As fear grows globally around the Coronavirus, we hear from our Strategic Advisor Sterling Crew as he looks at the health and business challenges arising from the headline-grabbing human Coronavirus outbreak.
What is Coronavirus?
A Coronavirus strain (2019-nCoV) previously unknown to science is causing severe lung disease in China and has also been detected in other countries including the UK. The virus causes pneumonia and people who have fallen ill suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties, and in some cases are hospitalised. In severe cases, there can be organ failure. It’s important to remember, however, that many of those who have died were already in poor health and most people infected are likely to fully recover, just as they would from normal flu.
The spread of the Coronavirus outside China is worrying but not unexpected in this age of globalisation and frequent air travel. It is believed that Coronavirus is infective during the 14-day incubation period, so you could be carrying it without having any symptoms and wouldn’t know; others you are in contact with may also be carrying the virus without any symptoms and could be infectious.
Who is most at risk?
Now the UK has its first confirmed cases, the threat posed by human Coronavirus is no longer a theoretical one. It is real and it’s here. We don’t know yet whether this is a big risk or small risk, what’s very clear though – it is something to pay immediate attention to.
Although the World Health Organisation has declared a global emergency over the rising numbers of infection, the public health risk in the UK currently remains relatively very low. At this time, the biggest threat I see is to businesses and to those organisations who face a potential shrinking customer base or will be impacted by their own risk mitigation actions.
Despite expert advice, the public is understandably beginning to respond to what appears to be a growing irrational fear. Chinese restaurants in the UK are already reporting a fall in customer numbers. As a personal example of the business impact, I was due to attend a conference in Singapore in March, and it has just been postponed because of Coronavirus concerns. People are beginning to avoid spending unnecessary time in crowded places such as restaurants, shops, offices and public transport.
Undoubtedly, human Coronavirus is a major global public health issue that is already impacting the Chinese economy and international business continuity. We have seen China’s city-wide quarantines and experts predict that the number of cases will keep rising. The country has shut down all travel to and from Wuhan and nearby cities, in an attempt to curb the spread of the new virus.
Individuals with symptoms of the infection are encouraged to quarantine themselves in their homes for at least 2 weeks, and various countries have imposed varying travel restrictions and other preventative measures. This, and possibly further control actions, will have consequences for the continuity of the international food supply chain. Meanwhile, numerous Chinese factories have suspended production, with some companies instructing employees to work from home. We are starting to see inventories running low following the widespread shutdowns at Chinese factories, forced to close to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In the UK, British Airways has taken the decision to cancel flights to Shanghai and Beijing, with passengers arriving from affected provinces checked and quarantined upon arrival.
Contingency planning. Be prepared.
It’s time to dust off your Business Continuity Plan and be prepared to take proportionate action. If you have not got a BCP, then I’d recommend you start writing one. You should not wait for a crisis to develop a crisis plan.
Bad news travels fast on today’s social media platforms and businesses must be prepared to react quickly. You should consider the impact on staff shortages through potential illness, and the need for self-isolated quarantine after the discovery of symptoms. Fit staff may need to be prepared to cover for unwell co-workers and be on standby for extra rotas. The lack of consumer confidence in going to public places could affect your financial position, and it’s worth considering that your supply chain may also be impacted. Hopefully, these measures might never be required, but be prepared in case they are.
Many measures rely on personal responsibility when it comes to hygiene. Ensure that your staff know the routes of transmission and train them in the practical preventative steps. Taking the appropriate measures means assuming that the virus is around and taking action accordingly, often as simple as not touching your face with dirty fingers.
Practical steps to stop the risk of infection
So what can we do to protect ourselves against infection, and make sure we don’t spread the virus onto others? It’s time to crank up our hand hygiene at key moments. Critically, as soon as we arrive at work or a meeting and as soon as we get home. Contaminated hands touching your eyes or nose are a route of infection, and touching surfaces could pass viruses on for others to pick up.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent this type of Coronavirus, and antibiotics do not work against viral infections. The best way to stop infection is to avoid being exposed. Everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of the virus include:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin.” Catch it, bin it, kill it “.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Avoid unnecessary direct contact (shaking hands) or by touching hand contact surfaces (door handles, tables, kettle handles, kitchen equipment, etc.).
These actions are easy to understand, simple and cheap to implement and are common familiar practices in food premises. According to the World Health Organisation, following these methods will be enough to stop the spread of infection in most healthy individuals.