23rd January 2020, Dr Rebecca Hoile
The 2019 novel Coronavirus (or 2019-nCOV) – first detected in Wuhan, China in December, has quickly spread globally with reports of suspected cases of coronavirus in Australia, US and the Philippines. The same province in China saw the origins of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and is a region considered globally as high risk, regarding emerging infectious diseases (EID).
Many factors contribute to the emergence of novel viruses; overcrowding, loss of animal habitats, close human / animal cohabitation and climate change, with rapidly mutating viruses more common among emerging pathogens. As climate change and its impacts are amongst the top 3 global risks to businesses, an outbreak may be a trigger for business continuity.
Source of the Coronavirus
Health authorities are still working out the source of this new virus. A likely zoonotic disease, it was first thought to originate from a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China. Human-to-human transmission has since been confirmed. Although the virulence of this virus is not considered severe, its spread geographically, has been fuelled by the increase in travel due to the Luna New Year celebrations.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a number of statements over recent days, reinforcing the need for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in affected and other countries. WHO has issued guidance on how to detect and treat persons ill with coronavirus.
It is great to see that the regional laboratories were able to generate an in-house PCR test (genetic test) so quickly. By doing so, they have allowed other countries like Australia to follow suit, with a recent suspected case in Brisbane, the first to be tested.
Incorporating an outbreak response into your business continuity planning
The WHO Director will continue to monitor the event through the activation of its incident management system at country, regional and headquarters levels. At this point in time, the IHR Emergency Committee has not declared the event a public health emergency but will reassess regularly.
The Australian Government Department of Health has released an information page and will activate biosecurity measures at the borders.
The emergence of 2019 novel coronavirus is a timely reminder of the unpredictable nature of infectious disease outbreaks and the ease at which they can spread in a world that is hyper-connected, both at the human and animal level. The impacts of an outbreak and potential human pandemic can include loss of staff, reduction in processes, loss of revenue and human and animal travel restrictions. The key to tackling such a threat is rapid identification, good hygiene practices and infection control, at our borders, hospitals, workplaces and homes.
Further to that, is the need to improve business continuity plans to include identified strategies for dealing with these potential impacts. Raising awareness of outbreak prevention and business resumption strategies, will strengthen your ability to remain flexible and adapt to such a threat.