COVID 19

Global perspective – an introduction:

This article reflects our views on how the pandemic may come to an end, deals with the latest information on Variants Of Concern and discusses the theme of herd immunity. This update ends with the most likely scenario that is going to happen and how this will affect the laundry industry.

The number of COVID 19 cases isn’t falling rapidly. With globally 650.000 new cases and a mortality of between 8000 and 9000 per 24 hrs shows us that the pandemic is not over yet. Having said that: there are already various geographies where vaccination is showing to be THE only route to go.

Herd immunity* is a result of a combination of two factors: The number of people that already got infected plus the number of people that are fully vaccinated. These two together could create a situation where most social gatherings and activities will become possible again. Critics would argue that high vaccination scores don’t guarantee a COVID free society – and these people point to a recent increase in Covid 19 cases in Israel.

Variants of Concern:

With vaccines proving to be effective one could argue that the curve of number of infections is bending in the right direction – but the variants of concern are the ones that threaten this curve to move down rapidly. Many variants have been detected in the last 12 months. But four of them have had a major impact on the speed of the outbreak and created second and third waves.

The potential consequences of these variants are

  • Increased transmissibility, morbidity, mortality and risk of long-COVID.
  • Decreased susceptibility to anti-viral drugs
  • Ability to evade natural immunity and ability to infect vaccinated people.

A new variant will be listed as a VOC or in full: Variant Of Concern If and when a new variant has one or more of the above characteristics. The most dominating variant at this moment of time is Delta.

Vaccination

There is growing evidence that vaccinations are responsible for the reduction in number of patients that need hospitalisation and in addition a sharp reduction in fatalities. The main reason why this reduction isn’t as high as expected is that the effectiveness of the vaccines is minimal for those people having an immune deficiency as a result of immune suppressive medication. Like: rituximab, people with hematologic cancers as well as haemodialysis patients.

But as a whole the international approach should be: maximise the acceptation of vaccination. The roll out of the vaccines is in full swing in most West European countries, U.A.E., Uruguay, Singapore, Israel and Qatar.

The countries that had a strategy of strict lockdown – even when there is only one case of COVID in the country – are now finding out that this tactic isn’t going to work. These countries are now stepping up their vaccination speed. This includes Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.

China and Singapore are the exceptions in this lockdown strategy – since they have combined stringent lockdowns with high vaccination scores.

The slower than required vaccination roll-out is mainly a result of lack of production capacity. The good news is that new factories are being build. Biontech is increasing production but also The co-operation between Moderna and Lonza will rapidly increase availability of mRNA-based vaccines – with new production plants in Europe [Visp and Geleen], South Africa, Australia, Canada and Singapore.

While COVAX and other access initiatives are working to close the gap, many low-income countries may not receive enough doses to vaccinate all adults until well into 2022. The world is on pace to manufacture enough to achieve 80 % coverage [Or even 100% of all adults] at the end of 2021. However, the distribution of these doses might remain asymmetric. This goal of 100 % global coverage might be disturbed by the tendency to start booster shots in “first world” countries.

The laundry industry

Healthcare

There are large regional differences - as regards hospital occupancy. Hospital staff was and is fully focussed on COVID-19 patients occupying ICU and isolation beds. Routine hospital operations are postponed in most countries worldwide – due to this lack of staff. This has had an impact on the total volume of linen to be washed. The expectations are that these volumes will slowly move to pre-COVID numbers in the coming months.

Hospitality

A dramatic drop in international travel – both business and tourist – has had its toll on both the airline industry and hospitality industry [drop in occupancy rate]. As a result: the laundry industry experienced the worst situation since decades. Many countries closed their borders and only now we see that these travel burdens are slowly removed. The figures of improvement are closely monitored by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 1) [see below] Large recovery differences can be observed when comparing regional data. Just as example the hotel booking and occupancy for Europe looks like:

Looking into the crystal ball - Expectations:

Given the likely timing of “herd immunity” in various geographies and the uncertain duration of protection from vaccines (both duration of immune response and efficacy versus new variants), it is likely that some measures such as booster vaccines are likely to be required indefinitely. Herd immunity is not the same as eradication. SARS-CoV-2 will continue to exist. Ongoing surveillance, booster vaccines, and potentially other measures may be needed, even when a country reaches “herd immunity”.

Or with other words there will never be a “pre-pandemic normal”. There will always be a seasonal COVID – that will have the characteristics of a seasonal flu. Provided that the majority of the population appreciates and understands the need for a vaccination and the second disclaimer – of course – is that no variant will emerge that has capabilities of bypassing all existing defence systems.

Literature: 1) UNWTO data: https://www.unwto.org/unwto-tourism-recovery-tracker