Advice comes admid fears that the outbreak will soon be declared a pandemic

As the threat of Covid-19 (also commonly known as coronavirus) edges closer to pandemic status with a large outbreak seen in mainland Europe, global broker and risk manager Marsh has updated its advice for UK businesses.

It warned that many businesses are not prepared for “potential prolongued impacts on staff welfare, operations, supply chains, and the broader economy arising from a globally-spreading infectious disease”. 

The broker advises firms to review their resilience and crisis response strategies now so they are prepared for any impact the virus might have.

According to Marsh, in the event of a major outbreak, companies should:

Put staff first. Staff may fall ill, become anxious about the risks, or fail to show up to work due to safety concerns, caring for sick family members, and travel restrictions. Supporting your staff throughout a pandemic event and planning for any absences, particularly in critical roles, will be important.

Take advice. Official travel advice may change as a pandemic spreads, meaning travel policies may need to be adjusted quickly. In addition to your own staff travelling, you should consider the potential risks related to any visitors arriving from infected areas.

Prepare for disruption. Operational disruptions could lead to significant backlogs and increased costs of working. For some businesses, the event will cause a drop in customer demand, while others will need to be prepared to handle an increase.

Manage supply chain vulnerabilities. Supply chains may be disrupted with delays and be presented with cost increases for inputs or services, either through suppliers directly experiencing operational problems, as a result of travel restrictions, or scarcity of in-demand goods.

Ensure that responses are timely and thoughtful. An organisation’s behaviors during a crisis can significantly damage the trust of staff, customers, and other stakeholders. A poor response can have lasting negative consequences. Our research shows that a poorly-handled crisis results in an average and sustained drop in share performance of 12%.

The advice came as authorities in Italy were struggling to contain an outbreak of the virus in several northern towns, with six deaths recorded there. 

Iran and South Korea have also seen spikes in cases, with multiple deaths reported in both countries.

The fears over the spread of the virus hit stock markets today, with the major indices seeing significant falls.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson said: ”We are well prepared for UK cases, we are using tried and tested procedures to prevent further spread and the NHS is extremely well prepared and used to managing infections.

”We continue to work closely with the World Health Organization and international partners as the situation develops and we remain prepared for all eventualities.”

Earlier this month Insurance Times reported that insurers are rushing to exclude the illness from epidemic cover. 

Firms that are planning music, sporting or trade events now will not be able to buy protection for coronavirus related cancellations, although those who have the cover in place already should be covered.