10/52: Your guide to the pandemic
Updated: Mar 10
After last week's blog on the financial impacts of COVID-19, I was overwhelmed with the impact this virus is having on global affairs. Over the last 7 days, we have seen the Australian Government announce its emergency management plan for the health sector and stock markets have had their worst week since the GFC. Iran, Italy, South Korea and China remain hotbeds for the virus while more than 60 other nations have had at least one citizen contract the disease (The Princess Diamond cruise ship is #5 on the list of total infections by country btw!). Should everything go 'pear-shaped', I've put my research hat on to help you cope with, and take advantage of, the challenges ahead.
While no one knows what is coming next, Australia is preparing for an imminent announcement by WHO that this is a global pandemic.
What is a pandemic?
In 2010 the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) defined a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease” that affects large numbers of people. There are two reasons the W.H.O have so far stopped short of calling the outbreak a pandemic: Because the outbreak can still be contained, and they're trying to avoid unnecessary panic. That might all change in the next few days depending on whether the W.H.O. believes the outbreak is beyond containment. Side note: read here some of the measures Christian Porter says Australia will likely take to halt the spread in Australia.
Advice for employers:
So if the W.H.O. does declare this to be a pandemic, practically, what does this mean for your average small business owner? Initially, probably not a lot. There will be an increased series of messages to the general public stressing the importance of basic hygiene. If some services are disrupted or cancelled, such as public transport or daycare centres, workers will be encouraged to continue working from home. In industries where this is not possible such as manufacturing or construction, there is the possibility of significant disruption to these businesses.
Whatever the response, it will be staged, in line with the risk the virus poses to the general public and the rate of spread across the population. Here are some practical tips in the meantime, some of which will become more relevant if the virus begins to spread locally (These points are taken from an article 'How to work during a pandemic' by Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch with my thoughts on the issues added in):
1) Take reasonable hygiene precautions
Staff should be well-versed in maintaining high standards of hygiene and be instructed in methods to prevent the spread of coronavirus: wash your hands frequently; maintain social distancing; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early.
2) Be understanding of the precautions other people are taking
Some people may stop shaking hands, wear facemasks to meetings or cancel face to face meetings. This is a good time to be considerate of others and not judge, for instance, your client's decision to wear a face mask to a meeting (they may be doing this to protect you as much as them). If you feel staff are taking advantage of the situation, wait until after the pandemic is over to address your concerns. Encourage people to share information from trusted sources such as who.int or health.gov.au and discourage rumour-mongering and racial profiling.
3) Accept this will have a financial impact
Different industries are going to be facing a massive loss from this event. Hopefully you won't be hurt too much, but accept the fact some business is going to be lost. Control the things you can control and focus on what you can do to be in a good position when markets recover. Spare a thought for the businesses in the worst-hit parts of the world.
4) Consider what you can do smarter
Is your business well-placed to have everyone in your team work from home and still communicate effectively? Have you conducted team meetings remotely before? Do you have your central documents stored in a cloud environment with easy access for staff?
If the pandemic eventuates and we're all forced to stay home for 14 days (or more), does this create an opportunity for you to visit major pieces of strategic work you've been putting off? Revamp your business plan, read through those documents or update your sales strategy. Whether it's your systems, processes or ways of communication, this might be an opportunity to make your business work smarter and open up new avenues of collaboration whilst testing your flexibility and work-from-home policies.
5) We're all in this together
From a commercial point of view, this is affecting nearly everyone on the globe. It has the potential to be very unfair but it's not going to be about you, it's happening to us all. If you miss a deadline or can't see how you can deliver a critical service, discuss it with your clients and stakeholders and chances are they'll appreciate exactly what you're dealing with.
From today (4/3/20): Can staff go to work?
As of today, there have been no announcements in Australia to force businesses to keep staff at home. You do however have to self-quarantine for 14 days if you have:
Visited or transited through China in the last 14 days
Visited or transited through Iran since March 1st
Been in close contact with a confirmed coronavirus case in the last 14 days
You must instruct any staff that meet the above criteria to stay home for 14 days.
The good news:
For approximately 98% of the population, this virus is not a death sentence: The mortality rate is around 2% in the epicentre of the outbreak, Hubei province, and less than that elsewhere. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%. Less than 0.5% of patients aged under 50 have died from COVID-19, according to the Chinese Centres of Disease Control and the death rate for people with no other health problems is 0.9%.
Massive periods of uncertainty and change create opportunities. New markets, services and clients may emerge for your business if you put yourself in a position to adapt quickly and keep an eye on developing trends. Diversify your workforce and consider taking on temps to build flexibility into your workforce.
In the case of an enforced working from home scenario, there's an opportunity for major process and systems improvements as well as strategic project development.
During the next few weeks and months, there is no way of knowing what direct changes and challenges COVID-19 will present to Australian businesses. There will, however, likely be opportunities to diversify services, develop strategic initiatives and improve businesses processes including remote working and teleconferencing. In the longer term, you have an opportunity to create a more resilient and potentially more efficient business that has the ability to better withstand future economic challenges.
Resources and references for this blog article:
World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus 2019 FINAL: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/02/australian-health-sector-emergency-response-plan-for-novel-coronavirus-covid-19_2.pdf
Australian Government Department of Health: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert
How to work during a pandemic: https://techcrunch.com/2020/03/01/how-to-work-during-a-pandemic/
Is the Coronavirus an Epidemic or a Pandemic? It Depends on Who’s Talking: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/28/health/coronavirus-pandemic-epidemic.html
What is coronavirus and what should I do if I have symptoms? https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/02/what-is-coronavirus-symptoms-wuhan-china-covid-19
Coronavirus: What it does to the body - https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51214864
Australians could be detained or forced into treatment to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Here's how: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-03/coronavirus-ag-flags-rarely-used-biosecurity-powers/12020034