Last week Guatemala joined the list of countries that confirm the existence of the COVID-19 virus, making this situation an imminent call to all businessmen and leaders of institutions, including educational centers, to review and raise the need for a plan of internal prevention, protocols and guidelines that indicate the appropriate handling of any situation that may arise from the expanding virus and that may impact the human factor that is under its responsibility.
On March 5, 2020, through Government Decree 5-2020, the President of the Republic in the Council of Ministers, decreed a “state of public calamity” throughout the national territory due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. The purpose of the state of calamity is to avoid major health consequences; it will last thirty (30) days.
Decree 5-2020 restricts the constitutional rights of freedom of action, freedom of movement, right of assembly and demonstration, as well as the right to strike, and among the most important measures are:
- Limit the right of free movement, changing or maintaining people’s residence in affected places, the fixing of sanitary cordons and even limiting the movement of vehicles and preventing the exit and entry of people in affected areas;
- Limit concentrations of people and prohibit or suspend all kinds of public shows and any kind of meeting or event that poses a risk to health;
- Order the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance to carry out the medical evacuation of nationals, foreigners, residents or those in transit, with suspicion, symptoms or declaration of being carriers of the COVID-19 coronavirus, having the authority to isolate and quarantine patients and even apply such provisions to people from nations that have declared the outbreak in their territory;
- Order the Guatemalan Migration Institute so that, with the support of the State security forces, they coordinate with the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance, the surveillance and monitoring of border posts, ports, and airports concerning travelers and crews from countries with confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The main thing at this time is to activate the plans for the prevention, containment and rapid response to coronavirus cases. Companies and institutions have reached a stage of constant changes in policies and protocols, advice on negotiations already started, revision of labor regulations for the implementation of certain changes in the way of working, and decisions regarding what to do before the first coronavirus case appears.
In labor and immigration matters, it is important to consider the following advice and recommendations:
- The Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS) has issued a “Plan for the prevention, containment and response to cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Guatemala” that must be respected and implemented. It is recommended to all companies and institutions through their Human Resources department, to be informed of said plan and to execute their internal measures under the guidelines already given by the Government of Guatemala.
- The MSPAS recommends that preventive measures be taken related to hygiene, such as hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces or objects of daily use. Hygiene measures must be reinforced within all companies and institutions and new institutional habits must be started and occupational health and safety measures must be followed to protect the life and health of the employee.
- Cases whose symptoms are associated with or resemble the symptoms of COVID-19 should be reported to any national hospital in the country. In this way, the MSPAS will activate the case analysis protocol and laboratory tests and confirm or deny the presence of the virus. Article 63 of the Labor Code regulates the obligation of the worker to undergo a medical examination at the request of the employer to verify that he does not suffer from any contagious disease. It is recommended that companies and institutions confronting an employee with symptoms refer the person to a national hospital and in turn report the case to the corresponding authorities.
- All companies that have Occupational Health and Safety Committees must hold urgent meetings to establish the preventive measures to be adopted before the confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in the country. It is recommended that all Occupational Health and Safety Committees use the ideal vehicle to adopt the measures that they consider most convenient for their employees and that adhere to the National Prevention Plan.
- The work form home figure becomes relevant at this time even though our labor legislation does not consider it as such and it will be important to review how teleworkers will be able to continue with their work before a mandatory provision of isolation or public quarantine is announced.
- In Migration matters from March 16, 2020, Guatemala will not allow the entry of foreign persons by any of our borders Guatemala has decided to close all air, land and sea borders throughout the national territory. The exception will be made if they are Guatemalan, permanent residents or belong to the diplomatic corps accredited in the country. In any of the exceptional cases, upon entering the country they must immediately undergo the mandatory quarantine.
- The transportation of correspondence and air, maritime and land cargo of import or export can enter as long as they adhere to the prevention measures that it has issued in the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS) and immediately abandon it at the end of the delivery, otherwise they must be quarantined.
- On March 17, 2020, The presidential provisions in case of Public Calamity and Orders for Strict Compliance were published in the Official Gazette, stated the
suspension of work in the public and private area were decreed, however, there are exceptions on the suspension and if the company fits in one of them, can continue to operate as long as they fill out the approval request form that will be published on the digital platforms of the Ministry of Economy. This request will be approved as long as the company agrees to comply with all the established protocols, are not in shopping centers and adheres to the prevention measures issued by the MSPAS, and that workers who display symptoms of the disease may not be affected in their minimum labor rights. It should also be considered that the Guatemalan Social Security Institute must attend all patients (affiliated or non-affiliated) in an emergency.
- Note that from March 14, 2020, educational classes from pre-primary to university level were suspended nationwide for 21 days from Monday, March 16. Also, private gatherings, religious activities, sports events, fairs, and other events or meetings of more than 100 people, including concerts and shows, are suspended.
- It is recommended that companies and institutions pay close attention to official communications and publications that are constantly changing to avoid non-compliance and sanctions, to monitor the progress of possible contagion of the disease, in particular new provisions that impact substantial changes within the workplace, and to demonstrate the calmness and tranquility required at the moment to protect the most valuable asset of any company or institution: Your human capital.