Coping with Coronavirus

Posted on: March 13th, 2020 by Staffan Engstrom

We are in an anxious and fascinating time. We have all been seeing ‘headless chicken’ Covid 19 responses at national, corporate, and individual levels.

A number of my clients are right now looking at their response plans, so here are some thoughts on the key issues that will affect organisations from a strategic perspective. Firstly, some perspectives on the virus, then on the contingency planning:

1. There is no cure, the only current way to be immune is to have had it.

Both large and small organisations have been sending people to work from home for 14 days or more to get clear of the virus, ‘just in case’. Well, that’s fine, until those people start circulating again, when they will be exposed once more. 

2. Putting up a brick wall only works in the short term…

Congratulations to the Chinese for containing the virus in Hubei and Wuhan. They seem to have built a blockade very effectively, but what will happen when the blockades are taken down again? Surely, the virus will re-appear in the populations which haven’t had it, since it is now well and truly ‘out there’ in the world?

3. ‘Herd immunity’ is the key phrase.

We have been hearing a lot of criticism of the UK government, for not having put in place stronger lock-downs. But if you listen to key specialists such as the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, you start to see their method. The concept of ‘herd immunity‘ is critical. Basically, herd immunity says that the best protection is to have enough people in the community with immunity, because that slows down the spread. The only way to do that, without a vaccine, is to let people get the virus. However, that seems counter-intuitive, how can it work? The key seems to be controlled spread. The approaches for managing the virus are:

a) Let the disease rip by doing nothing or being in denial in which case the most vulnerable will also be exposed.

b) Build an impregnable wall, in which case you are just putting off the inevitable.

c) Try to control the spread of the virus, without trying to stop it, but do it in such a way that the most vulnerable population (the oldest, and those who have underlying medical conditions) are best protected. If you can ‘cocoon’ the vulnerable while herd immunity builds, then you will mitigate the overall impact. Also, if it is a slower build, you should have less cases at once and more treatment capacity.

What does that mean for my business/ organisation?

The government have indicated that they expect the virus to peak in May/ June. We believe that this means that we can expect the following:

i) Consumers will stay cautious until the late summer, with consequent revenue implications.

ii) Operational resources will be limited through people being off work by perhaps 20% through the peak. Many businesses won’t get going again fully until autumn.

iii) Stock markets are currently panicking, but we expect that confidence will return, once the peak is over.

iv) We must take great with vulnerable/ older employees, customers, or other stakeholders.