This article is written by Andy Wisheart who was a front line paramedic for 12 years before moving into the world of Crisis Management, Business Continuity and Emergency Management. He worked for 10 years in health emergency management and was involved in the health response to H1N1, as well as several measles outbreaks in the Auckland region. Andy was also involved in the health response to the Samoan Tsunami and the Christchurch earthquakes. Since then he has worked in a variety of public and private industries and settings, always with a view to increasing the resilience of companies and organisations throughout New Zealand.
It has now been over three months since this new virus first appeared in our news. Like many other novel viruses, the COVID-19 virus originated from animals. It mutates to be able to infect humans from the original source and then again to be able to be transmitted from human to human. Similar to SARS (2003), H1N1 (2009), and MERS (2012).
How a virus spreads
The virus is spread by aerosol droplets from the respiratory tract of the infected person. When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks they produce aerosol droplets containing the virus which are released into the surrounding environment. Uninfected people encounter these droplets, inhaling them directly, or by touching an infected surface and then touching their face causing potential transmission of the virus.
Symptoms of a virus
The symptoms of COVID-19 are,
- Raised Temperature of 37.5oC or greater
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing can be a sign of pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.
The incubation period for COVID-19 is currently deemed to be 2-14 days. This means that a newly infected person will start to display symptoms somewhere between 2-14 days. They may be able to transmit the virus before symptoms occur.
How New Zealand is responding
New Zealand has currently banned all flights from China, although this may change as the disease progresses. This ban is an attempt to delay the disease entering NZ, allowing the country to prepare. As of today (February 27th 2020) we still do not have any confirmed cases.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) has tested plans for if COVID-19 does arrive in NZ. These plans can be found HERE. Diseases like this are the responsibility of New Zealand’s Public Health Units. They are based locally, or regionally and are the departments assigned to deal with infectious disease, amongst other things. A contact list for all New Zealand’s Public Health Units can be found HERE.
The NZ plan for pandemic broadly follows the WHOs recommendations. It has six phases which cover everything from planning in between the occurrence of pandemics, to the response if an outbreak occurs within NZ and returning to normal after an outbreak.
For instance, at the time of writing NZ is in the second phase of pandemic response, ‘Keep it out’. This is when the health system is trying to keep the disease from entering NZ by monitoring travellers entering NZ at our borders. Anyone deemed to be at risk of carrying the disease can be place in mandatory isolation for 14 days to ensure that they do not infect others, should they have the disease.
How your organisation should respond
The MoH has a number of resources on its webpages to assist organisations to respond, which can be found HERE.
But broadly, institutions in NZ should follow some of the MoH response plan phases.
- Keep it Out
- Stamp It Out.
- Mange It
- Recover From It.
Keep it out…
…covers best attempts to keep the disease out of your organisation. Sometimes this will be impossible but by delaying its arrival you can put plans in place to deal with any affect it may have on your organisation. Remember, impacts may also be a third party not being able to supply you with goods or services due to the disease.
Activities might include, but are not limited to,
- Increased hygiene practices
- Social distancing
- Buying equipment for your office such as sanitiser and tissues
- Writing a plan
Stamp It Out and Manage It…
…is effectively the same for organisations in NZ. This is the activity undertaken when your organisation is directly affected by one or more members of staff being infected by the disease.
Activities might include, but are not limited to,
- All of the above
- Regular comms with staff
- Contact tracing within organisation
- Working from home
Staff working from home can be a very effective action. It is worth practicing one day of all staff working from home. If you do need to actually do this, you’ve already practiced the action. There may be a certain amount of organisation required for this to happen if you have not already arranged systems for people to access IT data and applications remotely. This can also be useful if staff need to care for loved ones who are sick.
Recover from it…
…is the phase where the disease is abating in NZ due to vaccine or the natural progression of the disease. For your organisation this may mean staff coming back to work, standing down measures like travel bans and returning to business as usual practices. Members of staff who have not been infected and have been working through the outbreak may require some leave as they have been carrying larger workloads than normal.
Given that at the time of writing the WHOs language is pointing more to COVID-19being declared a pandemic, organisations need to use this early stage to start their planning. Does your organisation have a pandemic plan in place? Do you understand what comprises a pandemic plan and how to write one?
At RiskLogic we have members of staff who have worked within the health system and the WHO and understand the reality of pandemic planning and can assist you should you need it, so get in touch if you think we can help you.