News that a traveler who had spent time in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan turned up in a UK hospital gravely ill with the novelcoronavirus was a stark reminder of the speed with which an infectious disease can move rapidly across the globe via transoceanic air travel. Subsequent reports that a family member, who presumably had not been traveling, has been hospitalized with similar symptoms suggests the possibility of the disease spreading through human to human contact, raising concerns that this might be the next big health worry for managers responsible for international business operations.
With less than a dozen known cases of the novelcoronavirus reported to date it is natural to discount the potential impact of this new threat. But with a fatality rate of nearly 50%, and the possibility of human to human transmission that is accelerated by air travel, one can’t help but draw analogies to the SARS epidemic of ten years ago. I vividly remember making a much debated but deemed to be essential business trip to Singapore at the height of the crisis. From the empty inbound flight, to the hastily organized airport screening program and then a few nervous nights at a normally busy hotel that had turned into a ghost town, it was clear that this disease that no one knew existed just a few months before was capable of literally stopping whole cities in their tracks.
While we can’t control what the next big infectious threat will be, when it will occur, or where it will originate, we can make sure that organizations have adequate measures in place to assess risk, prepare, and if need be respond. Based on lessons learned from SARS, which have been refined in response to the ongoing H5N1 and H1N1 presence, proactive organizations will:
- Have a written pandemic preparedness plan.
- Form a cross functional team responsible for maintenance of the plan, monitoring emerging threats and responding as required.
- Gain access to high quality, business relevant information.
- Provide ongoing education for all employees, and especially business travelers, on the importance of sound personal hygiene practices and seeking appropriate medical care promptly.
- Ensure the ability to understand where travelers are going and equally important, where they have been.
The experts are stopping well short of predicting the coronavirus could be the next SARS, but they all agree that preparation and vigilance is essential. Is your company prepared so it can fulfill its Duty of Care around this issue as well as the next risk that may arise?
For further information on the novelcoronavirus see our general information page, http://www.internationalsos.com/en/coronavirus.htm. International SOS clients can find in-depth resources at http://www.internationalsos.com/novelcoronavirus/.