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Coronavirus - Time to Prepare - Risk, Compliance and Safety Consultants

As Featured on the BBC WORLD NEWS, 20/02/2020

The UK Government has declared coronavirus a "serious and imminent threat" to public health following four more confirmed cases.

The UK Government has confirmed that eight people have now tested positive for the virus in the UK, and announced new powers to fight the infection's spread. Previously, the UK Chief Medical Officers raised the risk to the public from ‘Low’ to ‘Moderate’ based on the World Health Organization’s declaration that coronavirus is a public health emergency of international concern. This risk level has not changed. Under the new measures, people can be forcibly quarantined and will not be free to leave. This comes after another week of acceleration in the spread of the virus: as of the 3rd February, there were more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus in China and 360 deaths; by 10th February this figure stands at 40,000 cases and 908 deaths.

The new strain of coronavirus, which has quickly spread abroad, is believed to have originated in Wuhan - and the city, along with much of the domestic and international travel network of mainland China has gone into lock-down.

Businesses need to make time to think about what this means for them.  Businesses should prepare for the worst so that their employees, as well as the organisation, will be as prepared as possible. The need for this is already evidenced by the pandemic’s affect on Chinese stocks, as they plunged 8% today as coronavirus fears took hold.

Ark recommend that businesses develop their own pandemic preparedness plans; so here is Ark’s Six Point Plan:

1. PLAN for the impact that a pandemic may have on your business - it is vital that you have a formal plan so that the organisation and employees/customers will be protected as much as possible. It is important that you identify a “pandemic coordinator” and/or team that will have particular roles and responsibilities in the planning stages of the pandemic plan as well as during a possible outbreak. They should identify which are the essential areas of the business and services that would be essential to maintain business operations during a time of pandemic and make sure that the pandemic preparedness plan covers what may happen to those resources in a pandemic situation. An emergency communications plan should be drafted, reviewed and/or revised to account for any changes prior to the occurrence of pandemic, identifying key contacts and creating a chain of communication within the organisation (including suppliers as well as customers) and determine how you intend to track employee and business status. The plan should be drilled and exercised as well as updated to reflect any new findings.

2. Determine the IMPACT of a pandemic - allow for employee absences should a pandemic occur and determine what will be done in case there are a high number of absences. The worst thing for a business would be to have infected individuals come to work and spread the disease to others. Family member illness, community quarantines, school/business closures and public transportation closures may also lead to absenteeism, and those issues need to be addressed. It may be a good idea to implement a “work from home program” for those who cannot come to work. That way the business can still thrive without spreading the disease throughout the workforce.

3. Establish POLICIES - It is important to establish policies that will be followed by employees during a possible pandemic. There should be a policy in place that will determine both when a worker who has been infected and how they should be allowed to return to work. Also, if someone becomes ill in the office or at work, policies should be put into place, such as immediate mandatory sick leave, so that the infected individual does not spread the virus.

4. Make available the appropriate RESOURCES - have resources available to employees in the case a pandemic occurs; this involves enhancing communications systems and information technology infrastructure to accommodate working away from the office for employees. Medical consultation and advice for emergency response should also be available as during the pandemic these will, if not planned for, most probably be in short supply.

5. Establish effective COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATION of employees – it is vital throughout this process, even before pandemic occurs, that internal communication of expectations and requirements are in place. Programs should cover the basics about the virus (appropriate hand washing procedures, signs and symptoms of the virus) as well as general awareness of the company’s pandemic preparedness policy. This will help alleviate any rumours or untruths about company policy or the virus in general. Information should also be made available to inform employees about possible at-home care of infected individuals, including family members.

6. The final step is to COORDINATE your preparedness activities with others, if possible, to help the community should pandemic occur. In order to do so, businesses may want to talk with insurers and internal health care providers to share pandemic preparedness plans and to get new ideas on how to fight any virus.

In a statement to the House of Commons in late January, Mr Hancock said that it was a "rapidly developing situation and the number of deaths and the number of cases is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far and I expect them to rise further". He told MPs: “that while there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are strengthening our regulations so we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety and if public health professionals consider they may be at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public. This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country." This move follows the quarantine of the British evacuees from Wuhan, who returned on chartered flights over the past few weeks.

Businesses need to remain vigilant and keep their response under constant review in the light of emerging scientific evidence and advice issued by the Government and the World Health Organisation.

Now is the time to act, make sure you are well prepared for all eventualities, and plan for the worst while hoping for the best - especially in the current climate. Ark can support clients in developing these plans and arrangements. Get in touch with Ark’s team on 02073971450 or email info@arkworkplacerisk.com.

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