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The Financial Express

How are companies responding to the coronavirus crisis?

Katie Clift and Alexander Court | Published: June 29, 2020 21:48:23


How are companies responding to the coronavirus crisis?

With still more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 diagnosed daily (as of 24 June), Hong Kong SAR and its communities have been in need of support for several months.

Strategic Partner of the WEF and leading financial market operator, HKEX, has contributed to the development of Hong Kong's financial markets, offered insights into building business sustainability during the pandemic, and supported the region's communities and underprivileged populations throughout the pandemic.

HKEX organised an emergency relief donation of HK$10 million to local communities and NGOs where the company operates (Hong Kong and London). From providing sanitisation packages to NGOs (including surgical masks and hand sanitizers) to offering hot food for families and the elderly, and providing a special call service for health consultations and short-term emotional counselling, the company invested in the wellbeing of underprivileged families and vulnerable groups.

Earlier this month, the company also reflected on how Covid-19 has taught Hong Kong businesses crucial ESG lessons, and the importance of stakeholder capitalism - which the World Economic Forum has championed, most recently through its release of stakeholder principles in the Covid era. HKEX also believes the pandemic will drive a new wave of ESG awareness and adoption.

Businesses rebounding from the effects of Covid-19 are doing so effectively in collaboration through the Forum's Covid Action Platform. Companies are welcome to join the Platform by becoming a partner with the World Economic Forum.

SPAIN: Doctors, nurses and general staff all make sure that hospitals are safe and effective places where people get the treatment they need. But as Covid-19 has spread, hospitals around the world have faced unprecedented strain.

In April, The Lancet advised that hospitals "must prepare for a surge in critically ill patients", and recent data has borne its warning out. On 15 June, data from South Carolina showed that in some areas, over 77.0 per cent of hospital beds were occupied. In Spain, where the military has had to support national health services, reports from mid-June show there are 1,970 ICU beds in the Catalonia region's hospitals, 85.0 per cent of which are occupied with 1,512 Covid-19 patients. This number of beds is triple the amount which were occupied at the beginning of June. In Barcelona's Hospital del Mar, for instance, the number of ICU beds increased from 24 to 92 due to Covid-19 over that time period.

One company easing the strain in Spain is the infrastructure and renewable energy firm Acciona, a World Economic Forum Partner. The company, which manages several hospitals in Spain, Mexico and Canada, has used 3D printers to manufacture 200 protective masks every week for healthcare professionals at the Infanta Sofia Hospital in Madrid. Additionally, Acciona has made 1.0 million disposable hairnets available to hospitals and health centres across Spain.

The company has looked beyond hospitals to support health workers battling coronavirus. In Madrid and Barcelona, 13 Room Mate hotels are housing health personnel, and Acciona is providing the cleaning service.

There is still much more work to be done in Spain to stop the spread of the virus. But in early June, the director of the Health Ministry's Coordination Center for Health Alerts, Fernando Simón, said: "Despite the fact that we are detecting more [suspected cases], we are continuing to see a downward trend."

SWITZERLAND: Swiss company The Adecco Group, Strategic Partner of the World Economic Forum, has released their second iteration of a paper comparing government responses to the Covid-19 crisis, in order to determine which policies and decisions have led to the best economic outcomes.

Using select macro-economic indicators, the company compared 12 countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA) and their policy responses, including support measures for workers and businesses - to issue a set of recommendations to mitigate the Covid-19 impact and assist with the economic rebound.

The analysis found that keeping up economic activity is crucial - every week without economic activity exponentially increased the negative economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. Supporting employment is also crucial, and a focus on following through on getting financial support to businesses and individuals most in need. The May 2020 paper found businesses and workers in many countries had still not received the funds promised in their respective stimulus packages, reported in Adecco's first iteration paper in April 2020.

Overall, The Adecco Group's analysis found that Switzerland, Sweden and Germany performed best across the select macro-economic indicators. The analysis provides an in-depth comparison useful for businesses and governments, including policymakers worldwide to learn from and act upon.

MINING INDUSTRY: Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the mining industry. More than one third of the countries where the coronavirus is spreading are resource-dependent nations, generating more than 20.0 per cent of their export revenues from minerals, metals or hydrocarbons. Government-mandated shutdowns and isolated outbreaks have meant halted operations and reduced production leading to a host of vulnerabilities such as food insecurity, supply shortages and strained healthcare systems.

A group of 27 mining and metals companies, who are members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), have provided more than $315 million to global response efforts through Covid-19 funds and individual company donations to national relief efforts.

A major contributor to this effort is the global mining company Anglo American, a World Economic Forum Partner. The company's efforts will deliver support to host communities around the world including Africa, Australia and the Americas.

In South Africa for example, this work includes providing water tanks to 69 villages and clinical training and PPE equipment to 70 local clinics. It also means providing 6,000 food parcels per month for three months to alleviate economic hardships brought by quarantine.

"We are doing all that we can to safeguard our people and their families from the spread of Covid-19, while also providing support to our host communities and countries where it's most needed," said Anglo American Chief Executive, Mark Cutifani. "Our direct response to address the effects of Covid-19 is tailored to the specific and most urgent needs of our host communities and countries, recognising their very different socio-economic factors," he added.

TESTING FOR ANTIBODIES : Testing for Covid-19 antibodies remains a priority around the world as governments, health centres and businesses continue to study the coronavirus pandemic.

Many patients who experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all rarely get tested, which has prompted experts to suggest there may be a high number of unreported cases. Scaling up antibody tests can provide a more accurate picture of the global situation and inform public health agencies who are designing national and international responses to the crisis.

German medical technology group Siemens Healthineers has said it will produce 50 million Covid-19 antibody tests per month, starting in June 2020, and that testing can begin immediately, with over one million tests already transported to health centres and laboratories across the U.S.

Siemens Healthineers, which has 52,000 employees, is majority owned by Siemens, a Strategic Partner of the World Economic Forum.

The laboratory-based antibody test produced by the company has been authorised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after test data showed 100% sensitivity and 99.8% specificity.

The test is available on the company's high-throughput analyzers that can run over 440 tests in one hour and provide results in 10 minutes.

GREAT RESET OF CAPITALISM: Business leaders have pledged to contribute their skills, networks and resources to shape the Covid-19 recovery and build back better.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare longstanding ruptures in our economies and societies, and created a social crisis. As part of wide-ranging response, the World Economic Forum launched this week its Great Reset initiative -- a commitment to build, jointly and urgently, the foundations of our economic and social system for a fairer, more sustainable and more resilient future. The Great Reset is also the theme of a unique twin summit - both in-person in Davos and virtually around the world - to be convened by the Forum in January 2021.

"To achieve a better outcome, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies," said Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

During the launch of the initiative world leaders, including HRH The Prince of Wales, discussed how a global energy transition is an essential piece of this puzzle. Forum Strategic Partner BP has committed to become a net zero company by 2050 and the company's CEO Bernard Looney reminded the audience that tackling climate change is an essential imperative which requires imagination from all stakeholders.

LIFE-SAVING LOGISTICS: More than 2.0 million lives are saved every year thanks to vaccines, but vaccines can only save lives if they reach people in need. Securely transporting essential supplies from laboratories to stockpiles and then to healthcare centres and communities is a global challenge made more pressing by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The global logistics firm UPS, which is a Partner of the World Economic Forum, is working through its foundation to strengthen supply chains so life-saving vaccines reach isolated communities around the world. The company has ramped up work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance by committing $3 million in new funding over two years.

"Strong and efficient supply chains are essential to Gavi's work," said Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley. "With support from The UPS Foundation, we have in recent years been able to greatly enlarge and improve supply chains that Gavi-eligible countries rely on to deliver vaccines."

The UPS Foundation's contribution of $2 million in cash and US$1 million in services, combined with resources from the Gavi Matching Fund means a total of US$5 million will be used to support efforts that ensure vaccines reach vulnerable populations.

The UPS Foundation's partnership with Gavi is one of many cases where corporates are devoting resources to vaccines. 21% of all contributions to Gavi come from the private sector which includes a range of corporations, foundations and philanthropists who have pledged more than US$ 70 million to support Gavi's work in the world's poorest countries.

These contributions were announced in the lead-up to the Global Vaccine Summit which mobilised $8.8 billion. Gavi will use these funds to offer broad protection against 18 diseases saving up to eight million lives from 2021-25.

JOINING HANDS FOR HYGIENE: Until a Covid-19 vaccine is widely available, hand hygiene is one of the strongest methods of stopping the virus from spreading. Public places, businesses and health facilities around the world are providing hand washing stations and anti-bacterial gel with high alcohol content to dissolve the virus.

In South Africa four major hospitals in Gauteng province have received bulk supplies of hand sanitiser after three major corporates worked in partnership with clinical managers at the hospitals to fully understand how sanitizer can effectively protect medical staff and patients.

Chemicals and energy company Sasol, which is a World Economic Forum Partner, has ramped up production of hand sanitizer and will split production costs with AngloGold Ashanti, which is also a WEForum partner. The global gold mining company will also provide the specially built bulk-storage tanks for the product while the logistics company Imperial Group will ensure the sanitiser tanks are safely transported to the hospitals.

"We are pleased that our internally produced sanitisers will provide these hospitals with hand disinfection hygiene support to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading to frontline medical staff, patients and visitors," said Thabiet Booley, Senior Vice President of Sasol's Base Chemicals division.

PRIVATE SECTOR HAS CRITICAL ROLE TO PLAY: Deploying mass Covid-19 testing is essential if economies are to reopen, Gingko Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly told the Forum's Covid Action Platform Virtual Meeting this week. Kelly emphasised that businesses will need to quickly and accurately identify infections and make sure employees, contractors and suppliers are isolated in order to ensure business continuity. Putting testing regimes in place acts in the interests of the company but also benefits the wider community. Kelly told the virtual gathering that companies must ramp up testing as employees begin to return to work and said in the U.S. 5-10 million people will need to be tested in a single day, significantly more than current levels.

To achieve this goal Gingko Bioworks has raised $70 million to further repurpose facilities and make progress on improving at-home testing and other methods that would allow people around the world to know if they have contracted the virus.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS CHANGING: Leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, and Strategic Partner of the World Economic Forum, Willis Towers Watson, has revealed two in five companies in the UK have made, or are planning to make significant changes to their employment benefit schemes as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

From sick leave costs expected to increase, to income protection and healthcare benefits changing - a third of employers also reported they were likely to revise their healthcare strategies for 2021, the company's survey found. While the survey showed many companies looking to enhance employee benefits (from wellbeing programmes to mental health and stress management services) - the research also found some benefits were likely to be reduced. The reportedly most likely to be reduced included annual leave (8.0 per cent), retirement benefits (5.0 per cent), healthcare benefits (4.0 per cent) and sick leave (4.0 per cent). Willis Towers Watson says the results show a divergence in how the pandemic has impacted companies in the UK.

Alongside the survey on employee benefits - Willis Towers Watson also examined the impact of Covid-19 on employee wellbeing, specifically in the UK. The research found job security and instability are affecting financial and emotional wellbeing, with emotional intelligence the most critical skill for managers currently. The company has found the rules around the social experience of work are also being rewritten.

HOW TO SUCCEED AMID UNCERTAINTY: PwC, Strategic Partner of the World Economic Forum, has created a free Covid-19 Navigator, a digital assessment to help organisations understand the impact of Covid-19 on their business and assess their readiness to respond.

The digital tool helps companies understand where they stand as they respond to Covid-19 in the areas of crisis management and response; workforce; operations and supply chain; finance and liquidity; tax and trade; and strategy and brand.

In an effort to examine the impact of coronavirus globally, PwC has also published a tool to track the tax, legal and economic measures undertaken in countries around the world in response to Covid-19, and is conducting a regular CFO Pulse Survey to identify what finance leaders are currently focusing on.

In a number of countries, PwC is helping set up and administer government schemes to support businesses and individuals impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with financial donations to charities, PwC has donated medical supplies and equipment to hospitals and medical centres.

The company has also encouraged its staff members who have medical training to volunteer in their local healthcare systems. Other staff are engaged in community support and various volunteer programmes and outreach, including feeding the homeless and getting food to key workers.

A PROLONGED GLOBAL RECESSION: Covid-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.7 million cases have been confirmed and more than 315,000 people have died due to the virus.

To help all businesses globally understand the emerging risks generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, launched the Covid-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications. The report, a special edition which builds on the Forum's annual Global Risks Report, examines the views of nearly 350 senior risk professionals, who took part in the Covid-19 Risks Perceptions Survey. They were asked to assess 31 risks within three categories: most likely for the world, most concerning for the world and most worrisome for companies. Two-thirds of respondents identified a prolonged global recession as a top concern for business. One-half identified bankruptcies and industry consolidation, failure of industries to recover and a disruption of supply chains as crucial worries. Companies are also concerned about the geopolitical disruptions to business, with more than 40.0 per cent of respondents rating tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods among the most worrisome impact from Covid-19. The third most worrisome aspect for companies, is an increase in cyber attacks and data fraud - according to 50.0 per cent of respondents - as well as the breakdown of IT infrastructure and networks, a top concern for companies, according to nearly 30.0 per cent of respondents. Collaboration between the public and private sectors to date has helped solve some of the most urgent business and economic challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and they will become increasingly more important as the world rebuilds and adapts to a 'new normal'.

CHINESE E-COMMERCE GIANT FIGHTS: E-commerce giant JD.com has delivered essential goods across China in an effort to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. With the support of the local government, JD deployed drones to conduct ground surveys, design flight corridors, request airspace access permission and conduct final flight tests in China.

Several drone delivery corridors were put in place replacing hours-long drives with a 2.0km flight that could be completed in just 10 minutes.

The company, a Strategic Partner of the World Economic Forum, developed a drone route to Baiyang Lake in Hebei province. The route, which usually saw delivery of packages to the village by boat, was suspended due to the outbreak of the virus. With the drone program, the drones dropped parcels at a fixed point - so customers were able to collect them without human-to-human contact.

JD has also strengthened protective measures against Covid-19. In Inner Mongolia, the company deployed two drones to support critical disinfection procedures by spraying areas in the High-Tech Industrial Development Zone of Ordos City.

The company has also donated medical supplies to countries including the UK, Uzbekistan and Chile. Medical supplies which the company donated to Switzerland include 800,000 KN95 protective masks and 800,000 disposable medical masks, 800,000 surgical gloves, 20,000 pairs of goggles, and 10,000 protective gowns to support the fight against Covid-19. The donations leverage JD's supply chain capabilities to source from domestic manufacturers in China, as these businesses work to resume normal operations.

[Excerpted from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/how-are-companies-responding-to-the-coronavirus-crisis-d15bed6137]

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