FAO prioritizes staff wellbeing in fight to contain COVID-19

9 March 2020, Rome – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has over the last five weeks implemented a series of precautionary measures to protect its employees and their families against the threat of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

These measures have been implemented in accordance with guidelines and protocols set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Italian authorities.

The latest measure, taken by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, is teleworking from home himself this week. This follows an announcement by the Vatican that one of its employees who participated in a conference organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life from 26 to 28 February in Rome has tested positive for COVID 19. In line with WHO protocols, Director General Qu and seven FAO colleagues who attended the conference on 28 February, will work from home for the remaining five days of the 14-day period, until 14 March. They will monitor their health and take temperature daily with the support of the FAO Medical Service.

FAO has been proactively monitoring and responding to the evolving situation for weeks. Since the beginning of February, guidelines have been in place enabling employees to telework from home for a 14-day period upon returning from regions of high novel coronavirus risks, as defined by the WHO and Italian authorities.

When widespread outbreaks occurred in Italy two weeks ago – FAO is headquartered in Rome – a taskforce, convened by Qu on 29 January2020, and coordinated by a Deputy Director General, kicked into action immediately, liaising with Italian authorities and other Rome-based UN entities closely, and meeting daily to assess the situation and develop precautionary measures. For example, the Organization conducted daily temperature screenings of about 1,000 participants attending an international biodiversity experts conference at its headquarters for over a week in late February. With the support of the Italian Red Cross, the screenings were extended to cover all employees and visitors,and were made mandatory for all last week. To date, no incidents of concern have been recorded.

At the same time, FAO has been progressively postponing or cancelling large gatherings scheduled for late February and the month of March – meetings, workshops, training, group visits, fairs, exhibitions and film screenings. The planned observance of the International Women’s Day last Friday was turned into a virtual one, with no live audience but people following it on webcast.

FAO employees have been encouraged to maintain social distance in the office, lifts, cafeterias and other common areas. Seating in the cafeteria has been reduced and the hours extended. Vendors and service providers have been advised to adopt precautionary measures. Guidance was given to FAO offices around the world to review all travel plans and limit travel to the most essential and safe. Following closure of all schools in Italy last week, employees who were parents were able to choose to work from home. The option was also made available to expectant mothers. All the measures were developed with constant engagement with staff representatives.

FAO also reviewed its business continuity arrangements. Following successful pilots last week, a broader teleworking by rotation plan starts this week, allowing about half of the employees to work from home each day, while ensuring delivery of services and smooth functioning of the Organization.

As the COVID-19 situations continue to evolve in Italy and around the world, FAO remains vigilant, with its Crisis Management Team working around the clock assessing risks and adjusting measures. FAO holds the wellbeing of all its employees paramount.

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