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Health-related business issue

Barring any change of mind by the government, the modified enhanced community quarantine it imposed in Metro Manila and four adjoining provinces will end on Aug. 18.

If that happens and the lockdown is substantially relaxed, most businesses (at least those still remaining) are expected to resume their operations under the guidelines laid down by the government agency tasked with managing the effects of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

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These establishments would face two daunting tasks: first, to operate and strive to be profitable under “new normal” rules on social distancing and wearing of protective facial devices; and second, to ensure the health and well-being of their employees.The six-month lockdown has given business managers the opportunity to, among others, review their operations in light of the pandemic and figure out whether or not a work-from-home (WFH) arrangement with their staff is feasible.

In true Filipino “maabilidad” (or ability to make do with difficult situations) fashion, WFH has given rise to innovative or creative means to maintain communications or do business with customers or clients to the extent possible under lockdown restrictions.Incidentally, WFH’s “plus” side has been substantial savings in office utility bills, travel and representation expenses and other costs of daily office operation.

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Although WFH may in some respects be workable, the fact remains the bulk of regular business operations would have to be done in the office or work premises.

Before resuming operations, it would make good business sense to require all employees to undergo COVID-19 infection tests to make sure none of them is a carrier.

A negative finding would give peace of mind to the whole staff. If any of them tests positive, he or she can be excused from work and made to undergo the proper medical treatment.That’s the easy part. The more challenging phase is keeping the employees safe from contamination in the work premises or their assignments elsewhere.

This would require the provisioning of face masks and shields (or personal protective equipment if they go outside), regular monitoring of body temperature, supply of disinfectants and periodic disinfection of work areas.

In other words, the premises have to be consistently maintained as sterile or antiseptic to the extent possible to minimize, if not totally prevent their contamination, at least until (knock on wood) a vaccine or cure is found for COVID-19.

These measures would not come cheap. Depending on the number of employees and choice of materials, their cost could range from six to seven figures.

Except for the one-time infection test, the rest of the expenses would have to be incurred over such period of time as may be necessary or required by government health authorities.

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For companies with huge cash reserves or have easy access to credit, funding those actions would not be a problem. They can treat the costs as part of operating expenses and claim some tax relief over them.

But the same cannot be said for other businesses, especially those that have been financially marginalized by the lockdown.

Given the choice between using the remaining cash to reenergize business operation and buying the materials needed to keep employees safe from COVID-19, the former option would most probably be chosen.

And they cannot be faulted for doing that because the livelihood of the employees depends on the business being able to operate profitably as possible.

If at all, the business may have to adopt the minimum or cheapest means for protecting the employees’ health with the rest of the cash going to the enhancement of the business.

Finding a middle ground in this situation is going to be a tough call for the businesses concerned. It’s like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Looking to the government for financial assistance would be an exercise of futility because President Duterte himself has said the government is short of funds. INQ

For comments, please send your email to “[email protected]

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