Companies tell employees to work from home as virus fears take holdMany factories close down after sending their workers home with paid leave.
Leading Nepali business conglomerate Golchha Organisation closed down several of its factories from Sunday, and asked most of the office staff to work from home as coronavirus fears hasten the shift to new ways of working in the corporate world.
With the Covid-19 pandemic creating worldwide havoc, infecting more than 349,000 people and killing over 15,000 across the globe till date, the government has decided to shut down shopping malls, schools and theatres; suspended long-haul transport services; closed both borders and suspended international flights.
As social distancing has been established to be one of the best ways to prevent infection, Nepal’s private sector is keeping in step by closing down factories and shops, allowing office staff to work off site, and providing sanitiser, soap and water at offices and factories.
Shekhar Golchha, executive director of the Golchha Organisation, said that his organisation had told most of the employees to work remotely. “Only the staff who are absolutely necessary at the office have been asked to come,” he told the Post.
According to him, many factories under the organisation such as pharmaceutical, motorcycle and television plants have been shuttered. “We have given paid leave to around 1,000 workers in these factories for the time being,” said Golchha, who is also the senior vice-president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Although the federation has issued a notice in the name of the business community on its website, Golchha said the decision to close down their factories was taken in his personal capacity over concerns of a possible spread of Covid-19.
On Monday, a new case of infection was detected at Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku in a 19-year-old woman who had flown back to Nepal from France. This is the second case of Covid-19 infection in Nepal.
Along with the Golchha Organisation, the Murarka Group has taken measures to ensure social distancing to prevent possible infection through close contact between individuals.
“We have reduced the number of staffers who need to attend office every day by 90 percent,” said Pashupati Murarka, owner of the business house. “Those who have to commute by public transport and our sales teams should not come to the office.”
Among the subsidiaries of the Murarka Organisation are Arghakhanchi Cement, Pashupati Paints and other companies. According to Murarka, factories under the Murarka Group have not been closed.
Arghakhanchi Cement employs around 250 workers. The government has banned gatherings of more than 25 people at a place. But Murarka said that all their factory workers live in a housing facility on the factory premises.
“We have strictly restricted visits by people from outside amid the coronavirus threat, and informed them about the ways to prevent infection,” he said.
Murarka said that he was considering closing down other factories such as Pashupati Paints where some of the workers come from outside.
The Sharada Group is another corporate house which has prioritised social distancing due to the coronavirus threat. Its Kathmandu office has around 150 employees and most of them work from home.
According to Shiva Ratna Sharada, chairman of the Sharada Group, its subsidiary companies have given leave to more than 100 employees whose presence at the office is unnecessary such as mobile phone marketing staff. Vatsal Impex Limited, a company under the Sharada Group, is the authorised distributor of Xiaomi mobile phones in Nepal.
“Even those who are required to come to the office only spend half of the working day here as they work in shifts,” Sharada said. He added that they were ready to give paid leave to all the employees if the situation worsens in the country due to the spread of Covid-19.
The group's subsidiaries produce instant noodles, construction materials and oxygen, among other products. They have not stopped production. “We have given top priority to the hygiene of the workers,” Sharada said.
Besides the large corporate houses, smaller firms are also taking precautions to avoid large gatherings due to the possibility of infection.
Kosheli Leather Shoes Industry, based in the Balaju Industrial Estate, has largely suspended production of footwear by giving leave to most of its workers for the last few days.
“We have around 50 workers and 45 of them are women, and we have given all the women leave from Friday,” said Rabin Kumar Shrestha, chairman of Kosheli Leather Shoes.
According to him, even before giving them paid leave, he had made arrangements so that they were stationed at least 3 feet apart from each other during work. He said that many factories within the Balaju Industrial Estate had already closed, and discussions were being held to shutter the rest too.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 31, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 199 countries and infected more than 8,07,705 people with 39,456 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,865 with 25 deaths. While India has reported 1,251 confirmed cases with 32 deaths. Nepal has so far reported five cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.