The BA.2 variant is coming: Here’s how SMEs can prepare

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Businesses are being urged to prepare now as daily COVID-19 cases are forecast to surge in the next month, supercharged by the highly viral variant BA.2.

Data analyst Chris Billington has been tracking the spread of COVID-19, including closely watching the outbreaks of variants Delta and Omicron, and his latest modelling suggests daily case totals could be as high as 48,000 a day in NSW.

It’s bad news considering the push from the government to embrace “living with the virus”.

On Friday, national cabinet agreed to stop quarantining all close contacts as soon as possible, though chief health officers countrywide need to sign off on the change yet.

On Monday it was revealed NSW Health officials lobbied the government to reinstate masks and working from home orders to ward off the dangerous BA.2 variant — but were rebuffed by Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Although BA.2 daily cases are not expected to exceed Omicron’s peak in January, this outbreak could be felt more acutely across the Australian business landscape considering adults are back in the workplace and children are back at school.

Workplaces are being encouraged to prepare for high staff absenteeism and to fill the gaps of any critical worker shortages now to ensure minimal disruption to the business’s day-to-day dealings.

Many precautions will likely remain in place, including a COVID-19 safety plan and an outbreak management plan — but Deloitte stressed SMEs must be agile enough to “reflect, restart and revitalise” plans throughout the recovery phase, which can include multiple waves.

“Much remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: customers, workers, suppliers and competitors are watching. How a business handles its recovery will in part define its reputation and performance for potentially years to come,” the report warns.

From a workplace health and safety point of view, Secure Your World chief Scott Cairns says there are things SMEs should do now to protect staff as much as possible.

“With workers now coming back to the office it is important to understand that COVID is still circulating and new variants such as the BA.2 variant are now on the rise,” he tells SmartCompany.

“Unfortunately, some people have become complacent because of high vaccination levels. Regardless, we still need to be vigilant.”

Cairns says placing carbon dioxide monitors around the office or workspace is a great way to keep an eye on the level of COVID-19 particles in the air.

“In the case of these air monitors, carbon dioxide levels can be a gauge as to how well the air is circulating in a space, and how likely it is for potentially allowing the spread of COVID,” he says.

Ventilation is also an essential part of workplace health and safety during the pandemic, and Cairns says this really comes down to two things.

One: opening up the workspace to ensure air flow moves freely; and two: regularly cleaning air conditioning units.

“Where possible, ensure they have HEPA air filters too,” he advises.

Cairns also recommends workplaces take this opportunity to ramp up their cleaning schedules, with twice-as-frequent cleaning reducing risk for staff.

“Now is not the time to relax the safety practices that were so constantly at the forefront of our thoughts in the past two years,” Cairns says.

“As we return to our daily routines and habits, it’s more vital than ever that everyone remembers to maintain high levels of hygiene and cleanliness.”

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