As the COVID-19 crisis progresses, it's only logical that many safety and control measures have become more strict, however you may be surprised to know that while some regulations have increased, others have moved in the opposite direction. From extended permit renewal deadlines to expanded production scopes, learn what changes have been put in place for specific jurisdictions with global trends from our Enhesa experts, originally presented in our COVID-19 web web mini-series.
Essential vs Non-Essential Business
While requirements for an essential business status during the COVID-19 pandemic has been evaluated differently within each jurisdiction, one thing remains the same across the globe: everything is subject to change.
What defines an essential business?
Across jurisdictions, the most commonly found element in definitions of “essential” businesses and operations is whether the activity is something the community relies upon during the COVID-19 crisis. In most cases, this refers to enterprises responsible for our health and well-being, including grocery stores, hospitals, utilities, telecommunications, pharmacies, and manufacturing of products necessary to support COVID-19 response (most notably the production of antibacterial wipes, essential PPE, and pharmaceuticals).
However, once we move beyond this common qualification, local governments differ in their considerations for what constitutes essential activities from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This variation is especially prominent in the US, where, as a result of delayed response on a national level, individual states have provided their own definitions for which businesses are considered essential. While there remains much overlap regarding manufacturing operations across the country (such as in Kansas and Arizona where the definition of essential business includes suppliers for essential businesses and operations as well as business distributors and supply chains for those essential products and services), there are also differing specifications per each individual state. For example, Vermont considers the production and delivery of fertilizers for agriculture as critical activities to continue uninterrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, while California has added the Defense Industrial Base to its list of essential activities.
Still other jurisdictions are progressively revising their lists of essential (or non-essential) activities - with Greece phasing in new non-essential businesses as the pandemic progresses, and Argentina's converse approach adding more and more activities to its list of essential businesses. One example of a later-added activity in this region was the manufacture of machinery for agricultural industries.
Essential or not, it’s not business as usual
Along with varying parameters for what defines an essential business, jurisdictions also differ in their approach to and restrictions on those activities’ operations - whether they’re considered essential or not.
As one of the most proactive US states in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic (issuing measures beyond the CDC recommendations such as its extended stay-at-home order - which has since started its first phase of expiration), Ohio decided to permit the continuation of non-essential businesses operations at a restricted level. As such, those Ohio businesses not included on the CISA list have been allowed to maintain basic business operations for reasons such as inventory, processing payroll, and facilitating employees’ ability to work from home.
For other jurisdictions the “non-essential” status means a hold on all operations, such as in Nigeria, the Philippines, and India, where local governments opted for the complete lock down of non-essential businesses for a certain period of time.
Even though essential businesses can operate, in some jurisdictions there are additional requirements for how they can operate. In Buenos Aires, for example, companies carrying out essential activities are required to create an occupational health and safety protocol aligned with national COVID-19 regulations, including elements related to personal distancing and hygienic measures.
Cooperation Is Key: Governments and Companies Working Together
Where collaboration between people and across communities is a critical factor in containing and controlling COVID-19 (even if socially distanced), similarly important is the cooperative relationship between governments and companies. Worldwide, many countries and local governments are making allowances to give companies more time to overcome challenges, complete license and permit renewals, and comply with reporting requirements. In some cases, to allow for sufficient supplies of PPE and hygiene products authorities have relaxed restrictions and even allowed companies to broaden their range of manufactured items.
Extended deadlines for extenuating circumstances
With many companies facing unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, whether due to limited staff and resources or restricted operations, certain jurisdictions have extended deadlines for permits and license renewal as well as postponed some periodic reporting obligations.
For example, in China, many provinces have renewed deadlines for production permits and the licenses for health inspection safety managers until three months after the end of the COVID-19 period (an end date which is still considered “on further notice”). This same extension has been provided for some periodic reporting requirements, such as carbon-allowance reporting for businesses in Shanghai. Additionally, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies are giving businesses an extra 6 months for renewing certain licenses – extending this renewal period from 1 March 2020 to 1 September 2020.
As we see many companies gaining more time to submit information to authorities, there are also trends in affording companies more leniency regarding inspection and regulation enforcement:
- The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has stated that until June 23rd, no enforcement actions will be taken against shippers and carriers of hazardous materials for not fulfilling training requirements.
- Also in this country, manufacturers of already registered EPA disinfectants can temporarily obtain active ingredients from any source without EPA approval.
- Hunan of China has postponed the inspection of special equipment, as named in the national government's Special Equipment list, originally scheduled for 2020.
- The European Chemical Agency started an accelerated procedure for manufacturers of biocide products, aiding these companies to request technical equivalence assessment for new sources of active substances using their disinfectant products.
- In the Netherlands, authorities have relaxed some safety regulations for transporting essential goods such as pharmaceutical products and oil and petroleum products, increasing maximum driving hours from 7 to 9 hours per day.
- The Swedish Chemicals Agency has relaxed requirements on the labeling for disinfectants.
In the past five months, PPE has gone from an industry-specific term to a household name. However, the protection equipment itself hasn't been as simple to distribute. To ensure that these critical items are available to all that need them, many countries are amending the control measures surrounding PPE.
As one example, companies in Hesse, Germany, have been invited to use PPE after the expiry date if certain conditions are met, such as if it has been stored correctly and is still in its original sealed packaging. However the German state, along with the example of Greece, also requires additional control measures where companies must notify national authorities regarding the amount of PPE in stock and update them on a regular basis.
Expanded Production to Ensure Protection
Additionally, some governments have called for support from companies that want to help manufacture tools and equipment outside of their standard offerings to help contain, control, and treat COVID-19. Such is the case in the UK where companies with the appropriate infrastructure have been called to support their government by manufacturing ventilators. To ensure adequate supplies of hand sanitizer, drug and cosmetic manufacturers in Brazil have been given the green light to manufacturer and commercialize alcohol gel without the prior authorization of Anvisa (National Sanitary Surveillance Agency).
episodes of our web mini-series
For more information on these global COVID-19 response trends, watch all 4 episodes of our web mini-series:
- Proactivity in Ohio, USA
- Definitions of essential vs non-essential businesses worldwide
- Relaxing regulations, renewals, and reporting
- Providing sufficient PPE and hygenic products
Stay up to date on changes in your jurisdictions and be aware of what's happening around the world with free daily updates from our COVID-19 Regulatory Forecaster Service. These updates will help you to keep track of the rapidly changing mandatory and voluntary guidance related to this crisis.
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