25th April 2020
Flicking through today´s news items I stumbled upon several short articles dealing with the issue of immunity after SARS-Cov-2 infection. There is certainly no current consensus on the issue and, at the current time, no hard data to prove things one way or the other. This made me think about possible scenarios after the current first wave of infections. If the immunity that those who have been infected develop lapses within a year or two then we may well enter into a cycle of waves of infections, each modulated by the levels of social distancing and the numbers of infections in the region. This would imply that we might need to significantly reduce the density of interaction and concentrations of people in all areas of our lives.
What might this mean for us?
- Changes in the structure of mass transportation
- Changes in leisure activities
- Changes in the work environment
- Changes in the education environment
Changes in the structure of mass transportation
In the new pandemic era we will need to minimise forms of transportation that involve fitting a lot of people into one area for a longer period of time. This could necessitate either reducing the number of people in one space or dividing up the given area into compartments with a few people in each. There will also be further engineering/design considerations such as how to structure air conditioning so that bacteria or viruses can be filtered out as quickly as possible to minimise distribution in multi-person compartments. These will affect all modes of transportation from aircraft, railways, subways/underground, buses to ferries and taxi´s.
There will be significant investment costs that will be incurred before transportation companies can resume services in the peri- to post-pandemic era. The density of seating will be permanently reduced which will affect low-cost travel disproportionately. International travel may also be further affected by quarantine rules at point of entry which may shift preferred modes of transportation in favour of slower-but-safer methods (with possible ecological benefits). As an example, if the USA should require a two week quarantine for travellers from third countries then travel by ship from, say, Europe would gain significant attractivity compared to flying, this might appear bizarre at the moment but could become part of the “new normal”.
Rail travel could be significantly affected too with a move to small compartments which can be entered directly from outside and imply less movement and contact within the train itself. Shipping-based transportation would probably be affected least (with the exception of leisure cruise ships as I will mention later) and could probably adapt most easily. Taxis could probably be modified without high cost to a more pandemic-suitable design. All the above changes would lead to a significant increase in costs for transportation, particularly in the budget travel area, in the pandemic era.
Changes in leisure activities
“Okay, it´s been a long week, let´s meet up at the cafe then maybe we can go to the cinema later”. Errr, hang on, that sounds very pre-corona. With the pandemic seating density requirements now in effect we have next to no chance of getting a table in the cafe if you haven´t booked two weeks ahead and the cinema is pretty expensive with its new “spaced seating”, it´s also probably booked up so maybe we go for a walk in the park and then…
There will be serious changes here too. As with transportation there will have to be significant changes in our leisure activities. The persons per square metre requirement along with, maybe, further requirements for air conditioning will force big changes in everything from cinemas to trips to the aquarium with the kids. The more “indoors” the activity, the greater the changes will be. We will probably end up spending more time outdoors which is quite probably not an entirely bad thing.
There will also be definite changes in our holidays. Camping with a bit more space between tents may well be less affected but the idea of spending time with thousands of others closely packed onto a cruise ship will become a lot less attractive if not impossible under pandemic spacing requirements.
Changes in the work environment
The general structure of the working day for most people still involves travelling to the work place, starting work at a standardised time, finishing at a standardised time then heading for home. If people start to avoid public transportation for health reasons then our already congested road transportation system could well collapse into permanent grid-lock. There will be significant pressure to restructure the work environment wherever possible, for jobs that can be, at least partially, performed at home to transition further in that direction.
There could also be changes in the priority of transportation. Those who are employed in areas considered essential services such as health and care, food and wares logistics or administration and public services could be given priority status in road-use or public transportation use. The capacities we have will need to be carefully considered and, if necessary, rationed according to the priorities of society. This could imply a radical change in paradigm in our mobility.
Changes in the education environment
School is still, for most people, a place of learning. But what could the school of the future look like? Will it still be a place of learning or more of a focus of learning with students/pupils coming in for some activities or classes but doing more learning in other environments or at home? The technology for a more flexible learning system is mostly already available but are we willing to do it? Parallel to possible changes in schooling itself there is also the transportation issue of how to get all pupils/students to and from school when they need to under the new pandemic considerations. The education environment is a particular challenge because although it may not have the highest priority in the short term, it is essential for the medium and long-term success of our society and will be a key measure of how well we manage our response to the current crisis.