Coronavirus: Know the risk, impact and review your pandemic plan now

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.  Upon investigation, it was found that the respiratory illness was caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.  Consequently, now over 1,300 people have died and over 60,000 of confirmed cases in China, including cases outside Wuhan City.

The prognosis, it is likely that the virus will continue to kill as scientific and medical authorities race to contain the outbreak.  How will this virus impact you, your family and your organisation?

Current situation

Beijing has taken extreme measures to contain the virus. Wuhan City is now in lock down. In all, quarantine now encompasses 56 million people.

News images from Wuhan continue to show the slow demise of a once bustling city and home to 11 million people, with streets empty and supermarket shelves bare. Media footage from hospitals show distressed patients crammed into corridors while videos spreading on Chinese social media shows doctors without sleep and breaking down.

Additional cases have been identified in a growing number of other countries and the risk is growing fast.  Japan, Vietnam and Germany confirmed patients had contracted the virus despite not travelling to China. Australia, Japan and the United States have chartered planes into Wuhan to evacuate their own citizens.

Share markets are experiencing short, sharp shocks and likely to have a short-term impact on a number of industries as the coronavirus spreads.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don’t know where they come from. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.

The Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans in China in 2002 and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Most coronaviruses are not dangerous.

Coronavirus is closer to H1N1 because it’s more easily spread; its mortality rate is however lower than severe acute respiratory syndrome.

This new virus was temporarily named “2019-nCoV.” Some have speculated that 2019-nCoV is in fact SARS, which killed almost 800 people across Asia in 2002. DNA analysis of 2019-nCoV revealed that it is very similar to SARS — essentially a modified form.

How is the virus spread?

The Coronavirus is transmitted between animals and people or from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient, for example, in a household, a workplace, on public transport, malls or health care centres.

The key risk is mutation

If this virus mutates, things could get very bad, very quickly. It would spread by the inhalation of respiratory droplets in the air, such as those sprayed around by coughs and sneezes. The eventual death toll may rival that of SARS, and perhaps, even creep into the thousands. In reality, humans are only ever one superbug away from decimation.

What are the signs you may the virus?

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms:

  • Fever (person feels warm to the touch, gives a history of feeling feverish, or has an actual measured temperature of 38° C  (100.4°F) or higher).
  • Cough.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Middle ear infections (in children).

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

How is the virus treated?

There is no specific treatment for the novel coronavirus. Many of the symptoms can be treated and therefore the treatment is based on the patient’s clinical condition.

Is there a vaccine?

There is no vaccine at present. Antibiotics are useless against viruses.

When you get a virus, the doctor tells you to get plenty of rest. Against a virus, your body’s immune system is your only line of defense. The only real external protection against viruses are vaccines, but these can take a long time to develop, and are not always effective. If the virus mutates, vaccination becomes useless as we see this happens almost every winter with influenza.

How to prevent infection spread

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

  • Regularly clean hands by using soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing  with a tissue – dispose of tissues immediately and wash hands.
  • Wear disposable gloves.
  • Avoid any close contact with people who show the symptoms of fever and cough.
  • If you suffer from the symptoms – fever, cough and difficulty breathing, get medical attention immediately.
  • If you have the symptoms, stay away from people for at least 14 days.
  • Avoid visits to live animal or wet markets in areas with known cases of coronavirus.
  • If you have to visit live animal markets or wet markets, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals.
  • Don’t consume raw or undercooked animal products.
  • Practice food safety.  If you handle food in areas with known cases of coronavirus like raw meat, milk or animal organs, handle with care to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
  • Properly dispose of used gloves and other disposable items that came in contact with the sick person or body fluids in biohazard bag or a secured plastic bag labeled as “biohazard.”

Take travel precautions

The World Health Organisation does not recommend any specific health measures for travellers. However, if you are travelling, we suggest taking extra precautions:

  • Avoid travel if you have a fever and cough.
  • Eat only well cooked food.
  • Use a face mask in high risk areas.
  • Immediately discard single-use masks after each use and wash hands.
  • Avoid contact with people suffering from fever or cough.
  • If you experience breathing difficulties, fever or cough, seek medical attention immediately and share your recent travel history.

Higher risk people and occupations

So which group of people and occupations are most at risk?

  • People with underlying medical conditions are considered a higher risk. Older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.
  • Smoking may play role in severity of infections. The virus can cause pneumonia as it infects patients’ lungs, which can be weakened from cigarette use.
  • Travellers to China or high risk countries.
  • Slaughterhouse workers, veterinarians in charge of animal and food inspection in markets, market workers, and those handling live animals and animal products should practice good personal hygiene, including frequent hand washing after touching animals and animal products. Sick animals should never be slaughtered for consumption; dead animals should be safely buried or destroyed and contact with their body fluids should be avoided without protective clothes.
  • Veterinarians should maintain a high level of vigilance and report any unusual event detected in any animal species present in the markets to veterinary authorities.
  • Commercial airline crew, cruise staff, ports, and airport staff including law enforcement officers – customs officers, border protection officers.
  • Hospital and health care workers who come into direct contact with patients more often than the general public. Health workers should always apply appropriate infection prevention and control measures.
  • Laboratory professionals working with specimens from patients under investigation (PUI) for human infections with 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
  • Workers who have face-to-face contact with people are at higher risk.

Higher risk countries

Locations with confirmed cases include China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, The Republic of Korea, United States, Vietnam, Egypt and Germany.

Non essential travel to China and other higher risk countries should be avoided. Australians are now being told to “reconsider your need to travel’ and to avoid Hubei province entirely.

What are the risks in your organisation?

There is a human impact and an economic impact on organisations.  The disruption and business continuity impacts will vary from organisation to organisation.

Wuhan, can be compared to Chicago in terms of its importance to China’s industry. China’s biggest steelmaking city, Tangshan, has suspended all public transport. China is trying to minimise the reputational risks from containing the spread of a deadly virus and ward off fears that its economy will suffer.  Remember, China has essentially been underwriting global growth for the last decade.

In addition, this is what we think:

  • Organisations that conduct business in China where staff frequently travel to China will be impacted.
  • Organisations that import goods and services from Wuhan City, China will experience delays and disruption in their supply chain.
  • Organisations that export to China will experience disruption.  Some predict that Australia’s iron ore exports could suffer as the virus keeps factories shut and construction down.
  • People working in a co-working office environment, hot desk or shared work environment may come into contact with people in transit from high risk countries.
  • Retailers, major events, concerts and theaters will experience a decline in sales due to people avoiding places of mass gathering.
  • Education institutions, vocational colleges, schools and child care services will experience an increase in absenteeism.  NSW school children have been told to stay at home if they’ve returned from China within the past 14 days (the incubation period of the virus). Education institutions that have on-line courses will be less impacted.
  • Organisations that depend on tourists will experience a decline in sales due to reduced travel. Chinese tourists are now significant contributors to overall tourism-related revenue in several countries, including those in the region, Europe, and even parts of Africa such as Egypt.
  • Organisations that allow people to work from home and reduce the level of contact will be in a better position to withstand the business impact.
  • Organisations in the medical and pharmaceutical industry will experience a growth in sales as demand for their products increase.
  • Organisations that sell personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves are experiencing higher demand and some stock shortages.

Example of organisations impacted

The impact of the virus on business is real. Check out our publication Coronavirus: The Business Impact, for the businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

What should your organisation be doing?

Don’t panic.  But don’t be complacent either.  This virus is having a domino effect on the economy.

Take a balanced approach to understanding the risk and implications of the virus on your organisation.  Here are some things every organisation should be doing right now.

  • Assess the potential impact of the virus on your staff. Are their key staff at risk who may have underlying medical conditions?
  • Have any of your staff travelled to and returned from China recently?
  • Are your staff in direct contact with travellers from China?
  • Review your business continuity arrangements e.g. crisis management plan, business continuity plan, succession plan and pandemic plan.
  • Be prepared to enforce parts of your pandemic plan including:
      • Implementing social distancing arrangements e.g. video conferencing
      • Allowing remote working arrangements
      • Suspending all overseas/interstate travel
      • Reviewing rosters
      • Ensuring critical business functions have viable workaround or alternate arrangements
      • Stocking up on masks and gloves
      • Increasing hygiene e.g. clean phones between shifts, designated bio-hazard waste bins
  • Ensure that critical processes are not dependent on just one or two people.
  • Educate your staff about the coronavirus risks, symptoms and how to take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
  • Review your business processes, activities and standard operating procedures and modify according to the level of risk.  You may need to provide front line staff with appropriate gloves and masks.
  • Assess the impact of the virus on your third parties and supply chain.
  • Conduct a desk-top exercise of the pandemic plan to familiarise the crisis management team
  • Monitor media updates, local heath department websites and World Health Organisation website.

Monitor the situation

Closely monitor the situation and risk.  This risk requires a dynamic risk assessment on a daily basis. We suggest the following websites:

Australian Government – Department of Health – Alerts

World Health Organisation – Alerts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

NSW Health – Alerts

Smarttraveller

How we can help

InConsult is committed to helping organisations become more resilient to a range of disruptions including pandemics.  We have extensive experience in risk management, crisis management, business continuity, emergency management, disaster management and pandemic planning.

If you feel the caronavirus may have an adverse impact on your business and would like to discuss strategies to be better prepared and respond, contact us  to discuss your needs.

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