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ExCeL London - 24-25 February 2021
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Dr. Adrian Hyzler talks:
The entire world is reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic. With schools closed and restaurants, theaters and office buildings shuttered, most people have settled into some version of a "new normal" and are left to wonder what life will be like on the other side of "quarantine fog." Healix International/HX Global chief medical officer Dr. Adrian Hyzler answered some of the questions the company has been receiving from clients and partners around the globe. Plus, BTN Europe chief editor Andy Hoskins quizzed him about topics closer to business travel.
BTN: What do you think the world will look like in a year with respect to Covid-19?
Hyzler: A year from now the world will have re-opened in varying degrees. Restaurants and theaters will be open again but likely with diminished capacity. Sports may be played with smaller audiences, and we may see people having their temperature taken as they enter arenas. Public places will need to be very stringent in their commitment to disinfecting frequently and thoroughly. Offices may have a rotating schedule of remote work to reduce the number of people in enclosed spaces. There may be "point of contact" rapid diagnostic testing prior to entry to healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and other institutions where distancing is problematic—some companies may also choose to adopt this approach. This depends on accurate, affordable and simple-to-use test kits being mass produced. Companies may limit the number of people in meetings or depend more on virtual meeting tools. In turn, we may see less traffic, fewer motor vehicle accidents and less pollution.
It is likely we will still be living with many remnants of the Covid pandemic of 2020. Companies will re-evaluate their business continuity plans as a result of lessons learned. Duty of care will become more important than ever before as organizations will need to provide their employees with critical resources to stay well both physically and mentally in the workplace and also where travel is concerned.
BTN: Will certain groups or regions fare better than others?
Hyzler: There will be many people who remain distanced from society, because they are vulnerable or traumatized by the pandemic experience. [In terms of regions], some Southeast Asian countries that tackled the situation early and drew from previous experience of outbreaks in the region will pull forward much more quickly. For the resource-poor countries in Africa and Latin America where the pandemic arrived later, there is likely to be a more prolonged course. Their economic and health systems will be supported by the World Health Organization and countries that have passed the peak and have an excess of hospital equipment, medical professionals and personal protective equipment supplies that can be distributed to the most affected countries.
BTN: How will airlines and hotels get to grips with social distance measures, and will these still be in place a year from now?
Hyzler: While the world will re-open gradually in the months to come, social distancing will play a continued role to some degree. … The travel industry has the toughest job in getting their businesses back up and running [in this environment]. Airlines may start off by only allowing one passenger at a time to get up inflight, cutting out the inflight meal, leaving middle seats empty and running half-filled planes, but will there be the appetite for travel if there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine at either end or even both ends? The other question is, how long can the airline industry afford to run half-filled planes?
I think the ultimate solution will be to return to full occupancy by performing point-of-care testing at the airport prior to departure. Eventually, there will be a rapid diagnostic test for the antigen that is affordable, quick, simple to use and accurate. There is research going on into a new swab that will allow the sample to be taken from just inside the nostril so that anyone can do it. That way confidence in a safe journey can be established by excluding anyone who tests positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, even if asymptomatic. All crew will be tested before every flight.
The hotel industry will have less difficulty with maintaining social distancing but will need to make changes in their check-in process, their dining facilities, and the room-cleaning service. [Rapid diagnostic testing] may be brought in for all staff, [but] it would not be feasible to test guests every time they returned from an outing. I envisage this going on for at least a year, as I do not expect that any potential vaccine program will be up and running by then, and certainly not with the penetration required.
BTN: How will companies deal with employee resistance to business travel?
Hyzler: A lot of business travelers will be anxious about getting back on planes for business trips. Measures [like rapid diagnostic testing] may help to restore confidence in the travel industry, but there will still be people unwilling to travel until a safe and efficacious vaccine is available. Businesses will need to listen to the concerns of employees and tailor business requirements accordingly. There will be a greater drive, I suspect, toward teleconferencing meetings until travel gets back to "normal."
BTN: What are the chances of effective treatments or maybe even a vaccine being ready in a year?
Hyzler: Despite the global collaboration between scientists, institutions and governments, we may well still be searching for an effective vaccine in a year. Many vaccine candidates will have fallen by the wayside, and even if vaccines reach the final lap in the race for validation, there will be problems with the efficacy of the vaccines and subsequent difficulties in scaling up to the quantities that are needed across the world. In all likelihood, there will be several vaccine candidates that are eventually licensed around the world, and they will take their place alongside the annual seasonal influenza immunization.
Treatment, though perhaps able to reduce the severity of the disease if taken early in the course of the illness, is unlikely to completely eradicate Covid-19. More potent drugs to treat severe disease may reduce the case fatality rate, but just as seasonal influenza still results in between 400,000 and 600,000 deaths each year, despite treatment and a customized vaccine, it is unlikely that Covid-19, with its multi-organ involvement, will be cured or eradicated.
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