The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV), a new strain of the coronavirus family that hasn’t affected humans until now, has rung mass alarm bells around the globe. Affected countries battle to grapple with the magnitude of the virus, including employers who need a strategy around COVID-19 and their businesses.
The impact of COVID-19
If you haven’t yet heard, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared this virus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China on the 31st December 2019, a pandemic as it continues to spread. So far, (as of 16 March), the virus has reached 148 countries, with over 169,000 cases being confirmed and 6,513 deaths being reported.
How is the virus affecting businesses?
If you’re a business owner, you might be experiencing the impact that COVID-19 has had on businesses thus far.
Recent statistics show that the virus is responsible for ‘infecting’ the global economy too. Many large and small companies that have supply chains or rely on products coming out of China, have already been negatively affected, as well as many other industries including entertainment, travel and tourism and hospitality.
- Energy (the price of oil continues to decline)
- Finance and banking (due to falling interest rates)
- Manufacturing (less stock is being ordered across the board)
- Discretionary spending (as people avoid shopping malls and want to save money)
- Technology (due to disrupted supply chains in China)
As a result of this economic crisis, as well as the continuing spread of the virus, the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) are urging people to prepare themselves for disruptions in daily life, including at home and at work.
In the CDC Interim Guidance For Businesses and Employers Report, experts highlight how employers should plan, prepare and respond to the virus.
Here are 3 key areas your business should be looking at:
1 Company travel
It’s evident that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly through those who are travelling abroad, especially to countries in Europe and Asia.
If you’re managing a team of people (including freelancers and contractors), it’s important to ask them the following questions as soon as possible:
- Have you or someone in your family travelled locally or abroad in the last eight weeks?
- What travel plans do you have for the near future?
Although a personal travel ban can’t be enforced, a cooling off period after returning to SA is a good idea. Anyone returning from a holiday abroad, especially in high-risk areas, should work from home for 14 days and take note of how they are feeling in this time.
According to a recent Harvard Business review, “65% of companies currently surveyed are now restricting travel to and from Asia. It’s prudent to limit your employees business travel from areas where the virus is most prevalent. This is to prevent illness and the loss of productivity due to quarantine or employee exclusion from the workplace after travel.”
Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for travel recommendations for each country.
ALSO SEE: How To Make Your Own Hand Sanitiser
How to report a possible COVID-19 case
If any employees become sick while travelling or since returning to SA, particularly with a high fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, they should inform you immediately and call the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD helpline) on 0800 029 999. You can also visit their website for more information. They will advise the person where the closest public or private facility is to go for a test and how to access the facility.
2 Personal and workspace hygiene
While it’s vital to encourage sick employees to stay home until all symptoms of any respiratory illness has subsided, it’s also critical to ensure that employees practice good hygiene practices while at work.
According to the WHO, “when someone who has the virus coughs or exhales, they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables, doorknobs or telephones.” This means you could catch the virus simply by touching a contaminated surface, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
To avoid this, train your staff on how and when to wash hands, as well as how to apply hand sanitiser correctly. The same should apply to contractors and clients coming into the office.
Everyone at work should wash their hands and use an alcohol-based sanitiser:
- Before and after using the loo
- Before and after eating
- After using a shared kitchen
- After touching surfaces such as lift buttons, doorknobs, desks, shared computer keypads, public phones.
You should advise cleaning staff to regularly disinfect public surfaces in the workplace. The CDC recommends providing employees with disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
USE: The CDC’s guidelines below on effective hand washing:
Why social distancing is so important
Research conducted by Growth, Product and Marketing Expert, Thomas Pueyo, shows that social distancing is one of the best ways to avoid contracting COVID-19.
In his recent report, he says, “While we can’t eliminate the coronavirus, we can reduce it’s impact. If we reduce the infections as much as possible, our healthcare system will be able to handle cases much better, driving the fatality rate down. And, if we spread this over time, we will reach a point where the rest of society can be vaccinated, eliminating the risk altogether. So, our goal is not to eliminate coronavirus contagions. It’s to postpone them.”
His suggestion? “The current scientific consensus is that this virus can be spread within two meters (six feet) if somebody coughs. Otherwise, the droplets fall to the ground and don’t infect you,” he says.
“The worst infection then becomes through surfaces. The virus survives for up to nine days on different surfaces such as metal, ceramics and plastics. That means things like doorknobs, tables, or elevator buttons can be terrible infection vectors.
The only way to truly reduce that is with social distancing, which means keeping people home as much as possible, for as long as possible until this recedes,” he adds. In other words, choose conference calls over face-to-face meetings.
“When the virus is rampant, the only measure is to lock down all the infected areas to stop spreading it at once.”
He suggests working from home more, avoiding mass events and self-quarantining if you suspect you have the virus or experience any upper respiratory symptoms.
All these measures will slow down the virus and stop the upward curve.
3 A possible COVID-19 disaster recovery plan
As an employee, you should have a disaster recovery plan in place should anyone in your team become infected with the virus, and you have to shut down for a period of time.
Consider the following important questions:
- Where can people work remotely?
- Do they have enough support/work capabilities if working from home? If not, can you implement a flexible schedule where some work from home and others come in for a few days at a time?
- What work will need to be prioritised while there are disruptions?
- Can you offer additional training to other employees so that everyone knows how to multitask and perform a variety of work functions, should there be large absenteeism?
- If you’re in the service industry and rely on face-to-face communication with clients etc, is there any way to minimise this?
The CDC also recommends that you communicate regularly with your staff and ensure that there’s no ambiguity in this time of uncertainty. “Share your disaster recovery plans with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.”