Yesterday, the Prime Minister convened a COBR meeting to discuss, finalise and sign off the UK-wide plan to combat the coronavirus outbreak. A few hours ago that plan was published. techUK is committed to keeping our members updated with the latest information, so expect regular insights over the coming weeks and months as the Government’s plan responds and adapts to the outbreak both at home and abroad.
What we know so far?
On 30 January 2020, WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The vast majority of cases have been reported in mainland China but as reported by the BBC the virus is now spreading faster outside the country than inside.
Symptoms often include coughs, high temperature and in severe cases shortness of breath. Early data suggest that of those who develop an illness, the great majority will have a mild-to-moderate, but self-limiting illness – similar to seasonal flu. For a minority of individuals, particularly the elderly and those with underlying conditions, hospital care may be required to manage complications.
The UK Government has planned extensively for an event like this and has summarised their action as falling into four phases:
- Contain: detect early cases, follow up close contacts, and prevent the disease taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible
- Delay: slow the spread in this country, if it does take hold, lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from the winter season
- Research: better understand the virus and the actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population; innovate responses including diagnostics, drugs and vaccines; use the evidence to inform the development of the most effective models of care
- Mitigate: provide the best care possible for people who become ill, support hospitals to maintain essential services and ensure ongoing support for people ill in the community to minimise the overall impact of the disease on society, public services and on the economy.
Where is the UK now? And how should business respond?
Currently the UK is in the Contain and Research phase, but plans to Delay and Mitigate are already well underway. You can read guidance issued by Government to businesses and employers here.
Whilst guidance centres on standard hygiene measures general to preventing the spread of the common cold and flu (handwashing and catch it, kill it, bin it), today’s plan does note that in a “stretch scenario” one-fifth of employees may be absent from work in peak weeks. Consequently, it is sensible to already be thinking about contingency plans to allow for remote working and adapting plans to reduce the number of large-scale gatherings and meetings.
Advice also looks at how businesses and employers should respond to those who display symptoms and who have been in an infected areas. As outlined in the response published today, self-isolation and managing symptoms will in most cases be sufficient.
Government efforts are focused on slowing down the spread of the virus. As stated in the report,
“it may be that widespread exposure in the UK is inevitable; but slowing it down would still nonetheless be beneficial. For example, health services are less busy in the summer months when flu and other winter bugs are not driving GP consultations and hospital admissions.”
The Government will continue to monitor and research COVID-19, scaling and adapting the response as required. techUK will continue to keep up to date with latest.
In the meantime, if you would like to share how your businesses is being impacted with and responding to coronavirus send me an email. This will be treated in strict confidence but will help techUK better understand how Government can support business and minimise both risk and disruption.