Navigating the impact of Covid-19 variant JN1 on workplace safety measures - Hindustan Times

Navigating the impact of Covid-19 variant JN1 on workplace safety measures

ByHindustan Times
Feb 20, 2024 11:27 AM IST

This article is authored by Vikram Vora, medical director, Indian subcontinent, International SOS.

It has been recently reported by the Indian Council for Medical Research that over 2,000 sequences of the JN.1 variant have been positively identified in India. And this comes at a time when testing and genomic sequencing are at their lowest since the Covid-19 pandemic hit our world four years ago.

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What is certain, however, is that viral mutation will continue unabated and newer threats like the JN.1 will cause episodic crests of infections, hospitalisations, ICU admissions and fatalities. However, since these mutations seemingly are leading to a decline in disease severity in the recent past, there possibility of complacency amongst individuals and organisations is the real threat. The spectrum of Long Covid-19 and its consequences has in fact become more of a challenge as it rips through workforces and impacts productivity and resilience. A recent study also revealed that Indians are prone to more extensive lung damage than others.

Having helped several organisations navigate the challenges of the pandemic, I cannot lay enough stress on how crucial it is for companies to implement effective risk mitigation measures at their workplaces. By prioritising employee health and safety, organisations can curb transmission and maintain business continuity. One of the best ways to achieve this is to first understand the risks that an organisation faces. There can be no substitute for a formal health risk assessment of workforces. With a working population that spans generations, the risks are not uniform and understanding this is key to protection.

Once the risks are known, driving awareness through credible information on a continual basis helps keeping staff updated and informed about latest viral threats. This helps employees understand changes in a new variant’s transmissibility, symptoms and enables them to exercise adequate precaution.

Covid-appropriate behaviour (CAB) like social distancing, use of personal protective equipment (PPEs) when one is sick with any respiratory infection, avoiding overcrowding, minimal in-room attendance in meetings and having more people join virtually helps protect against threats like JN1. Managers need to be particularly careful about allowing those with symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 infections to work from home till they recover – several symptoms change with each new variant and this is true for JN.1 as well.

They key to protection against the undesirable consequences of a JN.1 infection is undoubtedly vaccination. Though there is no variant-specific vaccine available for JN.1, the older vaccines continue to offer protection. Getting current with the primary series as well as the precaution dose is important for all those who ae eligible. Towards this, HR teams should issue communication aimed at those who may be vulnerable i.e those with co-morbidities, to keep them safe.

However, there will be some employees who may acquire an infection either within or outside the workplace. Testing of symptomatic employees and their close contacts is important and maintaining testing capability by way of rapid antigen tests administered in existing onsite medical rooms / clinics will help to limit the spread to other employees.

There can be no substitute to remaining aware, alert and agile. Maintaining a Medical Emergency Response Plan or having an Infectious Disease Management Protocol helps organisations to respond in an organised manner and to remain prepared for any health threats affecting the employee population. International SOS experts have guided leadership teams, managers and employees of hundreds of companies across the world in understanding and adopting such plans and protocols.

Even if the pandemic seems like a distant memory, it continues to have the potential to be a recurring nightmare. Organisations bear as much responsibility as individuals and communities, in ensuring that future responses are adequately mounted and we are never caught off-guard again.

This article is authored by Vikram Vora, medical director, Indian subcontinent, International SOS.

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