The COVID-19 outbreak has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization, causing huge impact on people’s lives, families and communities.
As the international response continues to develop, we know that organisations are facing several potentially significant challenges to which they need to respond rapidly. We are working closely with organisations globally to help them in preparing and responding, sharing our experience having worked with companies, governments, regulators, NGOs and international organisations around the world to respond to some of the most high profile outbreaks (including Ebola, MERS, SARS and bird flu).
Our global crisis centre is currently working with a range of organisations across industries. Key concerns that are emerging include:
From our experience, a strongly developed crisis response capability is required to ensure the efficient management of incidents in order to minimise associated negative impacts, meet government priorities around maintenance and confidence, and to ensure the continued delivery of critical national infrastructure. Many organisations have these plans in place for the workplace and supply chain but COVID-19 has already unveiled flaws in some. Given the unknown variables surrounding the outbreak, it is important to review crisis and business continuity plans, develop different scenarios and put them to the test.
We are already starting to see mixed messaging on preventing the spread of the virus via the media and negativity across the general public towards others who are wrongly believed to have contracted the virus is becoming a regular news item. Proactive communication for all stakeholder groups, based on factual information, is essential to manage public perception of the outbreak, minimise misinformation and associated panic, and reduce the detrimental impact on the economy and individuals.
Whilst the priority remains human welfare, we are hearing about other employee challenges. Examples include establishing the tax position of people who are moving between countries on an emergency basis, through to companies having to plan on putting production lines on pause due to supply chain issues, with the associated potential impact of asking employees to temporarily stop work.
Where clients are reliant on supply chains in affected areas, rapidly depleting stock levels are becoming a significant risk and clients are working through strategies for alternative sourcing. In certain cases, clients are showing signs of distress and stakeholders (e.g. lenders) are concerned about the future viability of the business. We are discussing different potential scenarios and what these mean for their operations, for example, as cases of viral transmission emerge in different territories.
Focus on information
From our experience with working with various organisations during the Ebola and MERS outbreaks, the lack of complete and accurate information was preventing well-considered decisions being made regarding the resources needed to control the outbreak and treat infected individuals. Capturing the correct information and verifying its reliability is vital. Reliable information underpins both crisis planning and response and allows organisations to make informed decisions.