SARS scare leaves HP Canada in limbo

One hundred Hewlett-Packard employees are in the dark as to how long SARS will keep them away from the office.

Hewlett-Packard Canada Ltd. confirmed Thursday that 100 of its employees are being quarantined in their homes due to concerns

over the spread SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Spokesperson Angela Rea said the employees were put under quarantine after two HP employees started showing symptoms of the infectious disease. At the time health officials made the quarantine decision one of the employees was a suspected SARS sufferer and the other was a confirmed case. Rea said HP has not been told when the employees will be allowed to return, and is waiting for an OK from health officials.

SARS was first discovered among people in Guangdong Province of China and Hanoi, Vietnam. Canada’s first case of the illness was reported in March, after a Toronto woman came back from a trip to Hong Kong. She later died. To date Canada has had a total of 190 reported cases of SARS including 10 deaths.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour announced at the beginning of April that SARS had been declared a provincial emergency by Premier Ernie Eves. The ministry advised employers to allow employees who may have been exposed to SARS to take a 10-day, unpaid, emergency leave. The 10-day period matches the length of quarantine required by health officials. Employees are not to be penalized for taking the leave under provision from the Employment Standards Act.

And yet Sheela Basrur, Toronto’s medical officer of health, has issued statements revealing that her office has had to send out letters or warning to quarantine violators, many of them companies that were ordering employees back to work before their 10-day isolation period had ended.

Reports have also been circulating that the possible exposure of HP workers to the virus is a result of at least one of the employees with confirmed SARS symptoms coming into work after being ordered into quarantine.

“”We’ve seen those reports. It stems from a news conference that came out yesterday afternoon, it’s a regular SARS update,”” Rea, said. “”They were talking about an employee of a York region facility who did that. We are not confirming that it’s one of our employees. We are not commenting on that.””

Rea said HP is fully cooperating with health officials and had notified all 100 employees, plus 90 visitors who had been inside the Markham office between March 29th and April 1st, the suspected time of exposure, about the quarantine order. To make sure no one who could have been exposed got into the building the company de-activated all of the employee’s access cards.

“”So even if they showed up to work because they hadn’t for some reason gotten the call or picked up the message, they weren’t allowed in,”” Rae said. “”They were physically not allowed in. We were fortunate that we were able to do that re

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