Businesses preparing for spread of coronavirus

Businesses should consider cancelling all non-essential travel to the most-affected regions, including Northern Italy (pictured).
Businesses should consider cancelling all non-essential travel to the most-affected regions, including Northern Italy (pictured).

The UK government has predicted, in a coronavirus action plan released on Tuesday, that up to one-fifth of the British workforce could be absent from their jobs at the peak of an epidemic. Based on that warning, employers are ramping up their efforts to prepare as well as protect staff and update business continuity plans to deal with the potential impact of wider contagion.

In Cayman, the Chamber of Commerce has heard from different businesses about their preparation for the coronavirus. “It is having an impact,” said Chamber CEO Wil Pineau.
Some businesses have decided to suspend travel until they better understand the implications for the safety of their staff. Companies in Cayman are also stocking up on certain supplies, like hand sanitisers, in preparation for coronavirus cases coming to the island.

The executive committee of the Chamber met on Monday to discuss the issue and the organisation will be distributing information, in the form of public health notices, about ways businesses can protect themselves. A Chamber newsletter released on Tuesday included information from the Public Health Department.

“At this time, we are monitoring information and are just mindful of being prepared,” Pineau said.

With the first cases reported in the Caribbean and Florida, the entire region could potentially be affected. The economic spillover effects from other parts of the world also pose a threat. However, Pineau said, it is important that the concerns are addressed responsibly and for people not to overreact.

Events cancelled in Europe

Although official coronavirus infection numbers are still fairly small in most European countries, with the exception of Italy, which has reported more than 1,800 cases and rising, mass public meetings like sports events and trade shows are being cancelled and schools closed in affected areas.

Because the situation can develop rapidly, employers are advised to stay up to date on government travel advisories and many companies are considering restricting non-essential travel.

Employers should equally stay abreast of general coronavirus information from local governments, from the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and other similar organisations, and inform their staff about internal policies and practices together with providing any advice on how to prevent an infection.
Reviews of workplace sanitation as well as stressing the importance of good hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing, are other first steps that businesses can take. These include stocking up on hand sanitisers and making them available to employees and, where applicable, customers.

So-called ‘social distancing’ is another recommended countermeasure to prevent the spread of the virus. In practice, this means replacing in-person meetings with customers, business partners and colleagues, particularly if those involve travel, with phone calls, videoconferencing and email.

Flexible hours and working remotely will become essential once the disease spreads. The experience in Europe shows even single cases of infection can lead to immediate school and workplace closures. In these cases, the ability to work from home must be enabled both structurally and with the right technology infrastructure.

The 28-page UK government paper suggests that anyone with coronavirus symptoms should self-quarantine and consider working from home.

Coronavirus business considerations

  • Inform staff about coronavirus prevention and internal policies
  • Review workplace hygiene and safety
  • Provide hand sanitisers, etc.
  • Stay up to date on travel advisories

In case of a wider epidemic

  • Consider cancelling non-essential travel
  • Consider using technology to minimise social contact
  • Enable flexible working hours to deal with school closures, etc.
  • Enable remote working

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