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Proactive planning for Coronavirus risk

The growing threat of a full blown coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic serves to shine a light on the emergency planning of corporate UK. Although, at the time of writing, only 13 cases of the virus have been reported in the UK, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there are now over 80,000 confirmed cases spread across 38 countries.

Written by Paul Brown on 28th February 2020

Proactive planning for Coronavirus risk
The growing threat of a full blown coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic serves to shine a light on the emergency planning of corporate UK. Although, at the time of writing, only 13 cases of the virus have been reported in the UK, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there are now over 80,000 confirmed cases spread across 38 countries.

Coronavirus is the latest in a series of pandemic risks that threaten to overwhelm the UK, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Flu outbreak of 2011, that suggest many organisations are underprepared with related emergency plans and procedures.  Risk identification and management for pandemic emergencies is just as important as emergency planning for fires and floods so now is a good time to start looking at these scenarios.

The UK Government agrees and is urging local authorities and others to put in place contingency plans to mitigate its potential impact.  The Government advice is based upon strategies that were formulated at the time of the of 2011 Flu outbreak and these are the sort of measures that we might expect to see introduced:

School Closures
Schools remained open during the 2009 swine flu pandemic but case numbers dropped sharply when schools broke up for the holidays, highlighting the role children play in spreading viruses. 
 
 
 

Should the virus take hold in the UK we should expect school closures causing serious disruption for millions of working parents and estimated to result in a GDP loss of up to 1 per cent.  School closures would also hit NHS capacity with up to 30 per cent of staff having to take time off to look after children just when they are needed most.

Transport Restrictions
Whilst bans on taking public transport are unlikely, public transport systems can spread viruses via shared surfaces such as ticket machines, hanging straps, and seats.

If the spread of the virus accelerates we can expect the Government to recommend the avoidance of "non-essential” travel and possibly stricter restrictions around public transport hubs.

Social and Business Gatherings
Whilst the Government is unlikely to recommend a blanket ban on commercial, sporting, religious or other gatherings the potential for the spread of viruses through close contact should not be ignored. Retail premises, restaurants, events, entertainment venues and sports clubs should expect attendances to reduce  voluntarily, just as they have in much of Asia.

NHS
The Government estimates that an escalation of the virus will squeeze hospital capacity in the UK with up to 30 per cent of the population requiring hospital care.
In this scenario the NHS is likely to cancel all but the most urgent primary and secondary care appointments.

So What Can Be Done?
It is clear that a major pandemic will have a severe impact on many organisations either through a fall in demand, or difficulties in supplying their products and services.  All organisations would be well advised to review their current plans or put plans in place by establishing a pandemic coordinator or team to focus on this issue and drive a company response. This should address securing supply chains and protecting customers and staff.

Employees 
Employers should expect employee absence due to personal illness, family illness, bereavement or transport delays. To reduce the impact of these eventualities they could consider:
  • Staggering shifts to reduce overcrowding and restriction on "non-essential” travel, especially to locations known to have a high incidence of the virus
  • Providing hand washing facilities and sanitising hand gels
  • Introducing video conferencing in place of face-to face meetings
  • Working from home where possible.
  • Providing guidance to employees regarding corporate travel policies and how these are impacted as the pandemic evolves. 
  • Providing certainty around the company sick policy and leaves of absences to look after sick family members

Whilst the prospects of the coronavirus developing into a full-blown pandemic and the effectiveness of mitigation measures are uncertain, businesses should be looking at these types of policies and procedures now so that in the event that this, or any future pandemic, becomes a serious threat they are ready to respond.

Source:
http://who.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/c88e37cfc43b4ed3baf977d77e4a0667
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-guidance-to-assist-professionals-in-advising-the-general-public/guidance-to-assist-professionals-in-advising-the-general-public

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