New Coronavirus Outbreak: Marsh Recommends Immediate Steps for Multinationals

January 24, 2020

The effects on multinational businesses from a potentially worsening Wuhan coronavirus outbreak could be severe, which is why they need to review, test and potentially update plans related to business continuity, crisis management and crisis communications, according to Marsh in a recent blog.

Putting the outbreak into context, the blog said the coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected several hundred people and caused multiple deaths. While most reported cases have been in China, others have been reported in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and the U.S.

Renata Elias

While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not declared a global public health emergency, it considers the outbreak “a high risk, regionally and globally,” said the blog, which was authored by Renata Elias, consultant, Marsh Risk Consulting Strategic Risk Practice.

As a result of this looming risk, multinational organizations should take action now to protect their people and operations, said the blog titled “New Coronavirus Outbreak: Immediate Steps for Multinationals.”

While examining existing plans, companies should consider the potential effects a worsening outbreak could have on their employees, revenue, suppliers and reputations, said the blog, suggesting that particular attention be paid to the following four areas:

  • Travel policies. If travel to Wuhan is necessary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding contact with sick people; avoiding animals, animal markets, and meat and other animal products; and frequently washing hands. Returning travelers exhibiting symptoms should immediately seek care and avoid contact with others.
  • Employee wellbeing. Monitor updates from public health officials and governments and keep employees informed and educated about the outbreak and any steps being taken to safeguard their health. Encourage employees to remain home when sick and telecommute if the outbreak worsens.
  • Supply chains. Identify operational and revenue impacts from potential disruptions to key suppliers and vendors. Also consider the feasibility of sourcing goods, ingredients, and component parts from alternative suppliers.
  • Insurance coverage. Review applicable insurance policies, prepare for potential claims, and consult your broker if you have questions.

“The impacts from a potentially worsening Wuhan coronavirus outbreak to your business could be severe, but taking these steps now can help you better prepare, plan, and protect people and operations,” added the blog.

“Organizations with significant employee populations in China are at particular risk, while travel restrictions, supply chain disruptions, and employee absenteeism within vendors, suppliers, and other partners in-country could reduce productivity and efficiency for businesses headquartered elsewhere,” the blog warned.

In addition, fears about the virus could depress travel and tourism and adversely affect the global economy, it went on to say.

Travel Restrictions

Coronaviruses can cause a variety of illnesses, from the common cold to highly severe diseases, such as Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), explained the blog. Common symptoms in the current outbreak include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, said the blog, quoting the World Health Organization (WHO). Mild cases have resembled the flu.

“Wuhan’s prominence as a tourist destination, a port city and transportation hub, and a regional center for education and manufacturing has raised concerns that the outbreak could continue to spread, especially during the Lunar New Year holiday period,” said the blog, noting that Chinese authorities have restricted travel in Wuhan and elsewhere in the country.

Airports in several major cities in the U.S. and elsewhere have begun entry screening of travelers from Wuhan, while the CDC recommends avoiding nonessential travel to the region.

Photograph: A man wears a protective mask as he arrives to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on Jan. 21, 2020. Photo taken by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images.

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