Europe and the US need a date for a soft restart of the economy

by nyljaouadi1
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The writer is chief executive of Volvo Cars

The coronavirus pandemic will probably cause one of the biggest shocks to our lives and the global economy since the second world war. As business leaders, our primary responsibility is to find ways to get our companies operating again.

Contributing to an economic recovery is the best way we can serve the societies we work in. If we allow the economy to slow further, we risk irreparable damage to our communities and prosperity.

We need to accept that the shutdowns cannot continue too long and it is our responsibility to start planning for a restart as soon as possible, even if the virus has not yet been beaten.

We can see that the pandemic is already having a severe economic impact. The IMF projects that the global economy will contract by 3 per cent in 2020 and estimates that 8 per cent of total working days will be lost if the lockdown lasts one quarter.

I believe that a good way forward is a two-step approach: we have had the first — a necessary hard closure — and now we need a soft restart in the US and Europe at a set date, preferably within the next few weeks. Volvo is aiming for April 20 in Sweden and May 4 in South Carolina.

To do this there are a number of practical issues to tackle. But I believe it is possible, and we can learn from the experiences we have from our factories in China, following their recent reopening.

We need first to create clear and transparent protocols which allow people to return confidently to a safe workplace. That means implementing several necessary hygiene measures and routines.

In China, we made sure that the temperature of everyone reporting for work was tested before they were let into the buildings. We increased the number of disinfection stations and face masks, and other personal protection items were available for anyone who wanted them.

In our offices, we established a greater distance between work stations and desks, as well as limiting the number of people allowed in a meeting room at any time. We can use all these measures in Europe and the US as well.

The factories present more of a challenge due to the nature of the work, which often involves close collaboration and strict guidelines. But by making sure that people who work together use protective gear, we can return to some production while respecting distancing and health guidelines.

Finally, in our work restaurants we can also follow strict hygiene and distancing rules, again by limiting the number of people allowed in the canteen at once.

These measures have worked well in China in recent weeks, as we prepared to reopen our plants there. They enabled us swiftly to bring our employees back into the workplace again.

As the Chinese car market and the wider economy slowly return to normal, this approach has put us in a strong position to capitalise on the recovery.

By implementing all these measures, I believe we and other manufacturers can restart our European and US operations in a gradual, co-ordinated and above all safe way, in line with customer demand, our supply chain situation and of course the development of the health situation.

As business leaders, our primary responsibility is to find ways to get our companies operating again to contribute to an economic recovery. The sooner businesses restart, the sooner society can restart.

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