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Coronavirus – Risk Management Considerations for a Rapidly Developing Health Situation

By: Joe Gleason


The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Hubei Province remains largely an issue in China. However, new cases are emerging around the world, and this pattern will likely continue for the foreseeable future. To say this is rapidly evolving situation is an understatement. If this blog post seems light about certain details, that’s deliberate – the number and location of cases, travel restrictions and other specifics are changing so quickly they’d be out of date by the time most are reading this post.

To help manage the potential risks associated with this outbreak, organizations with operations in or travel to/from China, as well as other countries reporting cases, should monitor the situation closely and adapt operations as needed. And, given the rate at which the situation is developing, any organization with global travel should monitor developments for potential impact.

As with any large-scale health emergency, there are a number of risk factors, starting with illness from the virus, but also including:

  • Further travel restrictions by authorities – in China or other impacted countries, in interchange points while traveling and at destinations. These restrictions could be imposed suddenly and leave personnel with limited (or no) options for travel/departure.
  • Reduction in flights to (or through) impacted locations.
  • Challenges seeking medical care due to limited capacity at facilities; this includes care for conditions other than coronavirus.
  • Mandatory quarantine or other testing measures that may be imposed on those who have traveled to (the ever increasing) impacted areas or those who may have been in contact with ill people.

Keeping up to date about quickly evolving situations like this one can be challenging, but it’s crucial for effective risk management. Top resources to monitor include:

  • Medical assistance providers, such as International SOS AIG Travel Guard, Healix International, and others are providing organizations with guidance about travel and risk mitigation that is frequently updated. For example, International SOS has developed a Coronavirus specific web-portal for their clients, and many others have guidance on their landing pages. These medical assistance companies should be a primary resource for organizations for information and to assist in developing plans – either through their various web portals or by calling the 24/7 assistance center.
  • Centers for Disease Control (US) has a web portal dedicated to information about the Coronavirus that is updated frequently with information about the situation and travel guidance.
  • Local authorities in China and elsewhere that may impose travel restrictions, mandatory screening or other measures at short notice. Some of these measures are likely to be imposed suddenly and with little or no advance notice.

Planning during these types of rapidly developing health situations can be challenging. An organization brainstorming about prudent response to the outbreak relayed a question from a nervous traveler: Will it be okay to travel to Thailand next week?  With a limited number of cases reported in the country at the time of the question, the best answer may be:  Yes… for now. But, it will be essential to closely monitor the situation and change plans as needed, even at the last minute.

Given the media attention about this topic, organizations will need to provide guidance to personnel and adapt operations quickly while not seeming unnecessarily alarmist. Monitoring this fast-moving situation with the help of medical assistance providers and other sources is essential to assess and manage the risk on an ongoing basis and prepare contingency plans.