OPINION: The World that seeks to ‘un-pause’; How business sectors would open up after COVID-19

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The tsunami-like impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has a way of drowning out foresight. Right now, though it feels impossible to predict what the world will look like next week, let alone next year, a broad sweep of governments across the world are slowly setting pace to restructure the long-lost economic downtime which shook almost all countries from the most developed to the poorest.

WHO reports indicate a figure of 3,588,7732 cases of Covid-19 as at 6th of May 2020 with 247 503 deaths worldwide (Source: WHO Situation Report-107).  USA unfortunately hold almost one thirds of the Covid-19 cases who succumbed to death over the period of time.  The following mapped image and histogram based on multiple sources of data (at the time of their publication) reflect the evolution of the pandemic and its stance as at now.

Figure 1: number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in the last seven days by country, territory of area, 30th April to 6th May 2020
Figure 2: Geographic Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as at 4th May 2020
Figure 3: Geographic Distribution of cumulative number of reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, worldwide as of 4th May 2020

Perceptively, one third of the global population is on coronavirus lockdown. India, France, Italy, and the UK have implemented the world’s largest and most restrictive mass quarantines. A handful of countries, including Spain and Germany, have started relaxing lockdown measures. The results have been mixed.

The term ‘lockdown’ may refer to any broad range quarantine types from mandatory to non-mandatory recommendations to stay at home, closures of certain types of businesses, or bans on gatherings.

Apart from extreme health risks, the world-defying Covid-19 pandemic has stress-tested every enterprise in many ways. The business outlook across the nations remain stagnant and intensely fragile.  Discussions on business revamp, restructuring of job responsibilities and downsizing the non-essential work cadres have been heated up during the past few weeks amongst economists and corporate heads.

Many countries believe that they are within days of flattening the curve with efforts to control the spread of the virus being effective. In order to look ahead, they must now look within their industries and make some courageous decisions as survival is key.

The optimistic business ‘come-back’ to the new normal has to be phased out and segregated. Governments must consider factors for when a business can reopen, including how essential it is and its risk level in spreading the virus.

The first part of the plan is to do no harm; the healthcare system must essentially continue to be strengthened and ramp up testing and contact tracing to identify those who are sick and isolate them so they don’t transmit the virus to others. The not-so-crucial- consultations with physicians and non-critical surgery should be put on hold in medical facilities.

With its modern trade rebounding to its usual retail pace, groceries, wine stores, pharmacies and other retail outlets may open their doors again with strict social distancing measures in place.

For banks and financial institutions, utility service providers, telecommunication providers, media stations, channels and mass publications, gas stations, taxi services as well as for certain vital establishments who have endured their operations, this phase will provide a catalyst to get more employees into offices. As an initial step, companies could delegate work within the premises for a small number of essential employees, such as C-suite executives and operational staff. Following a period of observation, a larger group of employees can be allowed to return to their work stations.

Following another period of observation, the remaining complement of employees can be directed to return to work on a rotational, or hoteling, schedule. This will reduce workspace crowding, conditions that favor person-to-person transmission. Employees in this last group would continue working remotely when not physically in the office.

Manufacturing processes and agriculture are vital forces of the economic drive of any country; food produce, diary farming to agriculture processes and many supply chain functions which would have been on a partially functional mode can be uplifted to almost full capacity to fill in the voids of consumer demand.

The second phase of business rebound would allow restaurants, small to large range markets, postal services, hairdressers, pet groomers and dine-in areas at supermarkets allowed to reopen. On the other hand, national parks, play grounds, libraries, art galleries and museums can commence their operations depending on a thorough analysis of the risk of high footfall and local infection rates. On an industrial scale, garment manufacturing to other production and processing plants along with construction facilities can accelerate their staff turnout with preventive measures within this phase.

Given another week or 10 working days as the so called ‘incubation ‘period according to experts, other corporates; import and export, insurance, real estate, mining, wholesale, apparel retail along with travel and transport agents can make a gradual comeback with certain provisions still on hold.

Many arguments exist that schools, pre-schools, day care centres, universities and public places of worship should remain closed until the vast majority of the local geographies are clear of the virus.  This is in discretion of the local government.

Going forward, business continuity planning may look different. To support employees working remotely, some companies have redoubled investment in technologies beyond videoconference, despite the downturn of business revenues. As such, the ‘return to business’ phase might witness many unjustified surprises such as retrenchment of staff, pay cuts and freezing of allowances.

However, one should be mindful of the fact that not every business will pass the test. Those that are more flexible, more supportive and more transparent will bounce back faster with less staff turnover and higher employee morale.

DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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