Article written by Dan Richards, CEO of the Global Rescue Companies, U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board member at the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chairman of the Board of Global Wildlife Conservation, a science-based environmental conservation organization, Ambassador for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team and Global Member of the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Vaccinations have ramped up. Pandemic protocols are relaxing. Air travel is on the rise. All signs are pointing to the opportunity for recovery. The travel industry – severely crippled by the pandemic – can make the most of the initial return to travel – or they can squander the chance. The travel and destination leaders who get ahead of the regulatory and administrative requirements to prepare for the re-opening of international travel will recover more quickly and do a better job of preventing setbacks.
It’s important there is no lag behind the health solutions already underway. Any delay will unnecessarily cause more travel industry devastation and economic destruction, making conditions worse than they need to be. Global leaders need to establish an international coalition tasked with identifying threats around the world. Travel and government officials must leverage current technology capable of detecting viral outbreaks. These are the two critical preventive measures needed to establish a long-term strategy to counteract the impact of future human-vectored diseases.
The technology exists today to identify pathogens that spread through the air. We can use technology in transportation hubs to identify those who are infected and take immediate action. That technology can be deployed in a way so the protocols don’t increase friction in travel.
When the world encounters a systemic challenge like COVID-19, it takes time to learn and respond. Initially, it was hard to identify the nature of the threat, get organized and implement a pandemic response in concert on a worldwide scale. Nevertheless, the fact that there are multiple approved vaccines and hundreds of millions of people already being vaccinated a year after the pandemic started is among the greatest of human achievements.
But we cannot let the recovery wither under the heavy hand of overreaching government officials who ignore the fact that well-meaning continued public lockdowns, retail shutdowns and travel bans have statistically insignificant public health benefits at this stage of the pandemic.
“Statistical analysis shows that locking down the economy didn’t contain the disease’s spread and reopening it didn’t unleash a second wave of infections,” said David L. Luskin, a macroeconomics forecasting and research expert, whose commentary appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
A research paper led by UCLA economist Andrew Atkeson and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research examined COVID-19 trends in two dozen countries and half of the states in the U.S. and “found little evidence that variations in policy explain the course of the epidemic in different places.”
At a local level, the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded the “data indicates surprisingly little correlation between lockdowns and flattening the COVID-19 curve, according to a variety of researchers.”
What we do know is that vaccines work. The U.S. is within weeks of having enough vaccine for every person who wants it. Other countries are closing the gap, some faster than others. When states and countries are vaccinated against COVID-19, there is no longer any reason to forestall desperately needed economic healing.
The world may never be rid of COVID-19 or any of its strains, but we can manage it, as we have for so many other diseases. Coronavirus started as an epidemic, became a pandemic, and specialists predict COVID-19 may soon be classified as an endemic – a virus typical of a particular country and in this case, almost all countries. According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director-general, “this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away.”
Such a declaration is frightening until you acknowledge the history of well-known diseases like Malaria, endemic in African countries; Dengue Fever, endemic in South America; and Chikungunya, a viral disease in Asia that is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes.
These endemic diseases are known risks to travelers. Health organizations and government agencies list them in destination reports and recommend immunizations for visitors. Whether coronavirus will continue to exist in society for years is unknown right now. What we do know are the valuable lessons learned regarding disease identification, transmission abatement, treatment management and vaccine development.
Carrying these lessons forward, creating a dedicated international task force to track disease outbreak and deploying technology to minimize spread are foundational elements to include as part of the travel industry’s recovery from the pandemic.