UPDATE: Preparing for Potential Operational Impacts of Coronavirus

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China has now been confirmed in patients in at least 24 countries. Most confirmed cases involve people who have traveled from China. What should businesses and organizations be doing right now to assess preparedness and make contingency plans for the potential operational impacts of coronavirus?

2019 Novel Coronavirus

Health officials now state that there have been more than 43,000 cases confirmed in Asia and that there have been at least 1,018 deaths, all but two in mainland China. 12 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. There is skepticism about these statistics since there is a shortage of test kits in China and many people in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, are unable to receive proper medical care due to a shortage of facilities and providers. The actual numbers may be much higher.
Although travel restrictions, including 14-day enforced quarantine for people returning from China, have been put in place by many nations, it is unlikely that they will contain the virus. With an incubation period of 2–14 days, infected people who did not display symptoms likely traveled from Wuhan to many areas of the world before quarantine policies were enacted. With a population of 11 million, approximately 3,500 people typically fly from Wuhan to cities outside China each day. The coronavirus emerged in late December 2019, but travel restrictions from Wuhan were not enacted until late January.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency and assesses the risk level for China to be Very High and the risk level globally to be High. The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4 travel advisory for China, meaning “Do not travel.” Some health officials consider it likely that this will become a pandemic, meaning it will reach epidemic levels on at least two continents.

The exact course this disease will take is unknown, but it is clear that the potential for this to seriously impact U.S. businesses in the coming months exists. In a previous post, T&M advised on how businesses and organizations should prepare for potential operational impacts. T&M now recommends businesses and organizations assess their preparedness and make contingency plans:

  • Determine how to maintain operations if large numbers of employees are unable or unwilling to travel to their workplaces.
    • For offices, remote work policies, capabilities and capacities should be examined and tested.
    • Service businesses and manufacturing will need to be more creative. There are reports from China that takeout food deliveries have ceased to be face-to-face transactions with deliveries and payment instead left in predetermined locations or “contactless delivery.”
    • Some businesses with sufficient capital reserves are providing extended paid vacations to retain employees and reduce risk to the workforce. Others are ordering extended unpaid vacations or furloughs.
  • Consider the culture of your workplace and the extent to which “presenteeism” may be an issue. Employers should communicate to employees their expectations regarding reporting to work while sick. Sick leave policies may need to be adjusted to encourage sick workers to quarantine themselves at home. Senior leadership should communicate policies and expectations through direct communications with the workforce and should lead by example.
  • Provide training to the workforce on normal disease prevention precautions. Frequent handwashing is recommended as the best method for reducing the spread of infectious diseases including seasonal influenza and coronavirus.
  • This is the time to conduct tabletop exercises in which your crisis management team considers the range of potential scenarios, develops response policies and procedures, and tests capabilities and capacities.
Need help evaluating your organization's readiness or implementing these recommendations? T&M's experts advise and train on preparedness in the workplace. If your organization needs assistance, our team is at the ready.

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