by Charley Morrison, Quality Assurance & Data Analyst at CrowdVision
In his 1947 novel The Plague (La Peste), Albert Camus writes of the city of Oran overcome by a plague. Camus details the evolution of the reaction to the plague. To begin, few people take the plague seriously, thinking it will be over soon, continuing with their lives. Town officials dismiss the plague as a false alarm (think Donald trump’s “fake news”). Next, as the plague shows no signs of abating, discussions and arguments erupt over the best action to take to control and slow the spread of disease. Then, people begin to work together to help slow the spread and improve hygiene (washing hands, wearing face masks, and socially distancing).
Maybe you read the book years ago as a student, or is it more or less the unfolding of events over the past year? Written over seventy years ago, this novel by Camus has turned out to be an uncanny resemblance of the chain of events following the outbreak of COVID-19. However, upon closer inspection is it really so strange?
Born in 1913, Camus lived through two pandemics until his death in 1960. The Spanish Influenza in 1918 (50 million deaths) and “Asian Flu” in 1957 (1 million deaths). A third pandemic also occurred after his passing 1968 (1 million deaths). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), influenza pandemics are rare but recurring events, having typically occurred every 10-50 years throughout recorded history.
The following is an excerpt from “Lessons from the History of Quarantine, from Plague to Influenza”: “By the eighteenth century, the appearance of yellow fever in Mediterranean ports of France, Spain, and Italy forced governments to introduce rules involving the use of quarantine. But in the nineteenth century, another, even more frightening scourge, cholera, was approaching. Cholera emerged during a period of increasing globalization caused by technological changes in transportation, a drastic decrease in travel time by steamships and railways, and a rise in trade” (Eugenia Tognotti, 2013).
Does this too sound familiar?
Given the heavy volume of international travel in the 21st century, COVID-19 was able to spread in a matter of months. Measures such as quarantine, improved hygiene, and social distancing, have been implemented to curb the spread of a virus since as far back as the 1700s. Although these actions have been proven to help slow the spread of disease, they are restrictive.
Tognotti notes that decisions made by health authorities often seemed focused more on reassuring the public about efforts being made to stop transmission of the virus rather than on actually stopping the transmission of the virus. Common efforts such as the ones mentioned above require a change of behaviour. Humans are considered social creatures, making quarantine and social distancing foreign to us. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment has soared, working from home is the new normal, and social retreats such as bars, cafes, and restaurants have for the most part been closed. Many people have lost precious social contact.
At the same time, applications such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet have flourished. Virtual “pub quizzes” and poker nights have replaced traditional social outings, and technology allows us to video call our loved ones. Far from being a suitable alternative to real, personal contact, advances in technology have made life during a pandemic a lot more manageable and comfortable compared to the days of the Spanish influenza. If one positive thing results from COVID-19 (and I don’t mean a test result), it is that vast advancements have been made in technology. COVID has accelerated innovation and forced businesses to adapt or get left behind.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
Markets went up over the last few weeks as not one, but three vaccines were announced to be in development with more than 90% effectiveness, with tens of thousands of people involved in trials. The UK alone has ordered over 145million doses of vaccines from Pfizer/BioNtech, Oxford University/AstraZeneca, and Moderna.
While this is great news, experts estimate that it could take up to two years to distribute a vaccine globally. Giving us time to prepare for a return to “normal,” if that even exists anymore, and to contemplate the future in general.
Data will play a large part in how we operate in the future. Data helps us to make informed decisions. It allows us to replace assumptions with knowledge. Perhaps one of the most frightening aspects of the last year has been the uncertainty it has brought. When will the pandemic end? Will it end?
Data may not be able to answer these questions, but it can answer questions such as “how many people are on the bus I am waiting for? How many people are in the shop where I do my groceries?” Data gives us information and reduces uncertainty. Detailed insights gained from data-driven crowd research can be used to reduce the transmission of disease (Goscé, Barton and Johansson, 2014). Spread of disease depends strongly on the behaviour of a crowd, hence why government advice is to keep a distance or avoid large groups.
By investing in technology and using data, companies can proactively offer solutions to help keep their customers safe until vaccines are rolled out, and even after. At CrowdVision, we are eager to get people travelling again, flying again, shopping again, and watching their favourite teams play again, but most importantly, to enable people to do all these things safely.
COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that the world has seen. While we can hope that it will be the last, no one knows what the future holds. What we can do is work towards being more resilient in the face of future crises, being proactive, rather than reactive. CrowdVision began with a core focus on public safety. How to use data and analytics to keep people, businesses, and their customers safe. Pandemics, plagues, and viruses have existed for hundreds of years. Humans are adaptable, resilient creatures, always adjusting to “the new normal.”
“But what does it all mean, the plague? It’s life, that’s all.” – Albert Camus, The Plague