We are not doing what it takes to restart mobility (and therefore the economy) during the pandemic
and we should stop waiting for governments to solve everything
A lot has been learned in year 1 of this pandemic. We now need to be honest about the core lesson learned about “opening up” and accept that we will need to prove our identity and our COVID status constantly, not only at the border. We need to understand this, make peace with what it implies about everyday life and get on with living as if we truly understand that this is the ONLY way out.
Oh, and we need to accept that governments will not provide all of the solutions here
It has now been a year since most of Europe and many other countries emerged from our first lockdown experience. Remember the toilet paper shortages, the haunting images of empty city streets, the plastic gloves littering the pavement in front of the supermarket. As anyone who has spoken to me over the course of the last year knows: I strongly feel that we have all collectively aged in dog years since the coronavirus arrived. Which explains why it feels more like seven years and not a mere 12 months since we took our first steps after the big lockdown.
Looking back now, there was so much we didn’t know about the virus back then, there was so much hope and such conviction that we would be back to normal. Just to clarify – I am absolutely using the royal We (to include governments and business leaders into the conversation) because being wrong about COVID was not limited to position, power or status. We all excelled at it because We wanted COVID to be something other than it actually is – a coronavirus that simply does not care what our plans are for the economy, what we consider to be discriminatory or whether we strongly feel that there should be a global and coordinated response. It totally ignored all of our debates and failed attempts and did what coronaviruses do: find hosts, multiply and mutate.
So, with the type of 20/20 hindsight one has after a seven year experience, let’s look honestly at some of the things we were wrong about:
We were wrong about fomites, it’s ALL about aerosols: This means that gloves and gels are mostly for show and indoor dining/bars, indoor offices, indoor schooling is where the virus flourishes. Very simple: indoors is where we create COVID surges, everything else is secondary
We were wrong about reaching Herd Immunity in 2021: At the time of writing this, approx. 3,8% of the global population has been fully vaccinated with these vaccines that are already not responding well to some of the new variants.
We were wrong about ONE solution to mobility during the pandemic: If I could have a vaccine for every time an airline executive, a government official or a tour operator told me that there will be a winner that takes all solutions to formal mobility then I would have enough vaccine for a mid-sized town. Regulations are fragmented and regional, travel/COVID/vaccine/Immunity passports are popping up everywhere fragmenting the market even more. There was no winner, no ONE solution that came to the fore.
In general, of course, we were wrong about the pandemic going away. And of course we could go on with this list, there is a lot we left out, for instance, no, blockchain is not going to save us.. But let’s leave it there for now and quickly look at some of the things we can bank on, things we are now sure of:
There will always be a new variant and it will screw up our plans: UK, India, Brazil, South Africa and those are only the names in the press. There is more to come
Testing can be organized better: Why are PCR/Antigen tests not fully subsidized everywhere? Why is it still complicated to get tested? Why is the process still not fully digitized?
Vaccination alone does not keep the virus in check: Israel is doing well not only because of the high vaccination rate, but also because of a VERY strict Immunity Passport program, total border control, quarantine + testing for 100% of people entering the country (maxed at 3000 per day). Israel is not doing well because of the vaccine (well of course ALSO because of the vaccine), but mainly because of ALL of the measures together.
And then there is the overarching FACT (as evidenced in Israel and several other countries): If we strictly control people´s real time COVID status, ensuring that their status actually matches to their identity and that the status is not a forgery, then, we are really taking a lot of the risk out of the system.
We are now doing this at international borders but we need to start doing this throughout society, at the entrances to schools, bars, offices, retirement homes, public transport. It is difficult to think of any part of everyday life where this will be a bad idea.
There is also something new we have now that we didn’t have last year (or even earlier this year): we have a standard on how to create interoperable, verifiable digital COVID Credentials that we can link to a specific identity. I know this is not something most people will get excited about, but it is a MAJOR breakthrough. The HL7 on FHIR Smart Health Card Standard is flooding the world and being adopted by private systems and governments everywhere. Even the WHO is now urging all governments to develop their vaccine passports on this standard.
For those that don’t get excited by new technology standards, the significance of this is that we will very soon be able to really flood the market with verified digital COVID credentials to guarantee that ONLY those with a protected status can enter. Now we just need to jump over our pre-COVID ideas of freedom of movement, discrimination etc. The virus does not care very much about these arguments.
Lastly, it is important to note that a lot of the major developments mentioned here and specifically the creation of a standard that is now being adopted globally, happened without active government participation. We saw this happening in real time as members of the Vaccine Credential Initiative which also played an important role in the development of the standard. This was a private collaboration between companies, health care institutions, universities. Governments were relevant AFTER the solution was created – in creating legislation to allow for scale.
It is entirely possible that the next review we will do in seven years (or 12 months) will look back at 2021 as the year where we finally became serious about what needs to be done to stop the pandemic AND open up the economy. We must control real status in real time BEFORE someone enters a country, building, nightclub etc.
But then again, our next review could be about how we knew what had to be done but we were not bold enough and so the pain continues.