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The road to recovery: borders, bubbles, and beaches

Border crossing

It should go without saying that international meetings will not fully recover until every country in the world can inoculate its citizens against Covid-19.

Good news, then, that wealthier nations are discussing how to distribute surplus vaccine supplies to the 130 countries who have yet to stick a single jab into a single arm.

Shameful, however, that the discussion has just begun.

The bickering over vaccine distribution amongst advanced nations has illuminated one of the most depressing features of the last 12 months, a hasty retreat into parochialism at a time when the need for international cooperation should have been patently obvious.

Coronavirus, after all, has no respect for international borders.

Jeffers Miruka, President of the African Society of Association Executives, told me any delays in the vaccination rollout in Africa would have a ‘devastating effect’ on the continent.

“You and I know that if there is no vaccine in Africa, almost everyone from the developed countries in the West will want to avoid Africa, and you don’t have to be a quantum physicist to work out the effect of that on our economies and especially the meetings industry.”

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Glass bubbles

Meanwhile the pandemic continues to pit ingenuity against incredulity.

Business travellers arriving in Singapore will swerve quarantine by entering an elaborate ‘bubble’, involving dedicated airport transfers, floor-to-ceiling glass partitions, one-way doors, shopping apps, and, for those who like to stay ripped in times of unprecedented international crisis, ‘contactless gyms’.

The pilot scheme at Singapore Expo – called Connect@Changi – is aimed at facilitating small meetings of senior leaders, legal negotiators, wealth managers, private bankers, and sales directors, who can ‘see’ their local hosts (through a glass divider), without breathing on them.

Once inside the bubble, international visitors are not allowed to leave without permission.

The consortium behind the facility, part of the wider Connect@Singapore scheme,  said it was designed to keep Singapore open for business, and the innovation is nothing if not impressive.

But if it means travelling thousands of miles to talk to someone through a screen, might it not be easier to Zoom?

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Let’s take this outside

Remember all those ‘Covidiots’ recklessly packing the beaches of southern Europe last year?

Turns out it was something of a moral panic.

Far from being the ‘super-spreader’ events the frontpages wanted us to believe, the chances of a spike in infections linked to crowds of sun-worshippers was always, approximately, nil.

According to Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at Edinburgh University who advises the UK government on modelling pandemics, the outcry was pure media fabrication.

“There were no outbreaks linked to public beaches,” he told MPs. “There’s never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach, ever, anywhere in the world, to the best of my knowledge.”

Something for meeting planners to ponder as the weather warms up?

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