How is the spread of Coronavirus Impacting Businesses in Qatar?
How is the spread of Coronavirus Impacting Businesses in Qatar?
As Coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread globally the reverberations are now being felt by global economies. Since the middle of last week global markets have seen a sharp fall - with US and European markets falling as the pandemic takes toll. The downturn is now also starting to affect businesses and the wider community within the GCC.
Major sporting events such as the Grand Prix have been cancelled due to travel restrictions; whilst schools and universities have been suspended across the country.
Facts V Fear
Qatar authorities have issued several statements to reassure residents and businesses amid the growing concerns over public health and the potential impact on commerce; confirming a series of precautionary measures to combat and prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), such as the suspension of all incoming flights, closing of cinemas, theatres and gyms. A QR 75 billion ($23bn) stimulus package was also announced to support and provide financial and economic incentives in the private sector.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that companies must take proportionate measures to protect their people and business operations in response to the outbreak. In the age of social media however, news can travel rapidly and without censure, making it extremely difficult for individuals and organisations to cut through the noise, maintain perspective and determine the appropriate actions to take.
The challenges that Qatar companies will face are numerous and varied. Most importantly though is an organisation’s duty of care and responsibly to staff and contractors.
It is also an environment in which expat workers frequently travel to and from their home countries on leave - potentially transiting through affected areas.
- How effective are your organisation’s Health and Safety procedures?
- Are the staff responsible for Health and Safety within your organisation well-informed with up-to the-minute information from reliable sources?
- Has guidance been issued to employees who have travelled to one of the higher risk countries or been in contact with someone who has and has subsequently displayed symptoms?
- Are there heath check screenings in place for returning workers?
- Do you have quarantine procedures and facilities in place to accommodate returning expat workers when it is deemed appropriate?
- Are there proportionate measures in place to protect any medical staff within your company?
- Do you use agency labour or manpower company? Are they adhering to the same precautions as you?
- Is your company’s HR department fully supported to deal with queries and concerns from employees?
It is also important to consider the legal obligations your organisation has towards its employees. For example:
- Are you within your rights to delay an employee’s annual leave if it involves travel to a high-risk destination?
One of the most challenging issues affecting business since the outbreak of the Cornonavirus has been travel. Travel restrictions imposed by individual countries have had a large impact on this aspect of commercial operations.
The travel and tourism sector itself, has seen a slowdown as a result, with global carriers now taking measures to address this in their own organisations. Qatar Airways have amended its flight schedule, working with governments to bring travellers home and introduce new policies to ensure the health and safety of staff and passengers. The airline has also transported 500,000 test kits to Doha and will donate these to local health services.
It was announced last week that eighty per cent of the employees in the private sector will have to work from home starting Thursday 2nd April as part of the government's efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). This could ensure protection for employees and with strong HR policies in place, the smooth continuation of business operations.
What we may find in the coming weeks or months is that perhaps Qatar will consider lifting restrictions on calls via platforms such as FaceTime and Skype to better facilitate communications between organisations and their employees working remotely.
- What guidance and advice have you issued to your staff regarding travel for business purposes?
- Have you implemented restrictions on routine overseas business travel for conferences or courses in this current period of uncertainty?
- For international trips critical to business operations what approvals do you have in place to authorise travel for your staff?
- What set up do you have for employees to effectively work from home?
Supply Chain Issues
Productivity in China is inevitably in decline due to quarantining of workers and blanket travel restrictions cutting off trading routes through major cities. Due to travel restrictions, factories producing goods still face the issue of transporting goods to and through ports without experiencing major delays.
With China as one of the main suppliers of goods, many businesses are finding that products are either unavailable or delayed. This decrease in supply and increase in demand is therefore forcing companies to source more expensive alternatives.
The impact is being felt not only in first tier supply goods but also component parts of products from third and fourth tier suppliers who also rely on products from China.
- Has your company estimated how long it can continue before having to resort to more expensive alternative sources for essential products?
- Are your subcontractors taking the same or similar precautions for you to avoid issues further down the supply chain?
- Should you consider putting in place more stringent approval processes for those products sourced from China that are essential to the smooth running of your business?
Although a challenging time globally for businesses there are proportionate measures which can and should be taken to protect staff and business operations without the need for panic. Reliable medical sources such as the World Heath Organisations are now providing daily updates on the spread of the disease.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) contact centre at the Ministry of Public Health is accessible around the clock for any reports or inquiries regarding the virus at the toll-free phone number (16000).
Venture Partner Qatar will keep clients and contacts updated with relevant Ministry guidelines and can assist to provide guidance on best practice and provide HR Services and PRO support for Partnered Companies and their staff members.