The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a global health emergency over a new coronavirus that broke out in China and which has killed an estimated 1,000 people in mainland China. Additional cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, the UK, Europe, North America and the Middle East.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to WHO.
UK sees first cases
Eight patients in England have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the UK government. “If more cases are confirmed in the UK, it will be announced as soon as possible by the Chief Medical Officer of the affected country,” said a government statement.
A senior IRM member from a Charitable Health Foundation has shared some of the issues risk managers may face in considering any response to the growing spread of the virus. Issues of potential concern include:
- Overseas travel especially to Far East
- Impact of airlines stopping flights if staff overseas already
- Visits here from overseas visitors especially from affected countries – how to deal with that
- Keeping staff informed without being alarmist
- Encouraging good hygiene practice
- Confirming people can work from home as much as possible if required
- Confirm service partner business continuity plans
A practical response to the situation can be put in place by taking the following steps:
- All the leadership team are briefed and being kept up-to-date with any developments
- A monitoring incident management team set up
- Asked all departments to review and refresh their local plans, including service partners
- Refreshing remote working plans with IT
- Send out travel advice updates to staff especially in respect of China and surrounding countries – updated as things change
- Risk assessing meetings and conferences in case any higher risk visitors expected e.g Chinese
- Monitor sickness levels more closely
Supply chain impact
With factories in China closing in an effort to contain the wider spread of the virus, technology companies could be particularly hard hit, according to the Financial Times. It reported that Chinese authorities had closed the world’s largest Apple iPhone factory with a possible knock-on effect for the release of a planned new model of the best-selling phone. Companies with large concentrations of manufacturing output based in China may review their supply chains, the paper said.
Gartner has outlined several potential supply chain risks for businesses, including:
- Materials: Supply shortages of materials or finished goods coming from or routed through logistical hubs in impacted areas.
- Labour: White- and blue-collar labour may not be available due to quarantine guidelines or illness.
- Sourcing: Travel may be restricted to certain areas, limiting the ability to discover, qualify and certify new business or programs and to transact business.
- Logistics: Established hubs and supply networks may experience limitations in capacity and availability so that even if materials are available, they would be stuck elsewhere. Finding alternative routes and means of transportation will become difficult.
- Consumers: Consumers may be more cautious in their purchasing habits due to fears about being in public and potential exposure to the virus. Many may turn to online sales, challenging logistics networks.