OTTAWA — The federal government is trying to encourage small- and medium-sized businesses that don’t have pandemic plans to start working on them.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Wednesday that the federal government is giving the International Centre for Infectious Diseases in Winnipeg a $926,600 contract to develop tools and strategies that businesses can adapt to their own individual needs in the months ahead.
“Supporting smaller businesses now is especially important as we prepare for the next wave of the pandemic, which might cause more serious illness and consequently have a stronger impact on the economy,” Aglukkaq said.
She announced the grant just hours before appearing before a special session of the House of Commons’ health committee, a meeting called by opposition MPs critical of the government’s pandemic response.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said the contract involves first assessing the needs of small- and medium-sized businesses and then developing a pandemic tool kit geared specifically for those kinds of enterprises.
With concerns that flu activity might ramp up quickly once children return to school, it remains unclear whether these tools will be available in time to make a difference for businesses that haven’t seen the need or haven’t had the resources to do this kind of planning.
The head of the public health agency, Dr. David Butler-Jones, insisted, though, that much work has already been done in the business sector, with larger businesses incorporating pandemic response needs into their existing business continuity plans.
“There’s been a lot (of planning) going on. But we know that there may be gaps, there may be pieces missing,” Butler-Jones said in an interview.
“This is really just ratcheting it up.”
He said thinking through the challenges that a pandemic might present — high levels of absenteeism, for instance — will help small businesses get ready for what may lie ahead.
“It’s going to be a challenge for companies if they haven’t thought this through,” he said.
One of the issue businesses will have to consider is the need to find ways to allow employees to stay home or work from home when they are ill. The old culture of dragging oneself to work while sick won’t help anyone in a pandemic, Butler-Jones suggested.
“There’s an old saying about being penny wise and pound foolish. And having people come into work when they’re sick during a pandemic, with flu-like symptoms, I think is very penny wise but pound foolish at the end of the day if you want to have a successful business,” he said.
“Because if someone comes in sick, and suddenly rather than one person off sick, you have four. And then a couple of days later you now have 10. And suddenly you’ve got a third of your workforce off — it’s not very productive at the end of the day.”