COVID-19 continues to spread around the world. Designated a global emergency by the World Health Organization, the outbreak has had far-reaching effects on people, travel, supply chains, and economies globally.
For organizations, especially multinational businesses, the outbreak can have extensive effects, some of which have already been felt. Hotels have been forced to close, airlines have cancelled thousands of flights, and supply chains have been hit hard, while financial markets have been volatile. During a special Marsh webcast on February 26 — now available for replay — panelists looked at how businesses can respond to and recover from the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and prepare for future outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to health crises like this,” stressed Daniel Kaniewski, managing director within Marsh & McLennan’s Public Sector Innovation group, and a former Bush and Trump administration official. He outlined the efforts governments are taking in the face of the outbreak and potential future actions, especially if the situation worsens, including the involvement of more government agencies. He warned businesses, however, not to count on government assistance; instead, risk professionals and others should consider impacts to people and operations and seek to proactively manage them on their own.
Businesses Need to Act Now
Dr. Lorna Friedman, Global Health Leader within Mercer’s Multinational Client Group, provided an overview of the virus, and outlined some actions that businesses should be taking now. These include:
- Focusing on good communication to counter fear and stigma and relying on established and credible sources of information, such as the WHO and CDC.
- Reinforcing good infection control basics, including proper hand washing.
- Encouraging employees to stay home if they’re feeling ill.
- Allowing flexible work from home arrangements where possible.
- Broadcasting telemedicine options to employees.
Businesses should think beyond their employees, but also focus on visitors and guests, said James Crask, Global Resilience Advisory Lead within Marsh Risk Consulting. Businesses should give special attention to supply chains, including checking in with critical suppliers and looking deeper into the potential effects on their suppliers’ own supply chains, while also ensuring they properly understand contractual liabilities. This is also the time to review business continuity plans.
Although traditional property and casualty policies are likely to provide relatively limited coverage for outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics, some forms of coverage — including workers’ compensation, property, and business interruption policies — could respond if specific conditions are met, said Chris Lang, Marsh’s Global Placement Leader for the US and Canada. Marsh is also working to develop new products that can respond to future events. Paul McVey, Marsh’s property claims leader for the US, outlined the potential coverage triggers and emphasized the need for businesses to measure the financial impact of COVID-19, even in cases where they do not have insurance coverage.
The webcast also looked at the way infectious diseases, like COVID-19, can be modeled. Jaclyn Guerrero, senior epidemiologist at Metabiota, an analytics firm that specializes in modeling epidemics and public health crises, noted that a deeper understanding of the potential effects and costs of an outbreak can help senior leaders better understand the crisis.
The session concluded with Marsh specialists answering audience questions. If you were unable to attend the live session, a replay is now available.