During the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Australian government is seeking to minimise the outbreak’s impact on the:
- health of Australians,
- health system, and
A key strategy in its approach is to reduce and slow disease transmission by isolating confirmed or potential cases.
Current protocols for managing the work place in the event of identifying a confirmed or potential case is to subsequently identify close contacts, who also are required to self-isolate, close contact being defined as:
- greater than 15 minutes face-to-face contact in any setting with a confirmed case in the period extending from 24 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed case, or
- sharing of a closed space with a confirmed case for a prolonged period (e.g. more than 2 hours) in the period extending from 24 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed case.
From a business continuity perspective, this posture will ask for different work arrangements to help minimise impact on both critical and business-as-usual business processes. These proposed processes may usefully further reduce close contact beyond confirmed cases and contacts in order to further reduce risk of infection and test systems for the remote work which may be required later in the spread.
The likely scenario at the height of the pandemic will be significantly increased work-from-home as people are self-isolated and still able to work. Testing IT capacity and capability to enable this is essential, including by trialling large numbers of staff working from home before the pandemic reaches its height.
Effective immediately, measures to prevent the spread of the disease are being put in place, including providing information on and encouraging and facilitating good hygiene and social distancing. Other sensible work practices will further help prevent the spread of disease and minimise impact on business operations, for example:
- using alternatives to face to face meetings where practicable;
- reducing the length and size of meetings, especially for critical staff, by requiring some or all staff to dial in;
- ensuring working from home arrangements are enabled as required;
- structuring management teams to ensure contingency in the event of a confirmed or suspect case;
- considering allowing vulnerable employees to work from home starting immediately;
- minimise non-essential domestic travel
- more generally, cancelling or postponing non-essential events where larger numbers of staff congregate in auditoriums or other venues for staff training, conferences and large scale meetings.
In most circumstances, existing IT capability will enable business continuity to be maintained in the place of normal congregation.
The National Cabinet has accepted the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice that non-essential indoor gatherings of greater than 100 people (including staff) will no longer be permitted from Wednesday 18 March 2020.
Agencies should carefully consider how to implement this requirement in their context. However, agencies should note that it does not apply to essential activities, including office buildings, where it is necessary for their normal operation. Social distancing and hygiene practices may be required in these settings (more information on social distancing and transmission is available here).
For any international travel issues, agencies should refer to the current DFAT advice.