Over the past several weeks, Coronavirus has grown to consume the news cycle and our daily lives. With more than 100,000 confirmed cases in more than 100 countries, it’s impossible to ignore. Given the unpredictability of the virus, its long incubation period and the reality that vaccines are many months away, this crisis is very real and the pressure on business to act is growing.
Health organizations must walk a fine line between communicating scientific risk while not generating undue panic. The Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed the risk to Canadians as low, but with a broad caveat that they are closely monitoring the spread of the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has established a lengthy myth-busters feature on its website. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the world’s leading authority on the matter — directly acknowledges that “much is still unknown” about the COVID-19 virus.
What is not up for debate is the serious and immediate impact Coronavirus is having on business.
The realities of Coronavirus serve as a powerful shock to economic and political systems across the globe. Dozens of sectors have already been severely affected, top among them tourism and hospitality, aviation, technology, food services and consumer goods. We expect other industries to follow suit as the tenacious virus weaves deeper into workforces, manufacturing capacity and supply chains. Business continuity has been impacted and investor confidence shaken. The market has also spoken, with the epidemic triggering key drops in all indexes.
Given these urgent implications, what should business consider about how best to communicate?
John Larsen is executive vice-president and Edelman Canada’s national practice lead for Crisis & Reputation Risk. He is currently leading Edelman’s global Coronavirus Task Force.