Australia is about to open a global pandemic Pandora’s Box. Business owners and CEOs, no mater how large their enterprises, are going to feel its pain.

Yesterday the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the nation’s peak health advisory body to government and National Cabinet, told Australia’s employers to ready their “business continuity plans”. AHPPC is led by Australia’s chief medical officer and comprises all state and territory chief health officers.

For the next few months, businesses are about to be body slammed by two new Covid-19 strains Omicron BA.4 and BA.5. and some will not survive unless they act as outlined below.

In my last article for June, I addressed CEOs and HR managers about enacting Covid mitigations with two purposes:

  1. To maintain a healthy and reliable workforce.
  2. To maintain a healthy and reliable customer stream.

These now have official sanction.

Since 2020, the world has faced and fought numerous Covid-19 disease variants. Australia had set in motion a multi-stage “National Plan” to counter Covid’s original Wuhan Strain. Yet, a massively more severe Delta Strain soon overtook it and rendered it redundant.

Lockdown and closed international borders were Australia’s twin weapons at that time. The goal was “Covid Zero” which numerous states achieved for months. First generation vaccines joined the armoury. These were thought to impede viral spread and the need for hospitalisation.

Delta’s infectivity changed that. When Delta took off in New South Wales mid-2021, a delayed lockdown saw it spread nationally. Then Airline, hospitality, and retail industry lobbies—backed by 24/7 cable media—saw a chance to push an agenda. No more lockdowns. They ensured there would be no turning back.

Together with National Cabinet this gave Australia a new pandemic goal. “Living with Covid. It’s since cost a federal government an election while its dogma endures to this day.

How have things gone for businesses since?

The airline industry is a global mess. 93 of 94 cruise ships currently navigating US waters have Covid aboard. Nearly all have less than 90% passengers vaccinated. Australia’s biggest supermarkets are facing the same supply-chain dilemmas under lockdown: buyer limits on tissues and toilet paper. Woolworths has reported scarcity of bottled water and soft drink from Coca-Cola.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Covid Wuhan and Delta killed over a million people in the US with an R0 of 3 to 5. The “R0” is the average number of people one sick person will infect given no immunity in the community.

Covid BA.4 and BA.5, said epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman recently, carry an R0 of 18.6. This has given Australia a current Reff number around 1.10. The “Reff” is how many people one person is effectively infecting. Anything over 1 means infections are growing exponentially.

What’s even more relevant to Australian businesses, however, is that despite a 98% adult two-dose Covid vaccine uptake, and a poorer 68% uptake of three—Covid BA.4 and BA.5 have learned to overcome immunity from vaccines and prior Covid infections.

Covid is now infecting survivors again and again. Which is why yesterday, AHPPC told governments to officially shorten their reinfection windows from 12 weeks to just 28 days. Employees and customers are going to be infected multiply, almost monthly.

Business inability to reliably produce, supply, service and sell under these conditions, is going to hurt commerce like never before.

Is it any wonder why the hospitality and retail industries yesterday joined unions in calling for the reinstatement of pandemic payments for those needing to isolate at home?

The last thing a business needs are infected, income-desperate workers saying they’re Covid-free, while harbouring a virus that seeks 18.6 bodies to bring down with them.

Are you taking this story seriously yet?

Good, because you already have the tools that will help avert this disaster if your business deploys them.

Let’s start with the new baseline:

AHPPC has finally declared that Australia’s Covid-19 strategy is no longer Living With Covid but “Reducing Covid” without lockdowns.

As you’ll remember, Covid will only reduce when its Reff is less than 0, so one person no longer infects one other. We, therefore, must break the chain of transmission while businesses remain open.

Hence, AHPPC now advises:

  1. That face masks must be worn indoors to protect OTHERS as well as the wearer.
  2. That businesses have a duty of care to ensure employees work from home as much as possible.
  3. That businesses should revisit all other “OH&S mitigations”.
  4. That indoor premises should be well-ventilated.
  5. That vaccines should be widely promoted and administered.

Let’s be honest, if you’re an Alpha boss who believes in immortality and that Covid-19 is over—that people must work face-to-face to rock your boat—will you now wise up?

You’re about to lose your business at a time interest rates are going through the roof. Just put the pride away.

Think like the smart leaders you are. You need every dollar of revenue, and employees in good health to bring that revenue about.

Simply put, if you’re in hospitality, your twenty-something Gen Z drinkers may be rocking your ego today. But they aren’t eligible for fourth vaccine doses. Gen Z might just become a health tragedy paralleling the current decimation of the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, and a growing number of Gen X.

Lockdowns are gone. Australia’s borders are open. That’s what businesses wanted. And the results haven’t been as rosy as ostrich-like lobbyists predicted. Now everything is on the line.

Welcome to Covid mid-2022. We’re three years into a still raging global pandemic, and business survival has finally become a question of owners and CEOs facing reality.

© 2022 Adam Parker.

Picture credit © 2020 Adam Parker.

Read AHPPC’s latest recommendations here:

UPDATE: JULY 25, 2022—BA.4 and BA.5 RO Revised Down

Professor Adrian Esterman today published a revision of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variant R0s. Scientific opinion, he said, now grades their infectivity the same as BA.2 which is “1.4 times” the R0 of BA.1’s R9.5. The current Omicron threat of BA.4 and BA.5, therefore, would still be a startling R13.3, but no longer the equivalent of the measles’ R18.6.