The responses we have seen to the Omicron variant reveal how fragile societies now are, and also how different the national responses have been, says Julia Graham, CEO of AIRMIC.
The worst of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to be behind us, with the removal of restrictions in the UK in July 2021. Since then, people have started to return to the work place, and business travel is gradually on the increase. COVID-19 might not have gone away, but societies had been learning to live with the virus. The pandemic is becoming endemic.
Yet, new developments such as the discovery of the Omicron variant of the virus threaten to undo much of the post-pandemic recovery. The responses we have seen to this variant reveal how fragile societies now are, and also how different the national responses to the virus and its variants have been. More and more governments are considering making vaccination compulsory, at least for certain groups of people such as health workers. Some countries such as Greece will be imposing fines on citizens above 60 who refuse to get vaccinated.
Anti-establishment political parties lost support early in the pandemic, as voters saw them as not being competent enough to steer us through the crisis. But as the pandemic has dragged on and lockdown fatigue has grown, extremist forms of politics have returned with a vengeance. The outbreak of violent protests in Belgium and the Netherlands in November, against fresh lockdown measures, show how the recovery is susceptible to ever new developments.
Indeed, the pandemic continues to affect regions of the world at different rates and in different ways, depending on seasonality and the success of in-country responses, including vaccination programmes. Organisations will need to continue to focus on their duty of care for their people who travel, while also considering the longer-term implications of business travel in relation to climate change. Organisations need to promote a culture where travel-related risk is taken seriously, as employers address a growing list of common challenges that now include issues such as whether or not to mandate the vaccine and caring for the health and well-being of their people.
Significant challenges continue to exist within the operating environment, and organisations must remain both alert and focused on resilience. For instance, ongoing supply chain issues in the UK, caused by a combination of Brexit and the pandemic, are putting additional pressure on economic recovery and leaving many sectors with a range of different challenges across their value chains.
Finally, the pandemic has caused a significant shift in working patterns, which is here to stay. How this is managed in the long term will have a real impact on an organisation’s ability to recruit and retain talent.