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| 5 minutes read

ICYMI: Data challenges & blind spots keep us guessing what's around the corner for mobility programs being impacted by Covid-19?

Here's a bit of a scary wake-up call. According to this CNN article, "If 1 in 5 Covid-19 infections results in long Covid and true infections are seven times higher than reported, the number of people with long Covid could be growing by 100,000 each day." The reality is that official Covid-19 case metrics severely undercount the true number of infections. Trends can be hard to determine because home testing can skew the data, leading to a pretty big blind spot. So is it any wonder that the President of the United States just caught Covid-19 last week while on his global travels? As of last week, an average of more than 930,000 newly confirmed virus cases were being reported globally each day, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. This is a 37% increase over the last two weeks, especially with more people catching Covid-19 for the second or third time. 

This is impacting employment significantly. According to the Wall Street Journal, "This summer is proving to be a season of staffing headaches. A rise in Covid-19 absences in recent weeks amid the spread of the BA.5 subvariant, combined with planned time off, has left restaurants, hotel chains, manufacturers and other workplaces struggling to keep operations running this summer. At some companies, bosses say, staffing is harder now than at any previous stage in the pandemic." On top of this, we have been experiencing all of the ongoing and disruptive travel chaos caused by these staffing challenges.

So what should global mobility programs expect at this point? Strain BA.5 is becoming dominant and evades antibodies from vaccinations and previous infections better, but it's also less severe. With travel increasing, (75% of Travel Managers in Europe Expect 2022 Business Travel Volume to Surpass 2019 Levels) we should probably expect increasing infection rates with low numbers of hospitalizations. Knowing that, mobility teams will need to continue to stay aware of where the virus is surging. Here are a few of the key countries to keep an eye on:

  1. United States: Known infections are rising in at least 40 states, particularly in the Great Plains, West and South. The C.D.C. said that the BA.5 Omicron subvariant accounted for nearly 80 percent of infections in the U.S. last week. Los Angeles County is planning to reinstate indoor mask mandates on July 29 as the state’s Covid cases increase.) The current wave, in which the new number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has risen more than 40 percent in the last month, is also putting fresh stress on facilities (hospitals) as federal funding for the pandemic response is running out, leaving some with less flexibility to hire more staff if they need to. 
  2. Canada: Canada has resumed its random arrival testing for fully vaccinated air travelers which had been temporarily suspended on June 11. Unlike before, the Covid-19 testing will now take place outside of airports to reduce congestion in the terminals. Per BAL Immigration, As of July 19, fully vaccinated travelers entering the country through the Calgary International Airport, Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport or Vancouver International Airport may be randomly selected for on-arrival COVID-19 testing. Travelers will receive an email, including information on how to schedule a COVID-19 test, within 15 minutes of completing their customs declaration if they have been selected for on-arrival testing. This must be completed by the end of the next calendar day after arriving into Canada, either by an in-person appointment at select testing provider locations and pharmacies or via virtual appointment for a self-swab test. Quarantine is not required however. If you are thinking of heading to Canada soon, be sure to review the latest entry protocols for Americans, which include submitting proof of vaccination and other passenger details via the ArriveCan app within 72 hours of travel.
  3. China: Per the New York Times, there are more than a dozen Chinese cities dealing with Omicron variant outbreaks currently. The emergence of more infectious subvariants of the coronavirus has triggered mass quarantines, including 2,000 tourists stranded in a popular beach resort town. About 264 million people in 41 cities are currently under full or partial lockdowns or living under other measures, analysts at Nomura, wrote in a note last Monday. Beihai, Weizhou Island and Tianjin are a few cities to watch. In Shanghai, another round of mass testing is happening. To really gain a better sense on how different China is handling the pandemic currently than the rest of the world, read this recent newsletter from Bloomberg
  4. Australia: More than 300,000 cases have been reported last week and Australians are being urged to work from home and wear masks indoors as Covid hospital cases surge. Some 5,239 Australians are currently in hospital with COVID-19, just short of the record 5,390 recorded in January. 
  5. New Zealand: a recent surge fueled by variants has hit the country and Reuters reports that New Zealand's Covid death rate has hit record levels. Deaths from the virus reached 151 in the seven days to July 16, compared with 115 in the worst week of the previous wave, in March.
  6. Japan: Japan’s government has urged people to exercise the “highest level of vigilance” after the country reported a record number of new Covid-19 cases in a new wave of infections driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant. Tokyo easily beat its existing daily record with 31,878 cases. The capital, along with Osaka and Fukuoka, were among 30 of the country’s 47 prefectures to report record highs this week. 
  7. Germany: Germany has seen cases increase and expect even greater numbers are the reality given that they stopped providing citizens with free PCR testing in June. Within one month, the number of people unable to turn up for work almost doubled. Germany is one of the countries in the EU with no current Covid-19 travel restrictions which means that regardless of vaccination history there is no need to show any documentation relating to a traveler's health status. 

Last week, the CDC elevated these 5 locations to high risk:

  • Colombia
  • Iraq
  • Kosovo
  • North Macedonia
  • Paraguay

Then, just this week, these additional 6 locations were elevated to "high risk":

  • Bangladesh
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • El Salvador
  • Fiji
  • Honduras
  • Poland

There were more than 120 destinations at Level 3 on July 25. Level 3 locations account for about half the roughly 235 places monitored by the CDC. Currently, there are no Level 4 (Do not travel) COVID-19 Travel Health Notices at this time. Given that more than 1 in 2 Americans live in areas where the CDC is now urging people to wear masks to reduce transmission of the virus, now is a great time to stock up on your at-home tests, if you haven't received the maximum 16 free COVID tests from the US government. 

Also check out some additional resources for travel and health related to Covid-19.

(CNN)Official Covid-19 case metrics severely undercount the true number of infections, leaving the United States with a critical blind spot as the most transmissible coronavirus variant yet takes hold. The Omicron offshoot BA.5 became the dominant variant in the US last week, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the subvariant carries key mutations that help it escape antibodies generated by vaccines and prior infection, aiding its rapid spread. With that will come "escalating numbers of cases and more hospitalizations," Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said on CNNi Monday. "One good thing is it doesn't appear to be accompanied by the ICU admissions and the deaths as previous variants, but this is definitely concerning."


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