This is a collaborative, business post by Ellie Jo.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been so dominant in the news over the last year that it is almost poignant watching or reading anything from the time shortly before it hit. Its effects have been widespread and total – across the world it has changed lives and working practices, and there’s still some steam left in it, with recent prognostications indicating that we won’t be free of real danger until at least the end of the year we just started.
In that light, it may seem like the following question is poorly timed, but bear with it: Are you ready for the next pandemic? The question needs to be asked, because one of the major reasons the present one has wreaked such havoc was that so few countries were ready. For businesses, this has been tough as they have had to implement protocols either hastily communicated by authorities, or which we ourselves have had to figure out from available information.
When might the next pandemic be?
We don’t know when the next pandemic will be, and that’s part of the problem. To help understand this point, let’s look at the current pandemic. In the last month or so, there have been separate variants found which have been characterised as the UK, South African and Brazilian strains of Covid-19. Unlike the SARS outbreaks of the early 00s, which were mostly localized, or the swine flu pandemic, which was treatable with existing medications, Covid has spread rapidly worldwide and been highly transmissible, to the point where it has been able to mutate.
The countries with the greatest success in treating Covid have, for the most part, been areas which were at the epicenter of previous outbreaks. As a result, they have had more effective protocols for social distancing, widespread use of PPE, and testing and tracing to prevent a wider spread. The majority of the world was slower to react, and the costs of that have been substantial. The lesson to take from this, for your business, is that you won’t necessarily have much warning when another pandemic strikes, so you’ll need to be ready for prompt action.
What can individuals and businesses do?
Effective response to a pandemic requires local and regional authorities to know what they are doing, which can be difficult in the hustle and bustle of an event like this. The present pandemic does include some tips for us, though. Effective isolation is essential to preventing spread, so having a protocol in place for working from home is important. If you can’t do your work via telecommuting, then it’s worth considering alternative options that might allow you to keep working when the main office isn’t available.
Most offices are in areas of mass traffic which are likely to become high-transmission zones, so you might consider opening a satellite office somewhere less busy, where key staff can still work. It is, of course, vital to avoid spreading any virus into a new area, so there would need to be testing and control protocols in place for anyone traveling to the other office. During non-pandemic times, it will still be a useful location for some of your work.
Some companies are investing in on site corporate testing to help protect their staff and prevent closures. These tests take place at the office and can catch an active case of COVID-19 before it has the chance to spread, whether or not the employee has symptoms.
When working in an office, it is extremely important to follow a few tips on social distancing. People can feel safe when their employers take sufficient precautions against a pandemic. One of the common things you can do is incorporate floor stickers for social distancing to remind employees to keep their distance. Flexible work arrangements are another tip on social distancing. You need to develop rotation schedules by limiting the number of employees in the workplace at the same time.
Will another pandemic be the same as this one?
It depends what we mean by “the same”, is the only responsible answer to that. Covid is a zoonotic disease, which means it is passed initially to humans from animals. Something in the region of 75% of novel pathogens identified in the last ten years are, likewise, zoonotic. So some of the patterns we have seen with Covid may well be repeated in a new pandemic, and some of the same protections might be effective. Certainly, social distancing is likely to be a major part of any response.
What we do not, and cannot, know is how severe any new virus would be, nor what its symptoms would look like, which makes it hard to know how fast and severe any reaction would have to be. But as a business, it would be wise to have a preparedness handbook ready for such an eventuality. This book would include: Day 1 reactions to the news of a new pandemic; protocols for communicating plans to all employees; protections the business can make available for people who can’t work; and additionally, if you have overseas offices, regular communication with staff in those areas. If you have workers in a country the virus has not reached, they may be able to take on some work that can’t be done domestically.
What can we do to prevent it?
In terms of a pandemic, by the time we mere individuals can do anything about it, it’s already too late to stop it happening. What we can do is practise some common sense behaviors that mean we don’t contribute to it (and if enough of us do that, impact can be lessened). For your business, this means that even after Covid-19 has been largely neutralized, it might be wise to strictly limit overseas business travel. If a meeting with partners in another country can be done via Zoom, it should be.
In addition, practices such as hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing have been shown to cut community transmission. Adopting these as hard and fast laws in the event of another pandemic would be smart, and people should feel empowered to follow them even outside of those conditions. The wearing of face masks has been considered common sense against air pollution in a number of countries, and is credited with keeping cold and flu transmission lower, so it doesn’t need to stop when Covid stops.
We will have another pandemic sooner or later, and hopefully it won’t be anything like as serious as the one we’re in right now. But if you can make some adjustments, you can make sure that your business is not hit as hard by the next one. We all hope the world is learning some lessons from the events of 2020/21 – and we can ensure that we play our part in that process.