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Global Businesses Need To Plan For Living With Covid Long Term

CEO’s must plan for new “Covid-Operational” corporate protocols

Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

There is no doubt that Covid-19 has changed the way the entire world behaves, and now it seems it is never going to go away. Three Singaporean Government Ministers, as pragmatic and dynamic as any, have stated the Government is making plans for a ‘new normal’, in effect recognizing the virus as endemic – one that is never going to be eradicated.

The move has come about from Singapore’s Coronavirus Task Force, a body lead by three Singaporean Ministers, who have stated in an op/ed in the Singapore Straits Times that the population had ‘grown tired’ and increasingly became “battle weary” after 18 months of weathering the pandemic. Instead, the focus has shifted to living with the virus rather than attempting to eradicate it. That means “multi-year” vaccine booster shots such as those given for the flu, a shift away from monitoring daily cases and a return of mass gatherings for the public. The onus will be on obtaining vaccinations as a preventative rather than attempts at isolation.

A road map is being drawn up to shift to this new normal, and it will be done in tandem with achieving certain vaccination milestones, said the co-chairmen, Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong and Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung. The Ministers quoted the public mood and questioning, saying “Everyone is asking: When and how will the pandemic end?” The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst.”

Singapore has been taking steps to prepare for Covid-19 becoming endemic, and has ramped up its vaccination drive, amid the battle to bring down the spike in cases. Vaccination already appears to be effective in reducing the rates of infection and transmission. Most fully vaccinated people show mild or no symptoms even if they contract the disease.

By early next month, two-thirds of the population in Singapore will have received at least one jab of the two-jab vaccines, said the ministers.

By next year, Covid-19 patients will be allowed to recover at home, with less concern about the healthcare system being stressed. Their close contacts can buy test kits from pharmacies to test themselves.

Testing will no longer be a tool for ring-fencing and quarantining people but will be used more for screening those who want to enter office buildings, shopping malls and schools, museums, gyms, nightclubs, and other public places. Safe management rules can be eased, and large gatherings will once again be allowed.

In our opinion at Dezan Shira & Associates, these measures, and ones like them will be adopted worldwide. This will have an impact on business and require contingency plans to be put in place. The new Delta variant of Covid for example has been shown to be highly contagious and transmissible with minimal contact. That raises the possibility of entire offices being closed should outbreaks occur – and it does happen. All Dezan Shira’s four India offices had to close simultaneously earlier this year with about 50 staff infected. Some had milder cases and could continue to function, at least part-time, at home. Others, including younger staff members, had to be hospitalized. While we had been prepared, that scenario did stretch our operational capabilities for about a month. Certain work (we provide outsourcing services in addition to legal, tax advisory and other administrative functions) had to undertaken by other offices, such as Singapore and Indonesia. Certain security issues arose with access over passwords and active recipients having to be changed. These new operational protocols need to be thought through with a combination of your HR, IT and specific operational divisions and offices all involved to plan for managerial and business continuity should the worst happen.

There will in time be new public protocols put in place for travel, inevitably these will vary from country to country meaning additional thought and attention needs to be catered for international travel. It probably will not be possible to ‘hop onto a flight’ at short notice anytime soon. Mass transit travel may slow down should passengers need to be screened, meaning longer commuter times. Businesses will need to be far more tolerant of employees working from home and will need to provide the infrastructure to do so. New innovations will come into play; air filters dense enough to filter out viruses, while ‘smart’ buildings with high digital connectivity capabilities will become more valuable than those that do not. Some employees working from home may charge the employer for the provision of home office rent.

Clearly, the business operational environment is changing for the longer term. Getting your business “Covid Operational” should be at the top of every CEO’s agenda.

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