Coronavirus and Resilience
This blog considers the legal, regulatory, logistical and personal protection measures you can take during the current outbreak to protect you and your business.
A. Legal Considerations
1. Business Continuity
Now is the time to dust off your business continuity plan and bring it into action. Who is in key positions in the plan and has every position got a backup person? How do you communicate in such a scenario and what extra resources do you need? Do you need to make changes to your business “battle rhythm”? What are the indicators which you need to look for so that you can start going back to normal or find new ways to boost your business?
2. Regulatory Requirements
Do any regulatory requirements apply to your business? For example, on 4 March, FCA made the announcement “We expect all firms to have contingency plans in place to deal with major events. Alongside the Bank we are actively reviewing the contingency plans of a wide range of firms. This includes assessments of operational risks, the ability of firms to continue to operate effectively and the steps firms are taking to serve and support their customers.” What is the impact on your capital adequacy requirements and cashflow?
3. Contract considerations
The impact of the Coronavirus may affect your contractual performance, whether you can perform on time or at all. Stay in touch with your supply chain (both upstream and downstream) and agree what you will do in the light of events. Consider whether any contracts you have entered into have a force majeure clause, and how that clause will operate. Are others you have contracted with using the virus as an excuse? If you do not have a force majeure clause, does the legal concept of frustration of contract apply? Each contract will need to be examined in the light of the particular circumstances.
You clearly need to look after your staff, but what policies do you have on sickness, how do you apply them, what about those medically or first aid trained, what measures do you need to put in place in the workplace and for travel to and from home or between workplaces? There are legal requirements not to discriminate on grounds of sex, age, ethnicity, etc., but when the coronavirus seems to have a particularly bad effect on those aged over 40, and on men more than women, do you need to put in place different measures for different groups of staff who are at different levels of risk? What is the position on sick pay? Can you claim any of it from Government sources? What of staff who need to take time off to care for their family members? What is the impact on your disciplinary procedures, if any? What about staff who are required to self isolate but show no symptoms?
5. Government and Regulatory Requirements and Advice
What changing governmental and regulatory requirements apply to your business, and how do you keep abreast of them? Do any of them have such an adverse effect that you may need to seek a derogation? Are any pronouncements open to challenge, or give rise to rights of compensation?
6. Directors’ Duties
Directors have certain duties at common law including the duty to act in good faith in what the director considers to be the best interests of the company. There is also a duty to act honestly and responsibly in how the company conducts its affairs. Directors also have certain statutory duties under health and safety and environmental law. How should these be carried out in a coronavirus environment? How do you devote sufficient time to business continuity and at the same time deal with the unexpected arrival of coronavirus? Certain sectors such as food, travel and entertainment are likely to be particularly badly hit. Others, in certain parts of the health sector for example, may have a boom. There are likely to be some tough calls over the coming weeks. Ensure that you carry out and document your thought and decision making process clearly and fully.
What insurance do you have and what do you need? What are the conditions set out in the policy, particularly as regards notifying your insurer? What is covered and what is not covered? How much does cover extend to? What steps does your insurer require you to do in order for you to be paid under the policy? See what the policy has to say about business interruption, public liability and staff compensation. You may need to show a causal link between the virus and the losses you have incurred. Make sure that is well documented and keep an eye on the market. Remember that you have a general legal duty to mitigate your loss.
B. Logistical Considerations
Seeing as there is no scientific knowledge yet as to how the virus spreads, it is best to take certain precautions:
- Reassess your corporate culture, the balance between promotion to keep the business going, and prevention against the virus and business interruption
- Check out the logistical implications of your business plan
- Can your staff work remotely, if so how many, and how?
- For those who cannot work remotely, or who will need to visit the office from time to time, what safety precautions are needed?
- What is your succession plan if one or more of your team become infected and unable to work or have to self isolate?
- What essential travel is needed, and what safety precautions should you apply?
- How do you communicate with your staff? Do you need to set up new social media channels? What about backup communications? What about those you need to communicate with who are not on social media?
- What cybersecurity arrangements do you need to put in place? Check on encryption systems, use of VPNs, sending sensitive documentation electronically or by post or courier. Do you need extra hardware, software, or need to revisit IT policies?
- How do you counteract fake news, or coronavirus related fraud attempts?
- What business interruption insurance do you have or need?
- How is the financial health of the company, and how do you maintain it in the event of lockdown?
- Avoid large events with lots of people. Some large events are still proceeding. However, increasing numbers are being postponed to summer or even autumn
- Are there certain types of people you particularly need to stay away from, not only those who you know have contracted the virus, but also those who have a higher virus risk profile, such as those working in the medical profession? What steps should you take in your interaction with them?
- Avoid touching high touch areas and things such as handrails, doorplates, etc.
- If wearing a mask, use the right one (N95 or 96), know how to fit and remove masks properly and safely, and consider wearing gloves too
- Observe physical distancing and adopt new greetings like prayer hands, “jazz hands”, nodding or bowing
- Eat in rather than eat out
- Drink in rather than drink out
- Have food and supplies delivered rather than go shopping, if possible
- Ensure you have sufficient supplies of any medications you are on
- Ensure you have supplies of any foodstuffs, drinks, cleaning and protection materials you may need
- Obtain any medical kit you may need such as a thermometer (maybe a forehead thermometer to avoid touching the skin), medication to reduce temperature
- Consider holiday plans, whether postponement or rearrangement or cancellation
Monitor the news daily, not only in this country, but in other countries which have had a worse outbreak and see what measures are being introduced there. Those measures may soon be applied in your country. How would you cope with them? What measures would you need to take or refrain from taking?
C. Personal Health Measures
UK government and WHO advice is to wash your hands more often, avoid touching your face, sneeze into tissues or your elbow. However there is more we should be doing to improve chances of not catching it, and of surviving it if we do.
From talking to people in Italy in particular, it seems pretty much the best thing to do is to self isolate as much as possible, so stay away from places where there are lots of people, and work from home if you can. The good news, however, is that going for walks is a good idea, provided you don’t meet many people and you avoid touching high touch areas on gates and stiles. The same goes for petrol pump handles, pin number machines and screens. Wear gloves and either dispose of afterwards or disinfect immediately. Wear an N95/96 mask, at least it should give you some protection. Sun on your skin generates vitamin D, which ups your immunity and explains why there are fewer flu cases in the summer.
It is a good idea to work on building your immune system up just in case you do catch the virus. Essentially this means getting lots of vitamin C (the Chinese are using intravenous vitamin C to treat the virus). It also means a diet which contains foods to boost the immune system. Examples include:
- Blueberries, elderberry syrup
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
- Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, pilchards, etc.
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Oranges, kiwi fruit, grapefruit, lemons and limes
- Red bell peppers
You can also support your immune system with beta glucans (in oats, seaweed and shiitake mushrooms for example), immune system probiotics, zinc and B vitamins. Apart from this it is useful to get daily exercise, sun (vital for vitamin D), lots of sleep and try to avoid stress and do more stress busting activities. Most viruses thrive in a high glucose environment. If you go ketogenic and autophagic, that may help. Stay hydrated and cut out the sugar!
You might need to buy a supply of useful items if there is an element of shut down.
Remember that health consists of four fundamentally separate elements:
- Physical – it’s not just about trying to avoid contracting the virus, but about building your immune system to give you a better chance if you catch it
- Intellectual – stressful times like these cause unwelcome impacts on the brain and thinking, as well as reducing your immune system. Try to stay rational and think things through. Start a new hobby, develop a new skill
- Emotional – remember to support your family, friends and colleagues by staying in touch electronically, or even by post, and stay positive. Plan your day and celebrate the small things. Maintain morale
- Spiritual – meditation, prayer and personal guidance can be a great help, but do take care about attending services, personal space and contact, etc.
D. A Sense of Perspective
At the time of writing, Covid 19 has reportedly killed well over 160,000 people worldwide. It is likely to kill tens of thousands more. However, many more die each year from “normal” flu, malaria, accidents, etc. This is a time for rationality rather than panic. Keep a sense of perspective. China is already showing signs of recovery, so is South Korea. Other countries have good approaches we can learn from. Rather than stopping what you do, work out how to change what you do so you can carry on, safely. How will you need to change or pivot your business model? Can you do the equivalent of converting a distillery to produce sanitiser, for example? What new relationships can you enter into? Use your entrepreneurial spirit and think laterally. What could you do online? How do you up your IT skills (see e.g. http://ecdl.org/about-ecdl/ for ideas).
Plan for what you will do when the outbreak is over and how you will go about life to stay safe and well, avoiding any secondary outbreak. You could well emerge stronger and more resilient than before it started.