From late January 2020 onwards, the world has been plagued with news on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19, previously known as 2019 novel coronavirus). A pneumonia of unknown cause was originated from Wuhan City in Hubei Province of China. Singapore’s strategic location makes it vulnerable to contracting the virus. As of March 16, 2020 (1200 SGT), the accumulated number of cases in Singapore is 243. 109 patients were discharged while the other 134 remain in the hospitals. On March 11, WHO (the World Health Organization) has officially announced COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic. The number of cases globally increases daily and different governments impose different strategies and restrictions.
Despite the measures implemented by Singapore Government regarding the containment and prevention of the virus spread, Singapore businesses also play a large part in keeping the community safe, especially those within the company. The Singapore Standard for Business Continuity Management Systems outlined measures to guide Singapore businesses to ensure the safety of their employees and other stakeholders, minimize the disruption in business operations, and help the country in preventing the spread of the virus.
What is COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus Disease 2019)?
The novel coronavirus is a strain of the coronavirus family that also includes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of the common flu – fever, runny nose, shortness of breath, cough and respiratory symptoms. The virus is spread between people vis close person-to-person contact and respiratory droplets from coughing.
The prevention and containment of the virus are relatively easy but need the diligence, vigilance and socially responsible behavior of everyone in the community. At the community level, measures to follow include personal hygiene, awareness, appropriate social distancing and proactive seclusion when you are unwell. People are encouraged to avoid crowded places like malls, hawker centers, religious venues, theaters and other large public indoor sites. As much as possible, minimize the social contact even if there is no fever or respiratory symptoms and seek early medical consultation once any symptom approaches. On a personal level, wearing protective masks is advised when you are feeling unwell, frequently hand-wash with soap and having healthy diets to fortify one’s immune system are encouraged.
How to protect your business from COVID-19?
According to a recent guide published by Enterprise Singapore, companies are encouraged to prepare business continuity plans (BCP) to counter the effects of threats and uncertainties. Here are the four areas to be considered in BCP so as to handle the challenges from the virus outbreak:
Human Resource Management
- Assign a crisis contact person (Business Continuity Manager). Set up a group chat or open line for employees seeking advice and information, reporting incidents, or seeking help.
- Plan for the continuity of leadership in case of any absences of key executives and decision-makers.
- Consider alternative working arrangements such as work-from-home and rotating work schedules to reduce the human traffic in the office premise.
- Review relevant employee management policies like sick leave, stay-home notices, company-imposed leave of absence and relevant staff insurance plans. Serious communication and monitoring to ensure that the employees comply with the evolving regulations imposed by Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to reduce the spread or importation of COVID-19.
- Defer business travels and events. Make use of the convenient technologies, like video-conferencing or teleconferencing instead of overseas travels.
- Observe travel bans and other related news. Obtain the required health and travel declarations from employees who have recently traveled to China and other restricted countries (e.g. South Korea, Northern Italy and Iran), as specified by Singapore Government.
- Monitor the health conditions of the employees. Temperature checks, 14-day quarantine with annual leaves and seeking medical check-ups are required for those who insist on proceeding with non-essential and personal travels outside Singapore. Allow alternative working arrangements like work-from-home, video-conferencing and teleconferencing for the period of absence.
Process and Business Functions
- Identify essential business activities and employees. Cross-train workers to cover other positions in case of absences. Set up alternate teams and physically segregate the teams to reduce the risk of virus spread.
- Educate employees on the preventive measures, infection control and good personal hygiene.
- Develop plans and procedures to manage and track the human traffic movement within the office area.
- Be updated with the latest news, trends and government’s immediate implementations related to the COVID-19 and disseminate the information to the employees.
- Closely monitor the health of the working employees.
- Maintain an adequate supply of medical and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) like thermometers, surgical masks, disposable gloves and disinfectants.
- Clean and disinfect the frequently-accessed or commonly-exposed company premises and areas, where suspected or confirmed cases have been reported.
Supplier and Customer Management
- Communicate with your critical suppliers and service providers on the business continuity plans of both parties and make necessary adjustments to allow seamless transactions without compromising the welfare of employees on both sides.
- Announce the measures to your regular customers which your company is implementing to protect them and your employees from the disease, without affecting the customer company’s requirements and operation.
- Develop a policy for alternative suppliers and service providers. Also determine a specific situation or timing to opt for the alternative delivery options to your customers.
- Appoint a communication coordinator to broadcast on behalf of your company about your company status and business continuity plans (BCP).
- Educate your employees to ensure that they clearly know their respective roles and responsibilities in the BCP. Discussion can be done in small groups to test on their understanding about their portion of the plan. A communication channel could be established for them to report their environment, seek for additional information and be well-informed on the impact of the BCP procedures, policies and progress that the company is taking to ensure their safety and non-disrupted business operations during the virus outbreak.
- Inform all the relevant stakeholders of the company – suppliers, customers and service providers about the contingency measures that your company has in place for the virus outbreak.