Updated: Mar 10, 2020
As the world confronts the spread of the new Coronavirus, people seek greater clarity on the risks they can expect to face and how to best minimize them. They search for reliable information from trusted sources. The problem is a dearth of credible information due to inaccuracy in social media and politicization of the problem.
The World Health Organization has taken steps to help all people everywhere to know how to be safe in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks. You can subscribe to their daily media updates and virtual press conferences and stay informed on global responses.
Businesses can help. And we need to understand that.
Business can make a vital contribution to economic and social continuity by doing their best to maintain operations through uncertainty. Business can help their valued employees and customers stay well-informed by providing access to reliable, science-based information that people can adapt to their own circumstances.
Get your CEO out in front communicating with employees and all relevant stakeholders and stay aware and involved in this crisis. This is not a role to delegate
Establish a cadence of frequent communications (preferably twice a week) with your employees and stakeholders to keep them updated on all relevant developments
Correct misinformation immediately
Create a platform that is routinely updated with pertinent information that may impact the lives of your employees and your company’s operation
Set up a hotline that employees can call with any questions they may have surrounding the virus
Communicate a no-regrets policy: if employees would prefer to work remotely or not travel, provide them that flexibility
Consider your employees mental health. Anxiety is running high in the community. Encourage your employees to reach out to credible mental health web resources for information. Beyond Blue has developed an information page with helpful resources.
Beyond Blue mental health professionals are available 24/7 at Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or bb.org.au/2uq2MCu for online chat (3pm-12am AEST) and email (responses within 24 hours). For immediate support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 and in an emergency, always call triple zero (000).
Be aware human behaviour is complex and self isolation, anxiety about sick leave entitlements, family care and more will exacerbate this situation. WOW Chaplaincy has set up a 24/7 virtual coffee chat line. The concept is simple. We want people to stay connected. Isolation can create significant mental health challenges. We know from experience in crisis situations people often just want to talk with someone or feel as though someone will listen and cares. You can request a time to chat and connect via WOW's Facebook page or our website. It is a completely confidential service and people are also referred on to appropriate services if necessary. Generally however we find people just want someone to listen and to talk with. The service is free for general population support and can be utilised by workforces and access is via a 24 Access membership paid by the specific workplace. We will monitor demand and update or modify this page with further details as necessary.
Mobilise your EAP and ensure they too are prepared.
Be respectful of front line Healthcare Services. GPs are reporting significant challenges in dealing at the coal face with this crisis. Their waiting rooms often have very vulnerable, ill people in attendance. Public Health officials are asking people to call ahead to GP's if they have symptoms and or to present to Hospital ER. Again call ahead. Monitor this situation as it too is evolving and we must ensure the safety of our front line health care workers. The RACGP have a resources page.
Consider vulnerable populations in your communication. This applies equally to employees as it does to customers and other stakeholders. For example, domestic and family violence victims/survivors may have difficulty accessing food supplies due to people stockpiling and their own budget restrictions. What can your organisation do to help your stakeholders. Take a moment to understand the social determinants of health with your leadership team and identify and take positive action in areas of risk for your business and the populations you serve.
Check with your workers compensation insurer regarding any of your workforce currently on workers compensation. What are they doing to support injured workers? Is their planning adequate? Ask questions? This is a time for business to work together, responsibly. For example, injured workers are required to obtain monthly - 6 weeks certificates of capacity from their treating GP. The health system is already burdened. Is there a way your injured worker can use telehealth for the immediate short term to assist essential services and of course manage your workers exposure to other health issues.
****This is a general list but it should start you thinking about how your business can help. This is a time for business to lead and for humanity to show we are there for each other.
The Disease—The new Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not like influenza or SARS. The COVID-19 virus has only been known about for three months. As the WHO gets to know the virus and its disease better, it is updating its guidance on how outbreaks can best be contained. COVID-19 outbreaks develop quickly and with dramatic effect because the virus is easily transmitted; one person can infect up to three others (and in rare cases many more). The risk of transmission seems to be highest in unventilated locations. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease: The virus is spread by the microscopic droplets produced when coughing or sneezing. People can become infected if they are close to someone who has COVID-19; to avoid infection stay about two meters away. The symptoms at the start are high fever and cough, usually not a runny nose. Around 20 percent of those infected become severely ill, and between one and two percent will die. The most vulnerable are people over 65, as well as those with underlying ailments such as hypertension or diabetes. Children seem much less vulnerable.
The Status—The COVID-19 outbreak in Hubei province, China, seems to be lessening, and outbreaks in other provinces in China are being contained. The Chinese government is being vigilant because it is always possible that they can restart. In the last two weeks there has been a steep rise in the number of people with COVID-19 outside of China. There are now outbreaks, with community transmission, in South Korea, Japan, Northern Italy and Iran.
Fast Response Needed—Public health authorities must be ready to respond quickly to any person suspected of having the symptoms of COVID-19. Once infection is confirmed in an individual, he or she should be isolated promptly in order to prevent transmission to others. Care must be taken to identify those with whom the infected person has been in contact and to keep them under surveillance in case they turn out to be infected. There may be a decision to keep them quarantined while this surveillance takes place.
China Has Done It Well—Once the severity of this new disease was evident to the government of China, a massive operation (involving the whole of government as well as communities and enterprises) was mounted, which has had extraordinary results. The outbreak of disease in Wuhan is being limited as a result of the involvement of organizations, with support from a massive community health workforce that checks on disease spread. Every effort is made to enable people with symptoms to get themselves checked and to access hospital care if needed. The Chinese government has repurposed health services, establishing dedicated treatment facilities for people with COVID-19 infection; this enables other hospitals to carry on with the everyday business of medical and surgical care for the population (including cancer care or treatment of injuries). Note: this information is from the World Health Organisation as at March 6, 2020 and may be subject to change as more information comes to hand.
Society Must Carry On—There is a key role for business in assuring stable supplies of food, access to energy, transportation services and commerce. Divisions between different levels of government, as well as political position-taking and point-scoring, can interfere with effective responses. All – businesses, civil society and government – have vital roles to play in keeping life going despite the virus.
Business Should Connect Frequently with Employees and Communities—In some outbreaks the number of people who are newly infected seems to double every three days. This means that the global situation is evolving rapidly. New scientific studies of the disease are emerging all the time, and situation assessments, as well as guidance on optimal responses, are being updated every few days. That means companies must be prepared to adapt what they do in the light of changing circumstances and to update their key stakeholders regularly.
Local Leadership Matters—As they learn about COVID-19, people everywhere have many questions and often wonder about the best sources of guidance. Both the WHO and the Australian Government are offering science-based assessments. However, the actual decisions about what should be done in the face of threats are best made locally, hence regular announcements from Premiers in each State of Australia.
People have multiple concerns and seek authoritative information to help them make choices about what they should do in the home, community, residential institution, workplace, church, sporting events and so on. Companies can demonstrate that they care for their employees by enabling them to discuss such issues openly; this openness requires a major communications effort and it is generally best if the CEO is part of it, consistently.
The CEO’s personal presence is vital to credibility. CEOs currently have more credibility than anyone in a company and therefore should be in contact with their employees at least two times a week for the coming months. They should provide helplines and other procedures for employees to make sure they feel attended to. Implement a no-regrets policy: if employees need to work from home or have flexibility, please let them do so. CEOs are among the most trusted people in the world. Their influence can have a great impact in combatting the spread of COVID-19.
Travel and Events—People should be encouraged to follow the advice of the WHO as well as national health authorities. Decisions about attendance at conventions, travel to other cities and closure of offices* need to be advised by national circumstances. There is no blanket instruction on what to do about sporting events or conferences; each must be evaluated based on local, timely information about the risk of infection, the capacity of local health services and the position taken by local authorities. Try not to let closures bring business to a standstill but make care and safety of your employees paramount.