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Just a few short weeks ago, coronavirus was a problem for someone else, other people – most of them in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Now it’s a fact of life for all of us, the world over. In Britain, the government has warned that up to a fifth of the national workforce could be absent from work during the peak of an epidemic. Already, the UK medical-advice service 111 has seen challenging spikes in calls. Since national resources only stretch so far, containing the virus will be down to all of us and the sensible precautions we take – from washing hands to self-isolating.

We’ve got our work cut out. Covid-19 has been found in more than 80 countries. Globally, there have been more than 93,000 cases, including more than 3,000 deaths. More than 48,000 people have recovered. But the speed of transmission, the potential for a fatal outcome (particularly in the elderly), the absence of a vaccine and the prevalence of unanswered questions have exposed uncomfortable truths. Many countries are unprepared for an outbreak on this scale. Some political leaders have been slow to accept both the speed of transmission and the threat it poses.

To ignore it is folly. The best advice is preparation and prevention, which means that companies, organisations and individuals must be prepared to change the way they do things. In the wake of the virus, we at Working Voices have been helping clients quickly shore up resilience in systems and practices, not least in Asia where our Hong Kong hub has been busy helping companies ride the storm.

With many staff at home in self-isolation, businesses in parts of Asia have had to swiftly adapt the way they do things or adopt new procedures altogether. Learning from this, it’s clear that companies – in Asia and beyond – are best advised to implement a strategy that would enable staff to work remotely. In assisting clients, we’ve been advising on technical resources such as creating a virtual meeting space for global employees. We also encourage human solutions, for example actively listening to individual issues – as in a time of change everyone will have different needs. In training people to work remotely, we provide the skills and online resources they need to stay in touch with their team. Ultimately the intention is to address leaders’ concerns about productivity and provide a solid sense of reassurance and trust.

For many, these measures have helped contain the impact of the virus. Sometimes they require a cultural shift, particularly when working from home raises doubts for businesses with a more centralised culture.  But that’s the point. Given the realities of coronavirus, a cultural shift is already in play. Of course, home-working is not available to everyone. However for those companies where it is possible, though traditionally avoided, things might be about to change. In Iran for example, (2,300 cases, 77 deaths), internet traffic is up 40% as more people work from home.

Changing procedures isn’t easy. Even something as fundamental as shaking hands cannot be ignored. Touching hands, laden with bacteria (3,200 on average from 150 different species, in case you were wondering), raises questions we’ve not encountered before. Last week, shaking someone’s hand was a symbol of confidence – this week you might wonder whose hand they shook last. When Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director for Public Health England, arrived at the BBC, Today presenter Mishal Husain asked if it was OK to shake hands. Professor Cosford was happy to, but warned: “We do need to get to a point where we reduce social contact if we see more widespread infection. At the moment, we’re in the position [that] we need to continue life as normal, but we need to be prepared for the actions that we may need to take.”

It’s the same elsewhere. Italy’s special commissioner for coronavirus, Angelo Borrelli suggested that Italians’ demonstrative nature could be contributing to the virus’s spread. He urged citizens to be “a bit less expansive”, echoing similar advice issued in France where the country’s health minister, Olivier Véran suggested people should cut back on hugs and kisses.

The message is clear. For some, a cultural shift in working attitudes might seem daunting but it may soon become a necessity. Businesses are accustomed to planning ahead in periods of uncertainty, the run-up to Brexit for example. There are various ways of approaching the risk but, like Brexit, hoping coronavirus will go away altogether is likely to be counter-productive. If the government advice continues as it has begun – asking each of us to act responsibly – business will need to play its part. Home-working might be one part of the solution, another might be seeking consultancy advice. Either way, as a nation we’re in uncharted waters and until a vaccine is developed working together must be our best course of action.

NHS Advice:    

The symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature
  • shortness of breath

But these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.

Because it’s a new illness, we do not know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person. Similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. It’s very unlikely it can be spread through things like packages or food. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin immediately
  • wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell

More advice at:

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