Governments and business need to remain nimble when responding to the COVID threat, says the research hub CEO Jayden Rogers.
The emergence of the Omicron variant has changed the COVID-19 landscape in Australia and that means Western Australian businesses need to adapt and plan for this.
New South Wales at the time of writing had almost 1650 hospitalisations due to COVID-19, which, in context, equates to every bed available at Fiona Stanley Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner combined. It’s a scary thought, especially when those hospitals are already at full capacity.
At Linear Clinical Research, we are fortunate to work with global COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic companies, leading infectious disease experts and closely follow what is happening overseas. Based on this, data and strategies we are implementing can hopefully provide ideas for other businesses to consider.
The importance of vaccines and having a booster is critical, which sees effectiveness against infection from Omicron increase from a lowly 34% after two Pfizer doses to 75% after three doses.
More so, vaccines are still holding up very well in preventing serious illness and death. Businesses must enforce vaccination requirements for both staff and customers because the potential cost of not doing so will far exceed the cost to implement it.
COVID is airborne and masks stop you from both contracting the virus and also from spreading it. This is even more important in light of many people having mild disease or being asymptomatic with Omicron.
This is critically important for industries interfacing with vulnerable populations such as childcare where children under five are yet to receive vaccinations.
Business needs to accept that masks will be required for the foreseeable future and prepare for this, through stock levels, adjusted work processes and support for staff.
Airflow ventilation is imperative. If you can, monitor CO2 levels and aim to keep these below 700-800ppm, through social distancing, open windows and use of fans. HEPA filters should be used where possible. An excellent resource is the independent OzSage website.
Severe business disruption has been reported across the UK, US and in NSW, where some industries are reporting anywhere from 20-50% of staff being granted leave due to having COVID-19 or being a close contact.
This is why reducing the rate of spread through vaccines and masks may save many businesses, so that an active case doesn’t completely shut you down.
A strategy to tackle this is scenario planning for staff shortages and supply chain disruption, which we are already experiencing, as well as developing rosters that separate workforces and establishing multi-functional teams that can cover different roles if (more likely when) staff shortages occur.
Rapid antigen testing will have a huge role to play, however, it requires thinking around the logistics – how to make them available to staff, where to test (if doing on-site you need to maintain strong infection control procedures) and how to report results and manage positive cases.
In the UK and US, it has become almost normal for people to use RATs prior to any socialisation. Supply is the current issue, though this is starting to improve finally.
Moving forward, we need greater proactivity from government and engagement with business to pre-empt this situation. This is evident in the enormous challenge many pharmacies are now facing as they deal with people desperate to find tests.
The final element that is often overlooked is mindset, which any business leader will tell you is critical to performance. We need to accept that COVID-19 won’t simply go away or become endemic overnight, if at all.
Until we can get more vaccines and treatments to other parts of the globe, the threat of new immune-escaping variants will persist beyond Omicron.
However, we can get through this – we need to be bold, invest effort and discipline over time and bring our people along with us.
We will require the intermittent use of targeted public health measures (e.g. masking and testing) alongside innovative business practices.
From the government, greater engagement and quicker decision-making will support business and government alike.
We need to further ramp up research into new vaccines and treatments, with several recent antiviral and antibody therapies showing great efficacy against COVID-19 illness, there is a pathway out of COVID-19 – but this will take months, if not years for them to be available to those in need.
Until then, we need to face the COVID threat head on, listen to the science and put people’s health first.
ED: Jayden Rogers is CEO of Perth’s Linear Clinical Research, a global site for early-stage clinical trials and a subsidiary of the Harry Perkins Institute.