Coronavirus and Business: how are companies reacting to the virus?




Corporate emergency plans in Europe force employees to work remotely. In the United States, other businesses improve their protocols in anticipation of the arrival of the outbreak.

An oil company and a media group have told hundreds of employees in London to work from home. An important television station is preventing people who have visited certain countries from entering their offices in Europe. A German airline has asked its workers to take vacations without pay.

For weeks, the outbreak of coronavirus that emerged in China shook global supply chains, wreaking havoc on major companies around the world, although often indirectly.



Now, as it spreads through Europe and Asia, the virus is becoming a more immediate threat to companies of all kinds. From Milan to Berlin and London, companies from virtually every industry are refining their emergency protocols or sending their employees home to try to prevent an outbreak.


This week, Chevron ordered 300 workers in one of its London offices to work from home after an employee who returned from Italy had flu-like symptoms. The OMG media group made the same decision in the London district of Fitzrovia, and sent about a thousand employees home after a staff member who was recently in Singapore began to show symptoms

The British pay-TV company Sky has begun inspecting visitors in several of its European offices, and has told its employees that customers who have recently traveled to "higher risk" countries, such as China and Japan, have not They may enter their offices. Germany's flagship airline, Lufthansa, has frozen hiring and offered vacations without pay to its employees while preparing for the economic impact of the virus. And on Tuesday, the advertising agency Dentsu instructed all employees at its Tokyo headquarters to work from home.

For the most part, these interruptions in daily work activities have been limited to Europe and Asia. In China, most companies stopped in January, when the government worked to contain the outbreak, which has made tens of thousands of people sick and killed more than 3,000.


The Coronavirus Outbreak

Answers to your most common questions:

What is a coronavirus?
It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
How worried should I be?
New outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Middle East are renewing fears of a global pandemic . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that Americans should brace for the likelihood that the virus will spread to the United States .
How do I keep myself and others safe?
Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you're sick.
What if I'm traveling?
The CDC has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
How can I prepare for a possible outbreak?
Keep a 30-day supply of essential medicines. Get a flu shot. Have essential household items on hand. Have a support system in place for elderly family members.
Where has the virus spread?
The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries , including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
How contagious is the virus?
According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS , and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
Who is working to contain the virus?
World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak .


In Italy, the center of the outbreak in Europe, several companies - including insurance giant Generali and the fashion brand Armani - have adopted policies for their employees to work from home as far as possible.

Stefano Conforti, a digital marketing strategist who generally works from a busy office space in Milan, has worked from home all week, dressed in jeans and a sweater. He has even considered spending part of the working day in his local library.


"Without a doubt, working from home is comfortable but, personally, I like going to the office and living with colleagues and living that kind of environment," said Conforti. “For my position I don't have to be there physically. I think of people who work as waiters, for example, and this type of emergency of course causes them problems. ”

Soon, companies in the United States may have to start sending their workers home or taking other precautionary measures. On Tuesday, a senior health official at the federal level, Nancy Messonnier, asked cities and towns in the country to devise “measures of social distancing,” such as dividing classes into smaller groups of students or even closing schools. He also said that companies must make arrangements for employees to work from home.

For some companies, such as marketing or new technology companies that already have generous home-based policies, these adjustments should be relatively simple. But a Slack channel for the company is not much help in the hotel industry, where labor shortages have long since left many business owners struggling to find workers.



"Anything that reduces the workforce would pose more challenges for local restaurants, some of which no longer have enough staff," said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. "We hope that this situation is not reached."


This is not the first time that companies in the United States are forced to consider emergency options or design work policies from home. The closest historical benchmark for the spread of the coronavirus is the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, a crisis that led many companies to design emergency response plans.

"Companies are likely to have these plans stored somewhere, and they are probably not that different from what they were 20 years ago," said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management and human resources expert at the Wharton School of Business in the University of Pennsylvania. "Just trying to understand what the jobs are in which people really have to be in the office for everything to continue working is quite useful."

For some employees, working from home will be a relief, an escape from long journeys to work and noisy office colleagues. For others, it could pose problems, such as having to entertain young children or not being able to collaborate on certain projects from afar.

“There are people who want to leave their home, particularly those who have organized their lives considering the care of children,” said Cappelli. "This will seem awkward to some people."

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