anyone in their home has travelled to any of those countries.

Sean Pasternak, a spokesman for the Toronto-based insurance company, said Manulife has also suspended all but essential travel to and from mainland China. For personal travel, the company is encouraging employees to consider advice provided by health authorities.

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“The health and safety of our employees globally is our priority, which is why we are monitoring the situation closely and taking necessary actions,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate if additional steps or revisions to our current actions are needed.”

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Meanwhile, Home Depot of Canada Inc.’s director of corporate communications Paul Berto said in email that his company has put all employee travel to and from Asia and Italy on hold until further notice and any employees who have returned from Asia and Italy within the last two weeks are being told to stay home for 14 days before returning to work.

“This is a very fluid situation and we’re watching it closely,” Berto said.

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Both companies have also said they will follow the government’s guidance on how to deal with the virus known as COVID-19.

Canada has at least 33 cases of the new form of coronavirus, but it has infected and killed significantly more in China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.

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Canada’s government is currently advising people returning from abroad to monitor their health for fever, cough and difficulty breathing for 14 days after they make it home.

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Canadians who have travelled to Hubei province in China in the last 14 days are being told to limit their contact with others by self-isolating and staying home for two weeks from the date they left Hubei.

Jim Tiessen, the director of Ryerson University’s School of Health Services Management, said the policies Manulife and Home Depot have implemented are a good idea, but any companies that adopt coronavirus-related travel policies should be prepared to be flexible.

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“They have to be selective on the countries they apply the strategy to and they have to be ready to change those countries because the situation is so fluid,” he said.

“Three weeks ago, it would have been okay to go to Italy and now they’re saying parts of Italy are not okay to go to and that happened over a weekend.”

Tiessen said a big component of managing the virus is being proactive.

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Employees, he said, run the risk of travelling somewhere and then find themselves trapped abroad.

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“And that’s even more of a problem because (employers) need them to be to do their work in the countries they’re working in,” Tiessen said. “They have to care about their workers first, which I’m sure they do, but there’s also a public relations angle to this because they don’t want to be known as the company whose workers came back as patients.”