Companies must prepare for rapid increase in staff unable to work

The spread of the novel coronavirus has caused various disruptions in business activities that support people’s daily lives. Companies are urged to accelerate their efforts to establish systems that will enable them to continue their operations even if the number of employees who cannot work increases.

Due to the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, a rapidly growing number of employees have been infected or identified as close contacts, preventing them from going to work not only in the medical and nursing care fields, but also at businesses that provide services essential to people’s lives, such as supermarkets, railways and electric power companies.

Various convenience stores and post offices have temporarily closed, and some financial institutions have shortened their business hours. The situation is getting worse.

The government has asked the business community to continue operations even if the number of infected people increases. Many large companies have already developed business continuity plans to deal with events such as disasters. These plans should also be used to deal with infectious diseases.

Distribution powerhouse Aeon Co. plans to give top priority to operating its food sales sections, by temporarily relocating employees from clothing sections and other personnel if the food sales areas become understaffed. Japan Post Co. said it would dispatch backup workers from nearby post offices, branch offices and other locations to post offices hit by a labor shortage.

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) is preparing to allow employees who used to work as train crew members but are now in office work positions to return to field operations. Keikyu Corp. envisages drastically reducing the number of train services in operation.

It is important for companies to examine the products and services necessary for people’s daily lives, and then to have a system staffed with personnel capable of reliably providing them.

The impact on the supply chain in the manufacturing industry also cannot be underestimated. Infection is said to spread easily in factories, such as those for automobiles and electrical machinery, as many workers gather on production lines.

Toyota Motor Corp. has been forced to suspend operations at some plants after its factory workers, as well as employees of a parts supplier, were infected with the virus. Daihatsu Motor Co. and other automakers have also made such adjustments to production.

If a chain reaction of suspensions occurs within the supply chain, this would stall production and severely damage the economy.

However, many small and midsize companies with limited human resources have little capacity to formulate business continuity plans.

Major manufacturers should consider measures to ensure the continuity of operations over the entire supply chain by checking the status of their business partners and providing them with support as needed, including dispatching backup personnel.

It is also crucial to reduce the spread of infection as much as possible. The government should facilitate the delivery of vaccines for inoculations at workplaces, to accelerate the administration of booster shots.

It is likewise essential to expand and improve the testing system, which is currently under strain, in order to detect infections at an early stage and thereby prevent the spread of the virus.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 31, 2022.