An Irish specialist emergency physician who played a key role in handling the Ebola outbreak with the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that Ireland should adapt a traffic light system of risk to avoid a further lockdown.
Dr Ian Norton, who is from Co Cork but based in Australia, has said that the virus will be with us for another 18-24 months, with more waves to come. "Nobody is predicting a first wave and flat line, nobody," he told the Sunday Independent.
But he said companies can take a number of steps to protect their business, staff and customers by understanding the 'science' of the disease.
He also said that companies must make sure they do not incur reputational damage by becoming a Covid-19 hotspot.
Norton is advising companies in Australia, but also businesses in Kinsale, which is close to where he was born, on how to best deal with the coronavirus. The Cork town is using his methodology in an effort to be known as one of the safest tourist areas in the country.
"The lockdown approach is very black and white," said Norton, who set up social enterprise Response Global in January. "And that of course is not how normal business mitigation works. On a work health and safety approach, there are usually incremental controls that are put in place. That's the approach that we are helping businesses go through here in Australia and it absolutely resonates in Ireland as well."
He said that a traffic light system would allow businesses to continue to operate, albeit with restrictions.
"Instead of going black and white, let's go for a staged approach or a traffic light approach. When you have low community transmission like in Ireland, you don't go back to zero restrictions, there are still controls in place but they are not as stringent," said Norton. "But then if your town becomes a hotspot or there is a true large outbreak in your area, then these extra controls are added but you continue to run your business. Risk mitigation could be to send people to work from home... also we are looking at mask wearing, hand washing and all those things."
He also said that some of the advice handed down by official bodies was difficult to navigate and hard to apply to specific sectors.
"The business community were being hit by a tsunami of information, but they didn't know how to process it and make it clear how to implement it at a business level," said Norton. "I was really struck by the fact that public health people, like my old world, don't really translate information to make it digestible by business. And we spent the last three or four months now working with businesses on helping to explain and debunking myths about Covid."
He said that meant taking practical steps to reduce risk.
"If you're a business like a restaurant, even a business in offices, from a continuity point of view you need to understand what the health department will do when it comes to investigate a positive case in your business - I used to be one of those people so I can talk to businesses about what it's like when they come."
He said sometimes health authorities take a checklist approach. "Once we know that and we know what they are looking for we can make sure that your business is safe on a business continuity side of things. So if you're going to lose the entire cohort of staff because they've all mixed in the same area then let's look at having a team A and a team B, separated approach."
He said this would reduce the risk of all employees being sent home but ensuring one team would not infect the other.
Norton also said that companies could suffer if an outbreak was associated with their business. "We talk about reputational risk as well. If you become known as a place where other clients got infected, that really is not acceptable in the business world.
"It's acceptable to have a case - it's in the community, so you may have a case - but it's not acceptable to become a hotspot."
He said that Kinsale was "pushing the envelope on what can be achieved", and praised businesses and tourism bodies for joining forces.
"They looked at outdoor activities and closed off sections of the streets to make them pedestrianised and make them attractive to families," he said. "Doing stuff outdoors is much, much safer than indoors."
He said a balance must be struck between health needs and economic needs.
"I think we can be on the front foot in business now. If you go to amber quickly, you can avoid going to red or black, which is complete lockdown," he said.
Sunday Indo Business