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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 (COVID-19).

As at 13 April 2020:

Countries Impacted: Around 210

Confirmed Cases: Over 1,841,123  (30% in USA,)

Deaths: Over 113,479 people

Mortality Rate: Around 3.4% and rising (by comparison MERS 34%, SARS  9.6%, Swine Flu 0.02%)

In January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the situation as a “public health emergency of international concern” and by end of February 2020, the status has changed to a virus with “pandemic potential”. WHO’s director-general maintained, however, that it has yet to achieve ‘pandemic’ status.

The prognosis at the time, it is likely that the virus will continue to kill as scientific and medical authorities race to contain the outbreak.  A leading coronavirus expert who led the fight against SARS 18 years ago warned the rapid spread of the current deadly virus could infect up to 60 per cent of the world’s population.

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 experienced 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 coronavirus has the ability to spread much quicker than SARS. Previously SARS spread to 27 countries, the coronavirus has spread threefold, already hit at least 95.

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 super-bug 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.

According to Reuters, a vaccine for the coronavirus could take up to 18 months to develop.

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 under-cooked 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 bio-hazard bag or a secured plastic bag labelled as “bio-hazard.”

Containment challenges

Containing the virus is becoming a real challenge. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is still much to learn about the novel coronavirus. The CDC believes that it may be possible that a person can get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Whilst the CDC states the virus can live on some surfaces for as long as 48 hours and potentially infect someone if the surface has not been cleaned and disinfected, concerns are now mounting about how long the novel coronavirus can survive on surfaces…so much so that China’s central bank has taken measures to deep clean and destroy its cash, which changes hands multiple times a day, in an effort to contain the virus.

Health authorities in the US have reported the first potential case of community transmission involving an individual who had no relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient.

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 of contracting viruses including influenza and pneumococcal?

  • Older people. Based on data from the CDC China study, the risk of death from the virus is not uniform, being heavily skewed towards the old. Till age 50, the death rate is just 4 times more severe than normal flu. After that it can go up to 150 times the normal flu.
  • People with underlying medical conditions including:
    • People with heart disease
    • People with a lung disease and lung cancer
    • 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.

Shifting epicentre

Initially, the countries with confirmed cases included mainly Asian countries – China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, The Republic of Korea, Vietnam.

The epicentre of the outbreak has shifted overtime from China in mid February to Europe in mid March to USA by mid April.

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.

According to a survey of Asia-based companies between January 31 and February 6, 76% said that the coronavirus outbreak had left a negative impact on their businesses. Another 80% had prepared or were working on a contingency plan.

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 personnel policies and practices, and in particular leave and attendance policies, to ensure that they are consistent with public health recommendations as well as existing state and federal employment laws.
  • Are there requests by ex-pats to return home from infected areas, and how do you manage the knock-on effects on local staff?
  • 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 disposable masks (N95 masks) and gloves. Masks become unusable after each sneeze
      • Increasing hygiene e.g. clean phones between shifts, designated bio-hazard waste bins
  • Elevator buttons, door knobs, door handles, taps in bathrooms are potential vehicles for the spread of the virus. Near every such surface an adequate supply of tissues should be provided along with bins for the tissues.
  • 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.
  • Show empathy to people. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ‘safety’ is a basic need. If organisations don’t address that concern, productivity and other elements of service delivery will be impacted even more.
  • 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.
  • In the event that health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies, consider alternate work practices like telecommuting and staggered shifts to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others.
  • Plan for how roles will be covered in the event that childcare and school closings cause a spike in employee absenteeism, including managing those absences under existing leave and attendance policies.
  • Ensure that the business has the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees working from home
  • Know all your suppliers. Map your upstream suppliers several tiers back. Assess the impact of the virus on your third parties and supply chain. Identify essential business functions and employee roles as well as critical elements within supply chains needed to maintain business operations and develop contingency plans if there is increased employee absenteeism or supply chains are interrupted.
  • Develop third-party supplier contingency plans to redirect production or close a location in affected geographical areas.
  • Review your business continuity arrangements e.g. crisis management plan, business continuity plan, succession plan and pandemic plan. Develop procedures to activate, communicate, and eventually terminate the company’s emergency response plan. Employers should anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly. Email and text messaging systems should be set up and tested in advance.
  • 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.
  • Finance departments will need to revise budgets for 2020.

Monitor the situation

Closely monitor the situation and risk.  This risk requires a dynamic risk assessment on a daily basis.

Stay abreast of state and local health authorities’ plans and recommendations for managing an outbreak in those communities where the employer operates.  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



Likely containment date

It is difficult to predict an end date, containment date or an all clear date.  The virus is proving hard to contain and new cases are arising daily. During the last epidemic in 2003, the SARS outbreak lasted for nine months — and with an infection rate that is increasing rapidly, this new coronavirus has the potential to cause prolonged periods of commercial disruption, and heavy reliance on BCPs.

All countries are ramping up measures to battle the threat of the virus’s ongoing spread.

The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam, stated that “the window of opportunity for containment, that is for stopping the global spread of the virus, is closing”.

Australia has now activated its emergency measures to tackle the coronavirus which is threatening to evolve into a pandemic. As a result, hospitals are under orders to ensure that they have enough medical supplies, personal protective equipment and staff to address cases of the virus.

In Australia, modelling by the Western Australian government indicates that risk factors are expected to heighten in late April or May, where there may be greater spread of the illness in Australia, and the peak would then hit in potentially August, which is obviously not a great month because its Australia’s coldest months with the highest level of flu.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) expected the Coronavirus to be contained by end-March under its baseline scenario. This was based on the latest scientific studies and comparisons with a similar coronavirus outbreak (SARS) in 2002-03, it noted.

Chinas, top government health adviser Zhong Nanshan told a news conference, that he believed China would be successful in containing the virus by late April 2020. In fact, Loack down measures were being eased by mid-April.

The chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Victoria said he predicts the impacts of the coronavirus on the local economy will stick around for another three to six months.

In other words, it is difficult to predict.

After the crisis

Despite the existence of business continuity plans, coronavirus will expose gaps and there will be plenty of lessons learned.

What worked well and what can we do better in the following areas?

  • Internal policies and procedures
  • Internal and external communication
  • Pandemic preparation and response
  • Leadership and management of the crisis
  • Succession planning
  • Remote working capabilities
  • The design of your supply chain

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 c0ronavirus 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.