How should businesses respond to the corona-virus outbreak?

How should businesses respond to the corona-virus outbreak?

There is little else people are talking about right now besides the corona-virus.

With good reason. At the time of writing, roughly 1.5 million people have been infected globally and nearly 90,000 have lost their lives.

In Australia, we’ve reached 6,000 recorded cases, and 50 deaths.

Most sufferers exhibit only mild symptoms. For a small minority, however, the illness can be serious, leading to pneumonia and other complications.

The problem is that unless the rate of transmission is reduced, the number of cases will put severe pressure on our health system. The Italian experience provides some insight into how this may play out. There, doctors have frequently been forced to decide which patients to save through intensive care intervention, leaving others to die.

Slowing the spread of the virus requires an unprecedented public health intervention. Measures vary from state to state. Typically, they involve bans on gatherings of more than a few people and a requirement not to leave the house without reasonable excuse. In Western Australia, unlike other states, people are not being fined for leaving home, but have been encouraged to stay home wherever possible.

The full economic impact of the outbreak is yet to be realised. Needless to say, it has been severe. Many businesses have closed their doors. Others have had to radically modify their business models.

So how should individual businesses respond to the outbreak?

1.  Take measures to prevent the spread of corona-virus in your workplace  

While many businesses are now closed, some continue to trade. If you are one of those, the priority must be preventing transmission of corona-virus in your workplace.

The World Health Organisation has released guidelines for businesses, outlining simple ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

Workplaces should be kept clean and hygienic. This requires regularly wiping surfaces with disinfectant.

Promote hand washing among employees. Make sure hand sanitiser is available for this purpose.

Finally, get the message out that staff who experience symptoms – most commonly, sore throat, dry cough and fever – are to stay home and seek medical attention.

2.  Have staff work remotely, as far as possible

Many companies rely on a business model that involves people congregating. The current restrictions on even small gatherings will therefore prevent them from trading. For others, work can continue. However, more than likely, this will involve staff working remotely.

Adjusting to this scenario can be tricky. Among other things, it requires clear guidelines and access to the right technology.

3.  Investigate the availability of government assistance

The Federal government has announced two rounds of economic stimulus so far. The first was valued at $17.6 billion and the second a whopping $66 billion.

A substantial proportion of this will go towards supporting low income earners and the newly unemployed through the crisis.

Other measures are aimed squarely at helping businesses. These include:

  • Increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 and making it available to all businesses with a turnover of less than $500 million (up from $50 million);
  • An incentive to spur capital investment by allowing businesses with turnover of less than $500 million to deduct 50% of the cost of eligible assets upon installation; and
  • Cash flow assistance in the form of tax free payments of between $20,000 and $100,00 for businesses with turnover of less than $50 million who employ staff.

Further measures may well be announced as the crisis progresses.

If you’re eligible for government support, be sure to put in an early application.

4.  Don’t lose site of what’s most important

Many businesses will suffer substantial losses due to the corona-virus outbreak. Some won’t survive. This will be absolutely heartbreaking for business owners.

No matter how hard things get, don’t forget what’s most important - your health and that of those around you.

Stay safe and think about how you can help your community get through the tough times ahead.