• A continuity plan is vital for your business to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The plan should assess and adopt best practices to slow the disease’s spread.
  • Companies need to be prepared to work remotely in the event of a staff member getting sick.

Postponed, cancelled, closed: the use of these words has accompanied the COVID-19 virus outbreak, as both local and international businesses feel its impact.

In some places, usually busy restaurants, bars and other spots where people gather now sit empty, while many global industry conferences and major events will no longer be held. The temporary impact of these changes could have far-reaching consequences for some organizations.

Here, Emanuele Capobianco, Director of Health and Care at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, gives some advice on ways businesses can manage the coronavirus.

How should companies plan for the impact of COVID-19?

The critical recommendation for all businesses is to create and adopt a business continuity plan. It’s essential to decide what should happen in the short to medium term, and consider the longer-term impact, as we don’t know how long the virus will be around or how it will evolve.

A continuity plan should include measures to prevent infections in the workplace, such as encouraging all employees to wash their hands regularly. Provide staff with alcohol-based hand rub, and put up clear signs around the building stressing the importance of regular hand washing, both at work and at home.

Secondly, review where staff sit and try to minimize their proximity in the workplace. Avoid closed spaces and crowded rooms, which may mean encouraging more employees to work from home or remotely, or even dividing the workforce into shifts to distance employees.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Thirdly, make provisions for when staff or one of their family members get sick. Plan to close the office or workplace and be ready to operate the business remotely. For each critical person, identify the next person, and the next, who can step in and take over their responsibilities if needed. This is something all businesses should be looking at now, to iron out any issues in preparation.

Finally, business meetings, workshops and conferences are being affected, especially major events. Your continuity plan should assess the impact of cancelling events if they cannot be rescheduled, postponing them or holding them remotely if this can be managed. Doing things remotely or virtually is a critical path to protecting your business and its staff.

Postponing events to the third or fourth quarter of the year could cause work to back up, and events may have to be postponed a second time due to the lack of certainty about the outbreak. While in some parts of the world it could be over in a matter of months, it could also unfold in waves.

What about people working on flexible contracts and those not employed in a conventional office?

While demand for some types of work in areas like the service sector will fall, in others demand will increase.

In the event that the emergency becomes bigger, schools and workplaces could close and many more people will stay home. For people self-isolating or those preferring to avoid going to the store, there will be a major increase in demand for home deliveries of food and other supplies, which will require additional delivery drivers.


Of course, every CEO’s priority should be protecting employees, so protocols need to be established to ensure the maximum safety of people like delivery drivers when visiting people’s homes.

Maintaining a distance of more than a metre and ensuring plenty of ventilation is easier for delivery drivers than people working in closer proximity to their customers, such as taxi drivers. Scientists, health authorities and business owners need strong dialogue to look at how the virus is unfolding to ensure the safety of their workers, and as a consequence the safety of their business.

Milkman Patrick Moisan makes a home delivery of milk in a neighbourhood in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, September 13, 2018.  REUTERS/Christinne Muschi - RC1A102383B0
Demand for home deliveries could increase as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.
Image: REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Are there any myths about the virus or bad company practices that business owners should be aware of?


One of the main myths surrounds the use of masks, which are not effective for the general population to wear. Masks should be reserved for health personnel, sick people and people at home caring for those with the virus. Wearing masks when you are not sick does little to stop the virus spreading and causes shortages of supplies for the people who really need them.

Secondly, it is critical that people with symptoms of COVID-19 – mainly fever or a dry cough – stay at home and do not attend work. Employers can do a lot to support their employees if they are sick or need to stay home to take care of a family member.

Business owners should make sure their staff can afford to stay home if they are sick. Increasing family leave or sick leave provisions could help ensure sick employees stay home, and are not forced to go into work. Providing support like this protects the long-term interests of both employees and the business.