The report, which has been published annually by the health, travel and security-related risk management provider since 2018, also identified economic unrest and uncertainty, supply chain constraints, ransomware and the climate crisis as potential threats.
“This year, there has been an increase in global travel, particularly for businesses, as face-to-face interactions become preferable following months of virtual meetings. This increase will see familiar risks and challenges re-emerge for organisations in terms of ensuring the health, safety and security of their people and assets, which for the last 18 months have slipped down the agenda,” said Chris Job, Director of Risk Management Services at Healix.
“As we continue the return to normal, businesses will need to provide more reassurance to their employees and instil confidence that they have the necessary plans and resilience programmes in place to protect their people, assets and operations. Healix’s Risk Outlook report aims to provide businesses with insights into the key risks that could adversely affect them, and in doing so, help them to prepare their business and mitigate consequences where possible.”
Potential post-Covid pandemic risks
Healix says that there are 26 virus families in existence currently that are viewed by epidemiologists as viable threats. In particular, epidemiologists continue to warn about the potential rise of an influenza-like respiratory virus. Such concerns pre date the current pandemic, and were the focus of many pandemic planning exercises before the onset of Covid-19.
According to Healix, ‘the pandemic has not eliminated the threat, but sharpened the focus on how to avoid it’, and so it is critical that medical surveillance systems around the world remain aware of potential threats.
Growing risk of ransomware attacks
Healix also notes a growing number of incidents in the past year in which hostile actors have infiltrated the networks of both governments and private businesses. The rise in attacks is linked to the rapid shift to remote working following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which saw ‘a huge increase in devices operating outside the perimeters of companies’ networks,’ according to Healix. This has offered new avenues for infiltration, including phishing attacks and exploiting vulnerabilities in remote desktop protocols.
One notable incident of 2021 includes a ransomware attack on US insurance provider CNA Financial, which was forced to pay hackers US$40 million in March to regain control of its network and company data.
Cyberattacks can cause immediate disruption and potentially jeopardise client data in the short term. In the long term, impact can also be significant, and can cause permanent reputational damage to a company if news of the attack becomes public or involves customer data.
According to Healix, ‘as criminals continue to create more advanced tools to expose and exploit network vulnerabilities, cyber-attacks remain high on the risk agenda for 2022’.
Increasing frequency of extreme weather
The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is expected to increase over the coming decades. Healix says that the growing regularity of these events is expected to ‘pose significant challenges in the coming years, and businesses must be prepared to address them’.
Healix cites multiple events in 2021 such as ‘devastating flash flooding in the Eifel region which killed more than 200 people’ and ‘severe heat waves hitting North West America in June, which caused hundreds of excess deaths, mass disruption and sparked wildfires’.
Such events can happen rapidly and can pose a serious health threat to both locals and travellers.
Supply chain constraints
The coronavirus pandemic has also had a significant impact on global supply chains, with consumer demand first falling during the onset and now rising as restrictions ease. However, bottlenecks have occurred within supply chains due to a range of factors including a lack of labour and backlogs at ports, causing significant challenges for businesses trying to meet returning consumer demand.
Markets remain sceptical about long-term security due to the potential for further Covid restrictions in future, and businesses are struggling to fill vacant positions.
According to Healix, ‘there are no quick fixes for issues driving the supply chain backlogs’, and businesses and consumers should expect to feel the impact of this well into 2022.
General economic uncertainty and unrest
As the world slowly recovers from the economic disruption of the pandemic, Healix highlights that the recovery is not being felt evenly across the globe, noting the growing gap between advanced and developing economies, primarily due to vaccine inequality and a lack of financial support.
Growth rates in poorer countries lag behind their Western counterparts, ‘influenced by a lack of testing, inadequate medical capacity and disproportionate death rates’ according to Healix. In addition, anger at government responses to the pandemic has fuelled unrest in countries such as Tunisia, Colombia, Lebanon and South Africa.
The knock-on effects of unemployment, poverty and the removal of subsidies could further accentuate this unrest, and could potentially lead to serious disruption and growing threats for both residents of these countries as well as travellers.