Commissioned studies to understand developing health-related situations around the world, as well as commitment by global authorities to stop international flights should future infections surface may allow the travel and tourism industry to better prepare for imminent pandemics, advised two global infectious diseases experts at last weekâ€™s PCMA Convening Leaders 2021 conference.
The event took on an online/offline hybrid format, with the live segment hosted at Marina Bay Sands Singapore, with support from the Singapore Tourism Board. Safe Management Measures for MICE Events, which includes Antigen Rapid Tests, zoning arrangements for attendees and safe distancing, was implemented.
Paul Tambyah, president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, said: â€śWe depended on science and international organisations like the World Health Organisation (for information), but the (travel and tourism) industry needs to start commissioning their own studies. It is key to know what is going on around the world. You need to be aware of whatâ€™s happening in a farm in China, in Mexico or somewhere in West Africa.â€ť
Joining the panel via live-stream from Melbourne, Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate Professor and patron of the Doherty Institute, urged the travel and tourism industry to lobby national authorities to have a global agreement to â€śstop passenger planes right awayâ€ť should a similar spate of infection flares up locally or â€śin any country across the planetâ€ť.
Doing so could limit the pandemic to a smaller scale and reduce economic damage, he remarked.
â€śWe have been operating over the years on the influenza mantra, that you canâ€™t stop the flu virus. But we stopped the planes in the skies for Covid-19 and we stopped the spread. So this can be done,â€ť Doherty said.
Both medical experts are optimistic about the vaccine developments, saying that it could help the world return to normalcy.
Tambyah noted that the new mRNA technology allows vaccine manufacturers to produce vaccine within weeks. â€śThe people who make these biotech vaccines say they can produce within four to six weeks, even if there is a new strain of Covid going around, maybe Covid-21 or Covid-22,â€ť he said.
In comparison, the flu vaccine is produced through a â€śtedious processâ€ť that could take months.
When asked if it was therefore safe for the world to resume travels, Doherty referenced the case of passengers who were infected onboard a September 2020 flight from Dubai to New Zealand. All the infected passengers were in aisle seats close to the index case.
â€śWe see the same pattern with influenza. The virus doesnâ€™t go through the air; they (inflect) people who are close by. Iâ€™d suggest getting a window seat,â€ť he said.
With or without vaccines and imminent pandemics, Tambyah said people would have to get used to the idea of mask-wearing.
Doherty agrees that continued social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing are wise even as people got inoculated, but said that past experiences show that people throw caution to the wind as soon as a bacterial outbreak is over.
While Tambyah acknowledged that it would be hard to sustain the current level of social distancing for a long time to come, he suggested that the pandemic could forever change the way people socialise and interact.
Citing an example, he said: â€śIn restaurants you tend not to sit so closely to other people as you would at a bar. Maybe the way we interact is going to change. We are going to do more business interactions over three- or five-course meals, which isnâ€™t such a bad idea.â€ť