Potential Financial Impact of H1N1
Any factor that alters “business as usual” is going to have some kind of differentiated impact on various sectors of business world wide, and the H1N1 virus is no exception. Already, the virus has affected cruise lines due to outbreaks of the virus on board ships. As the flu season begins to flourish in the northern hemisphere, we can expect the H1N1 influence on economics to strengthen.
In some ways, the virus will strengthen certain types of businesses. The obvious ones are those who make and/or sell vaccines and medicines used in flu prevention and treatment as well as industries that create sanitizing products of various sorts. Other increases that could be seen include laptop and other computer sales as well as related services such as high speed internet as people explore working at home as they are recovering or as their workplace attempts to prevent breakouts. Grocery stores may see the same kind of increase in sales that happens before large storms as people stock up in anticipation of being at home for awhile. Home-based entertainment (movie rentals through the mail, cable service, video game systems) may increase. People could prefer shopping online to risking exposure in crowded stores, particularly as the flu season and Christmas shopping season overlap with one another, so online businesses could see an upswing.
A large flu outbreak will stress some businesses. For example, if people stay home to avoid the flu or to recover from it, local stores and recreational businesses may see a significant decrease in customers, as might holiday special events such as performances of the Nutcracker. Staying at home may even decrease gasoline sales significantly.
Health-related concerns may have a struggle with this flu season. Insurance companies may take a large hit on people needing to go to the doctor and get prescription drugs. Hospitals, doctors’ offices, and urgent care centers may become overwhelmed by the number of people who need service (some of whom will not be able to pay and will not have health insurance).
The big challenge for any business is that we have no idea how significant the H1N1 virus could be. It could end up being a somewhat larger-than-usual flu season but not much beyond that or it could be a very serious pandemic. Some of how this plays out has a lot to do with how businesses address the realities of their employees’ lives. Encouraging sick employees or those with sick children to stay at home and making work at home a viable option could be an effective means of keeping a workforce healthy.
Outside of employee needs, there is a need for flexibility. Strengthening a business’s online presence at this point might be a wise idea so that customers can access goods and services in person or online.
We don’t have 20/20 foresight in this matter, however, by thinking ahead businesses can make plans to keep a pandemic from being a business disaster on top of a health disaster.