The new coronavirus – are we prepared to face the next pandemic?

During the 2007–08 global financial crisis, I saw an official-looking announcement appear on an international corporation’s intranet informing employees that:

“During the current financial crisis, as a cost-saving initiative, the light at the end of the tunnel will be switched off until further notice”.

Perhaps many would echo a similar sentiment about the pandemic crisis we are now facing. How long is this nasty dark tunnel we find ourselves in and when will we get to the end?

In contrast, a colleague asked me yesterday if I thought the time was approaching when we should consider starting a review of the lessons learned about the damage the COVID-19 outbreak has caused.

He was considering not only the obvious human cost but also the impact on the business community.

In justifying his question, he pointed to the dramatic fall in new cases being reported from China, plus various government statements and corresponding media reports – it could all be over in weeks, couldn’t it?

To continue with the tunnel metaphor, he believed that perhaps we are beginning to see some of light at the end of that tunnel.

In thinking about my colleague’s expression of positivity, here is the caveat. We should not allow ourselves to be lured into what may be a false sense of optimism.

The reality is that there is still a lot more we need to learn about this virus. History tells us that pandemics can last for as much as a couple of years and they sometimes come in waves.

If COVID-19 follows that pattern, we must remember that we are currently only riding the first wave. So, we must each be prepared to plan for the worst while we naturally continue hoping for the best.

How does this apply to your organisation?

From a business perspective, a pandemic presents a multi-faceted threat that can include not only sick employees but both upstream and downstream supply chains failures.

Reports of airlines having cancelled flights into infected destinations will have had an impact on those just-in-time supply chains dependent upon passenger aircraft to facilitate the rapid transit of goods. This situation will further deteriorate following President Trump’s ban of all flights from the European Union into the USA.

We have already seen China take action by suspending public transport in infected areas, which with the modern-day commuter often depending upon mass transit systems may prevent many from reaching their place of work.

The reasons for absence are varied but are likely to include:

  • Sickness and fatalities of employees, especially with no vaccines or cures available, will threaten every employee from the most junior employees through to top management.
  • Companies will need succession plans in place for all key employees.
  • Looking after sick family members or children whose schools have closed.
  • Public transport suspension making it impossible for some employees to get to work.
  • Bereavement in the family.
  • Trauma, including those simply afraid to go work for fear of infection.
  • Individuals being quarantined following possible exposure to the contagion.
  • Lockdowns of cities, regions and entire countries.

But could your organisation survive if as many as half the workforce was absent?

Although we cannot stop a pandemic from occurring, we can take steps to mitigate the impact, while helping to better protect employees and visitors to the workplace.

My book Business Continuity and the Pandemic Threat identifies actions that can be taken by communities, organisations and individuals to improve their chances of survival.

It’s available in paperback, e-book and Kindle format.

What people have said about Business Continuity and the Pandemic Threat

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading Clark’s book which is written in a style that makes it easy for anyone to understand without requiring a background in medicine or business. I have been involved in disaster management planning for the past ten years and yet I still found this book both enlightening and extremely informative” – Dr Tanya Mellilo MD, MSc (Dist) PhD

 Having known Rob Clark for several years, the breadth of knowledge, analysis of the subject and well- balanced presentation of this volume comes as no surprise. This informative book is written in an easy going and conversational manner, but the message it brings to the table is critical to understanding the meaning of any forthcoming pandemic threat and considerations of how to mitigate the effects, where possible, to you and your organisation” – Owen Gregory MSc BA MBCI MBCS

“I appreciate that this book was written with a business audience in mind but everyone should read it, it could save lives” – Dr Fergus O’Connor MD FRCS (Lon) FRCS (Edin) Retired

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