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COVID-19: some information and recommendations

13 March 2020

The situation with the outbreak of COVID-19 - often referred to as the Corona Virus – changes daily. Buyers and suppliers of research information may have questions regarding what they should do in their businesses, especially in relation to contacts with clients, suppliers and indeed, participants.

Governments in each country may offer slightly different advice, and we strongly recommend to closely monitor both the World Health Organisation website, and especially your local authority site/advice.

Listed below are some general points of advice that may help to guide your decisions in response to these questions, but they should always be considered in the context of what your local authority recommends.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a “novel” (not seen before) variant of the Corona virus which affects lungs and airways. Due the fact it is a “novel” version, there is currently no human immunity or vaccine, making it more contagious. Tell-tale signs of infection include coughing, a fever, shortness of breath and/or breathing difficulties.

All current evidence would suggest that the virus is NOT airborne, but is spread via liquid droplets (coughs, sneezes, perspiration, etc). If someone sneezes over a table, and someone else then puts their hand on the table, they risk infection.

How to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

Current advice to contain the spread of the virus is:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water.
  • If you have been in a public place (public transport, waiting rooms, gyms etc) without hand-washing facilities, then use a sanitiser gel if you been in contact with hard surfaces.
  • Ensure you have paper tissues available.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a paper tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a paper tissue, cough /sneeze into your elbow.
  • Dispose of the used paper tissues immediately and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Avoid touching your face if your hands are not clean.
  • Use disinfectant wipes (with alcohol) to clean your work surfaces including phones, keyboards, computer mouse, etc.
  • Avoid close contact with people who display indications of being unwell.
  • If you are unwell, do NOT go into work. Stay at home and contact your doctor.
  • Social distancing is in force in some countries (maintaining a distance of 1 metre between people).

High risk areas

The list of high-risk areas changes daily, but in broad terms, people who have been to mainland China, Italy, California, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand should report to their doctor and ideally self-isolate. This would include stop-over or airport transfers in any of these countries or states. If you have been in close contact with these individuals, you should take the same precautions.

What is self-isolation?

Some of this advice may change according to country, but if you are asked to self-isolate, then you should…

  • Stay at home and call your doctor (there may also be a National helpline number);
  • Do not go to your doctor's office, or a hospital – they will advise you when and where to go;
  • Avoid work, schools, public areas and do not use public transport or taxis;
  • Avoid contact with elderly or vulnerable people;
  • Stay in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened;
  • If possible, use a separate bathroom. If this is not possible, then the infected person should clean the bathroom with disinfectant after using it;
  • Use separate sheets / towels from the other non-infected members of the household.

Impact on research activities:

Clearly, the possibility of infection will also impact significantly on personal interactions – particularly F2F activities – within our profession. If you, or your agency, has planned to conduct research during this time, then please take into consideration some of the key recommendations being offered by health authorities…

  • Is the conduct of the research business-critical?
  • Can it be done digitally? (online or online communities?)
  • If it needs to be in-person, consider observing the recommended social distancing;
  • When meeting people, avoid shaking hands;
  • When interacting with people in a public space (interviews, qualitative groups, briefing meetings, presentations), make sure to clean all hard surfaces before and after each interaction with a disinfectant (tables, laptops, tablets, telephones, projectors, remote controls, mobiles);
  • Wash hands (or use a disinfectant gel) before and after touching all public hard surfaces (buses, trains, metros, gyms, taxis, market stalls, meeting rooms etc);
  • Cancel appointments if respondents or interviewers are sick.

Some practical tips:

  1. Consider an additional screener question to establish whether participants have visited, or been in close contact with, any individuals who have visited, or travelled through any of the identified high-risk areas.
  2. Ensure there are adequate washroom facilities in close proximity to the research activities being conducted, and ensure disinfectant gel is available.
  3. If providing goods as incentives, please ensure that they are sealed before handing them to the participants.

Should you have any additional questions, then please do not hesitate to contact anyone of the ESOMAR staff – they will be very happy to take your call and try to answer your question!