The novel coronavirus is continuing to sicken people around the world. Deaths in China have climbed to 361 as of Feb. 03, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which is significantly up from just two deaths a few weeks ago. WHO also reports that there are 17,238 confirmed cases on China’s mainland.
Around the world, WHO states that there are 153 confirmed cases outside of China and spread across 23 countries.
Despite the threats associated with this virus and other potential pandemics, many organizations are underprepared with related emergency plans and procedures, compared to emergency planning for fires or active shooters.
“Pandemic emergencies tend not to be covered and thought through as much as some of the others, so this is an opportunity for all organizations to really put that working group together internally and start looking at some of these scenarios of how it would impact their organization, and then put plans and procedures in place,” said Renata Elias (pictured), consultant in Marsh’s risk consulting strategic risk practice. “Even if you don’t have to use it this time, you’ll have it ready for next time and we always talk about proactivity versus reactivity, so be proactive – that would be my biggest piece of advice for everyone.”
One of the major impacts for multinational organizations would be the diminished workforce stemming from this type of public health emergency, and the operational disruption to supply chains that come as a result.
“That’s why we really like to encourage and recommend to organizations that they take some time to plan ahead and think through these type of scenarios [involving] pandemics, and how that would impact their organization,” said Elias, adding that some companies are probably more exposed to the risk of pandemic than others. “If you have an organization in the US, and you don’t have any supply chains and you don’t have employees that are travelling internationally, there’s going to be a lesser risk than those that have operations over in China as well as those that rely on tourism.”
With that being said, as cases of the virus are climbing around the world, it is important that all organizations start brushing the dust off their current plans or put plans in place by establishing a working group in the organization to focus on this issue.
Organizations should pay attention to their travel policies and provide guidance to employees on how these are impacted by the evolving situation. If employees have to travel to the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with sick people, avoiding animals, animal markets, and meat and other animal products, as well as frequently washing hands.
“Employees are going to be looking for guidance from the organization as to what should we be doing at this point in time and by putting policies together, you alleviate any stress or anxiety for people that may feel that they’re not sure if they should be travelling overseas,” explained Elias.
Monitoring updates from public health officials and governments to keep employees informed is likewise important, as is communicating sick leave policies to employees.
“What about sick policy? What about leaves of absences to look after sick family members? What about social distancing in the workplace?” said Elias. “They should be looking at these types of policies and procedures now so that in the event that the pandemic comes even closer and impacts their organization, that they have things in place ready to roll out.”
Taking note of an organization’s insurance coverage is likewise important. The Marsh expert recommends that companies review applicable insurance policies, prepare for potential claims, and get in touch with their broker.
“It’s really encouraged at this time that organizations need to be reaching out to their insurance brokers to speak to them about the situation,” she said.