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Time To Start Pandemic Recovery Planning

End of April 2020, and it has now been almost 6 weeks since stage one lockdowns took effect in Australia and our key message…start planning the recovery phase.

The recovery phase follows the response phase. It’s about getting back to normal. This is the process of progressively reactivating dormant sectors of the organisation until normal operation is achieved.

The recovery phase won’t be a return to normal, but rather a return to a “new normal”.

Our 5 Reasons to Start Planning the Recovery Phase

  1. Across Australia, the coronavirus case numbers are looking positive with several states consistently reporting no new cases.
  2. Taking a note from our disaster management experience in emergency services, planning the recovery phase starts during the disaster, not at the end.
  3. Our leaders at state and federal government levels are starting to talk about easing restrictions – however some are short on the details.
  4. The World Health Organisation has outlined the requirements that countries must adhere to before lifting restrictions “gradually”.
  5. Some high profile organisations are now planning ahead. The NRL and AFL are planning to restart their 2020 competitions – subject to government approvals.

Easing Restrictions: The 8 Dynamics to Watch

There is danger in complacency. Singapore was considered the benchmark for international comparison, the exemplar of how best to suppress the COVID-19 pandemic, has since seen a dramatic spike in the number of infections – a 60% jump in new daily infections – and it has announced a further tightening of restrictions.

Unless there is a spike of new cases (a second wave of the pandemic) in the next 2 to 3 weeks, the current COVID-19 level three restrictions could be eased gradually by mid to late May 2020.  It won’t be like an on/off button…but rather like a ‘dial’ that is turned slowly and cautiously. How quickly and how much the dial is turned will be determined by a number of factors.

  • Continued reduction in the number of new cases. The curve continues to ‘flatten’.  Australia has a comparatively low number of cases, low death toll from COVID-19, and there is a reduction in new cases. In Australia, the number of confirmed cases is doubling at a slower rate (every 20 days), better than previous weeks and slower than worldwide cases (every 16 days). By comparison, China is now doubling every 65 days and USA every 11 days.
  • Minimal community transmission. Community transmission occurs when a person is infected by the virus but they have not been overseas recently or been in recent contact with other confirmed cases. Authorities are most concerned with community transmission because they cannot easily trace the source of the infection. The Department of Health reports that Australia does not have widespread community transmission of COVID-19 (only 10% of cases) and the majority of confirmed cases were imported from overseas.
  • The healthcare system can cope.  Australia’s healthcare system has been ranked among the best in the developed world. Our health system has coped well with the volume of COVID-19 cases and has not exceeded its capacity.  Prior to the crisis, Australia had 2,200 beds in intensive care units (ICU), and the federal government has more that tripled that capacity to 7,000 beds.  Health professionals have worked hard and tirelessly and many have retrained in ICU COVID-19 procedures.  The major risk to our health system is the low supply and availability of ventilators from overseas and a task force is looking at manufacturing locally.
  • Maintaining rapid response and testing capabilities. Australia’s COVID-19 testing rate is amongst the highest in the world.  We were quick to establish COVID-19 testing clinics and there are many places people can get tested.  Test samples can be taken by GPs, public hospitals, private pathology sites, drive-through testing clinics and hotspot clinics.
  • Success in tracing cases.  Contact tracing is a process used to understand how an infectious disease is spread in a community. Contact tracing aims to figure out who a sick person caught an illness from, and to find out who they’ve been in contact with while infectious. Tracing methods include bed side interviews with COVID-19 positive patients to digital surveillance of CCTV, to inbuilt location services on your phone to trace the movements. In the early days of the outbreak in February 2020, South Australia’s health department used an Apple iPhone’s inbuilt location services to trace the movements of a couple diagnosed with COVID-19.  The Australian Government has introduced a contact tracing app (COVIDSafe app) that people can download to allow movement tracing via blue tooth.
  • Importation risks of COVID-19 can be managed. The majority of COVID-19 cases in Australia were imported from overseas. Borders internationally and even interstate are closed.  It is unlikely that international travel will resume in 2020, but domestic travel could be eased in months.  When international travel resumes again, it is likely that much stronger bio-hazard controls will be implemented at passenger terminals, similar to the increased level of security controls introduced to reduce terrorism risks post the September 11 attacks.
  • Preventive measures remain in place in workplaces, hospitals and where people meet.  As people return to their workplace, hospital, aged care facility, school, university, restaurants etc., they will need to maintain effective hygiene controls and appropriate social distancing protocols.  This is part of the new normal and it will continue for a long while yet.  Each workplace will need to implement appropriate controls based on the level of risk.
  • Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered. The state and federal government and businesses have invested millions in education campaigns including media advertising, social media, COVID19 related apps, campaigns and SMS messaging.  There is almost around the clock TV and radio coverage about new cases and restrictions. Maintaining ongoing awareness of safe hygiene and social distancing protocols is critical to reducing community transmission and keeping the number of cases down.

Pandemic Recovery Activities

The recovery phase is not as simple as everyone returning to work next week or from a designated date.  It is likely that each state and territory will have different easing levels as the federal government slowly winds down restrictions from level three, to two, to one to “new normal”.

The recovery phase should be incrementally planned for.  The recovery will require forward planning, hard work and persistence.   Typical recovery activities will vary from organisation to organisation, state to state and industry to industry.  As a guide, the recovery process should include:

  • Continued monitoring of the pandemic situation in the media and via official government websites.
  • Assessment of adequacy of inventory levels of PPE and other safety supplies required to return to normal.
  • Agreeing which areas will return to normal and at which stage/date.
  • Complying with national COVID-19 safe workplace principles. Consulting with all staff and determining when staff at higher risk of COVID-19 will return to work.
  • Determining the impact on activities once the activity returns to normal e.g. additional signage, risk assessments, additional hygiene controls.
  • Communication planning – notifying staff and key stakeholders on the change in pandemic status and what it means for them.
  • Conducting staff surveys to obtain valuable feedback on key elements of the pandemic response including working from home issues and risks and the effectiveness of the overall response.
  • Reinforcing the availability of counselling services to staff.
  • Conducting a lessons learned workshop or survey that includes the pandemic response team and management (not part of the response team) to obtain feedback on the effectiveness of the overall response.
  • Updating the Pandemic Plan and Business Continuity Plan and other response plans based on the lessons learned.
  • Determining how longer term recovery activities will be managed e.g. financial recovery, insurance recovery, travel arrangements.
  • Looking for opportunities! Are there opportunities for long term business improvements and organisational policy improvements.
  • Monitoring procedures as they return to normal.
  • Standing down the pandemic response team and deactivate the response plan.
  • CELEBRATING – bringing back joy.  Once it’s safe to do so, consider organizing an event to bring people together and share stories.

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 would like to discuss our recovery support services including conducting independent staff surveys and lessons learned surveys, contact us to discuss your needs.