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What lasting, positive transformations may we see because of COVID-19?

Headlines continually tell us about the plethora of changes and disturbances taking place around the globe and in most aspects of our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And whether the end to this catastrophe will occur through the development of record-breaking vaccine production or through herd immunity, a countless number of the changes encountered so far within this short span of time may be long-term. The negative impact of current health, economic and humanitarian crises is felt most acutely and will undoubtedly create lasting scars around the world.

However, change is not always negative. On the surface, some byproducts of the COVID-19 based restrictions and daily routine transformations really don't appear to be that bad. After all, if we chose to, many of us could stay in our pajamas the whole day long and still work effectively and productively from the convenience of our home office. Global air pollution has drastically and measurably decreased. Lockdowns have spurred households to rethink their consumption needs, making now an opportune time to promote viable consumer choices that will become more innate with time. With millions of people retreating from the streets and stuck at home because of COVID-related lockdowns, animals instead fill the void and seem to be enjoying their free run of nature again.

What may be part of the lasting, positive legacy of the COVID-19 era? Patient-friendly advancements made in healthcare structures are unarguably positive. Innovative and original travel solutions may not only benefit the environment and endangered wildlife but can lead to a whole new realm of eco-friendly tourism. The global travel and health insurance industry is confronting challenges and transformations the likes of which have never been seen before. Individuals and businesses are adapting and finding new ways to support their personal and professional needs. Time will tell, but we see several emerging fields.

Flexible work-life options

As of early April, 3.9 billion people were carrying out most of their daily activities such as learning, shopping, playing sports, eating, resting and relaxing all in the protected environment of their home or apartment. At the top of the list of these home-based activities is “work from home.” The coronavirus has made remote working an unforeseen reality, a so-called work from home coup.For example, German-based company Siemens will now allow 140,000 of its global employees to work from home at least three days a week. Time-consuming meetings can nowadays be replaced by virtual sessions. Fly-in-fly-out, or FIFO, business engagements can be replaced by video conferences. Seminars have promptly evolved into webinars, with the audience engaging online, participating, commenting or posing questions from the comfort of their own home offices. How many of these practices will continue as people re-evaluate the importance they place on in-person engagement as part of a more flexible reality?

Environmental impact

Unexpected phenomena are also occurring within the environment as well as on the Earth itself. Scientists who study Earth’s movements say obligatory shutdowns of inland and global transportation systems as well as the reduction of other human activities due to COVID-19 travel restrictions have culminated in a measurable decrease in what they call seismic “noise” around the world. According to Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, where the decrease in seismic noise was observed, a noise reduction of this magnitude is usually only briefly experienced once a year, around Christmas. Indicative reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions can be precisely linked to a decrease incarbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and related ozone (O3) formation associated with global air traffic, road traffic and factory emissions. Governments are reacting to the positive environmental developments and as a result have created sustainable energy expenditure incentive programs as well as other environmental protection goals such as the EU´s €750 billion recovery plan "Next Generation EU" which aims to set aside 25% of EU spending for climate-friendly investments.

Innovations in travel and tourism

The COVID-19 crisis has been financially devastating for the entire travel industry, but the involuntary travel pause has provided industry leaders with an important chance to reassess tourism, and hopefully make positive improvements. As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Travel is down, fear is up, and the future is uncertain. However, tourism can be a platform for overcoming the pandemic. By bringing people together, tourism can promote solidarity and trust — crucial ingredients in advancing the global cooperation that is so urgently needed at this time.” This crisis has provided the entire globe with an opportunity for some much-needed contemplation, a rare chance for tourism boards, travel industry leaders and governments to reset and reimagine what tourism means and how it positively and negatively impacts the travel destinations.

Destination management will also be a forthcoming necessary addition and global solutions will require local expertise as well as regional development. Many countries are in the process of establishing their own innovative transformation travel solutions for these times. Barbados, for example, is offering a 12-month “Welcome Stamp” for visitors possessing a negative COVID-19 test result to bring their own laptop, soak up the sun, enjoy the curative effects of the sea water and work remotely. Ever heard of a “travel bubble”? The concept is to allow citizens from countries with low COVID-19 reproduction numbers, or R numbers, to travel freely within the “bubble,” with no requirement to ride out a 14-day self-isolation quarantine at their destination.The European nations of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have already constructed what they call a "Baltic travel bubble.” What about an “air bridge”? An “air bridge” would allow travelers from countries with low R numbers to fly directly to their travel destination without any COVID-related arrival restrictions. The EU is also currently allowing citizens from 14 carefully scrutinized countries with a stable or decreasing R factor, to enter European countries. However, within a few hours on the 25th of July, the UK unexpectedly “disassembled” the air bridge to Spain to be effective at midnight of the same day. Destination and travel management may be forced to function proactively and have risk management plans at the ready to deploy quickly in order to curtail further outbreaks.

Health transformation

In the midst of this crisis, medicine and hygiene awareness are also dramatically evolving. The pliancy of even the most well-equipped health structures has been tested, forcing immediate and urgent changes. As a result, the increase in the use of telemedicine on a global scale is a positive repercussion of the COVID-19 crisis. FaceTime, Zoom or Skype doctor´s visits are nowadays the state-of-the-art norm. The pre-COVID digitalization of the healthcare system in Germany, for example, has allowed for a smooth transition into the telemedicine era and use of the “German Digital Healthcare Act.” This recent, digital health innovation will also allow all parties to maintain social distancing guidelines that will most likely linger in the post-pandemic era. Additionally, the transition will provide a wide range of market entry opportunities, including, in particular, for private providers from countries with already established telemedicine structures (e.g. Switzerland or Great Britain) as well as startups. Medical personnel as well as health and hygiene authorities are promoting regular handwashing with soap for at least 20 seconds. Social distancing measures are in place. People are getting used to wearing face masks in public places.These newly formed customs could linger way after lockdowns are lifted, leading to long-term improved hygiene practices which, in turn, will aid in hindering the spread of further contagions.

Was a global pandemic of this scale inevitable? In recent years, an army of health authorities have written books, scientific reports, and op-eds cautioning about the probability. Despite these sound warnings, the world was obviously not prepared for a pandemic of this scale. In these unique and uncertain times, however, if we strive to all work together, we can certainly turn the negative circumstances into positive regional and global opportunities. We are learning in the moment, but the positive trends that emerge – along with a strengthened sense of resilience, understanding of the importance of preparedness and planning, and innovative strategies for risk management – offer a bit of needed hope for our post-COVID future.

For additional COVID-related resources, please visit Sedgwick’s COVID-19 update center and explore our back to business toolkit.

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