Vaccine Passports?

With the news that the UK government said that businesses are free to pursue vaccination ID tech, how likely are vaccine passports?

Vaccine Passports

The phrase ‘vaccine passports’ refers to people (who have been vaccinated) being able to show proof of vaccination in the form of digital vaccination credentials/a digital ID, perhaps on an app, enabling them to gain access to services and venues (for cinemas, events, and concerts), for international air travel, or even to get jobs. The implication is that those without a vaccine passport will not have access to these things.

What Would It Take?

Vaccine passports would require the development of an app-based ID system that is reliable, accurate, secure, and is recognised by most businesses, organisations, and government agencies nationally and internationally (for travel overseas).

Scientists From The Royal Society appear to believe that vaccine passports are feasible and whilst not advocating the idea, they suggest that it is likely that they will be introduced and that international standardisation of the criteria for issuing vaccine passports will be required.  With this in mind, the Royal Society has outlined 12 criteria that vaccine passports could meet to be workable, which are:

– Meet benchmarks for Covid-19 immunity.

– Accommodate differences between vaccines in their efficacy and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants.

– Be internationally standardised.

– Have verifiable credentials (it is possible to prove that someone has been vaccinated).

– Have defined uses.

– Be based on a platform of interoperable technologies such as different operating systems (Android or Apple) and different devices (phones, tablets and offline).

– Be secure for personal data.

– Be portable.

– Be affordable to individuals and governments.

– Meet legal standards.

– Meet ethical standards.

– Have conditions of use that are understood and accepted by the passport holders.

Already Testing

Some companies and countries are reported to be at least testing ideas for vaccine passports.  For example, Estonia, working with the World Health Organization (and others) is reported to be testing a vaccination certificate for use at its borders and Israel is reported to be developing a green passport and a purple badge, on a smartphone, linked to ID, to allow access for vaccinated people to places such as gyms, centres of worship, hotels, and more. Israel, however, has a relatively small population, a good supply of vaccine, and a centralised health care system which could make a system like a vaccine passport seem more viable.

Companies such as Salesforce and Emirates Airlines are also reported to be working on apps that could be used as vaccine passports for international travel. 

No Jab, No Job

Some businesses in the UK have also been looking at ‘no jab, no job’ contracts for workers, which would most likely involve a vaccine passport.  For example, Barchester Healthcare (200 care homes in the UK) and Pimlico Plumbers have been featured in news reports as looking to implement a policy whereby all new recruits would need to have COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of getting employment with those companies.

Alternative

Although the UK’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment), Nadhim Zahawi, appears to have offered businesses the freedom to pursue potential vaccination ID tech ideas, he has also made it clear that the UK government’s stance is that rapid flow tests would be a better method for ensuring people can enter venues safely.  Rapid (lateral) flow tests detect active infections and although they may be cheap and relatively fast (20 minutes), and good generally for detecting people at the most infectious point, there are still questions about their overall accuracy. 

Some have criticised Zahawi’s suggestion that lateral flow tests would be a good option for venue access, saying that it would simply not be practical given the number of tests required, the amount of time people would be required to wait around, and the impact on prices and more.  For example, The UK Cinema Association said asking all customers to have a rapid test and then to wait 30 minutes for a result would be “impractical” and that it could lead to a “50% uplift on their cinema ticket”.

Combination

The government is hoping that the combination of the national vaccine programme as well as testing will be a way back to a kind of normal. Some are also predicting that private companies will use a proprietary solution and open protocols (e.g. blockchain) to create a hybrid solution which they will then go to the government to endorse.

Challenges – Technology, Privacy, Security, Ethics, and Discrimination

The idea of a (digital, smartphone-based) vaccine passport has many challenges including:

– The mobile technology needed may be beyond the capabilities of the UK government.

– Discrimination against those who, for whatever reason (the young, pregnant or can’t have the jab for medical reasons), have not received (or chosen not to receive) the vaccine.

– Ethical questions about forcing people to feel that they must be vaccinated and favouring those (jobs, services, and travel) who have had the vaccine.

– Scientific questions about how long immunity lasts and whether vaccines will actually protect against new variants, whether vaccination will help with any kind of ‘herd immunity’, plus how often boosters/new vaccines will be needed in the coming years.

– Questions about the legal standards required to operate this system.

– Questions about data protection and data security for digital ID and sensitive information (vaccination records and personal details).

– Questions about human rights and equality.

– A potential backlash from groups who do not want to be vaccinated.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

At this point in time, national vaccination programmes are still underway. Although initial research results have been very positive (showing that vaccination appears to be significantly reducing hospitalisation and severe symptoms among older age groups) it is still not completely clear how vaccination will affect the transmission of COVID-19 on a large scale and this in itself is a challenge for a vaccine passport idea. The UK government is currently pinning its hopes on vaccines, treatments and testing, including lateral-flow tests for rapid testing in communities and workplaces as a way forward, although suggesting to businesses that they can explore solutions may mean that other options may be considered going forward. 

There is global inequality in vaccination programmes and the availability of technology (e.g. smartphones for apps) and creating international standards for passports would clearly have practical challenges in addition to all the other challenges (security, ethics, equality and more). The nature of the disease, its spread, scale, and impact are things that have not been experienced in living memory. Although there are annual, optional flu vaccinations in the UK with the record of vaccinations being held at individual surgeries, the scale and complications vaccination for COVID-19 (and where we are at globally with technology) will undoubtedly involve the need for new solutions towards record-keeping of vaccinations for a population in the developed world who are used to using smartphone apps for many forms of verification, accessing services, buying tickets and more.  It is not inconceivable then, that a kind of smartphone-based ID system that’s fast and convenient could be something that businesses in hard-hit sectors (entertainment, travel and hospitality) are hoping for and would consider to help them recover and move forward.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has recently been reported as saying that there will be a review into the use of vaccine passports, probably led by Michael Gove and that it is possible to consider the vaccine passport issue at the same time as the rollout as vaccinations. However, the Prime Minister also acknowledged that there are some complex issues around the idea.  The announcement this week that all British adults are to be offered a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine by July 31 could form the basis of a vaccine passport programme in the near future.  With schools due to go back within weeks and with more than 100 days still to go before most restrictions are lifted, however, it’s still a case of ‘wait and see’.

Coronavirus Lockdown Increases ‘Romance Fraud’

UK Finance and Action Fraud have both reported increases in fraud related to romance scams over the lockdown period.

What Is Romance Fraud?

Romance fraud/romance scams refers to fraudsters adopting fake personas online in order to fool a victim into thinking they are in a serious romantic relationship with the aim of convincing the victim to send money (e.g. bank transfers, gifts) or share personal information which can later be used to commit identity fraud. Fraudsters (gangs) also use romance fraud victims to help them launder money.

UK Finance and Action Fraud Figures

With Valentine’s Day just gone, UK Finance figures show a 20 per cent increase in bank transfer fraud in 2020 on the previous year linked to romance scams.  UK Finance figures also show that the total value of these kinds of scams rose by 12 per cent to £18.5m.

Action Fraud

In both 2019 and 2020, the amount of money lost to romance fraud outstripped that stolen by online shopping fraud, according to Action Fraud, which is the main reporting body in the UK.

Who?

Lloyds Bank data shows that those who are particularly at risk of romance fraud are people aged 55 to 64.  These are often people who live alone an/or may be out of touch with family and friends, may not be skilled with technology and may be at a point in their life where they are actively looking for a relationship. The national lockdowns and other restrictions on social lives over the pandemic also appear to have made it easier for romance fraudsters to target and exploit their victims.

Dating Apps

Dating apps are one of the main ways that romance fraudsters target their victims and Online Dating Association figures show that 2.3 million UK citizens used dating apps during the lockdown.  Many of those targeted through dating apps are thought to have been duped into losing £18.5m through bank transfer fraud in 2020 with an average loss per victim of £7,850.

Romance fraudsters also use fake social media (Facebook) profiles and pages, using stolen photos as well as fake websites in order to support an online persona. They often pose as soldiers, merchants, or professionals, and closely study the online profiles of their victims in order to help provide fuel for manipulative conversations.

Not Reported

Many people do not report falling victim to romance scams due to embarrassment and shame, and many victims have their self-esteem damaged as well as losing money.

Bank Code

In 2019, banks agreed upon a code that if a fraud victim is found to have “taken reasonable care and has any element of vulnerability” they may be able to receive a refund from the bank.

How To Avoid Romance Fraud

Steps that people can take to avoid falling victim to romance fraud include:

– Making sure that a person can physically (and safely) meet the person face-to-face who wants a relationship with them.  Romance fraudsters tend to avoid personal contact, preferring email, phone, Skype to hide their fake identity and avoid difficult questions.

– Have a healthy suspicion of people who try to move the conversation quickly away from communication through a dating website to other more private means e.g., email, or of anyone trying to randomly connect via email, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, or other online means.

– Google the text used in conversations as it is often part of a well-known scam script.

– Use Google Image search at images.google.com to check if any photographs of a person are genuine, stolen or have featured in other scams.

– Never send money to a romantic online contact.

– Contact Action Fraud with any suspicions of romance fraud.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although dating sites and social media are generally used legitimately, it pays to be suspicious of certain types of behaviour and requests, and if something sounds too good to be true, it’s often because it is.  Fraudsters are skilled manipulators, often used scripted, tried and tested approaches and are aware that potential victims may be emotionally vulnerable for a number of reasons.  This is something that has been exacerbated by the isolation, separation, and restrictions of the pandemic lockdowns.

Those Who Understand Stats Less Prone To COVID

New Research from the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), suggests that people who understand statistics and data are more likely to take COVID-19 prevention advice seriously.

The Results

The research results, published in the paper ‘The Role of Statistical Literacy in Risk Perceptions and Behaviour During the COVID-19 Pandemic’ suggest that people are more likely to voluntarily comply and wear a mask, practice social distancing and get vaccinated to prevent others from getting infected if they understand statistics and data. The research results also suggest that statistical literacy leads to a better understanding of the virus threat, the ability to keep up with changes in the situation, and the ability to more accurately incorporate new information in the formation of expectations.

By the same token, researchers Professor Daniel Metzger and Dr Mikael Paaso from RSM and Dr Vesa Pursiainen from the University of St. Gallen’s suggest that those individuals who don’t have a good understanding of statistics can make less well informed and potentially inappropriate decision making which could make them more likely to catch the virus.

Confidence in Science

Those who more are statistically literate also have a higher level of confidence in science and in healthcare and this is thought to be one of the main reasons why statistically literate people generally consider flu vaccinations more important.  It follows, therefore that statistically literate people may be more likely to voluntarily receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The research results also suggest that statistically literate people are likely to have been less satisfied with communication by the government during the pandemic, as well as being less satisfied with advice coming from media and science.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The research results appear to show that those who understand statistics and data may be better equipped to protect themselves (and others) during the pandemic and to act in a way that appears to be responsible given the messages from science, the government, and the media. The results also suggest that there is an education gap in the population that could be contributing to a higher infection rate.  This means that more effort is needed by government and health organisations to clearly explain and present any statistical data and how this relates to government advice and measures. Clear explanations of what figures, charts/graphs and pandemic statistics mean could lead to wider understanding and acceptance and could make more people voluntarily compliant in a beneficial way.  This is particularly important as regards to information about the new vaccines and how safe they are, given what appears to be a fast development time.  Employing other methods such as showing influencers, celebrities, and people who appeal to many different reference groups receiving the vaccine and endorsing advice and measures may also help.  It should be remembered, however, that there are many different influences on attitudes and opinions in addition to just statistical literacy and a more holistic approach may be needed to tackle what is a critical issue.

AI COVID Cough Detector

MIT research has used an AI model trained on cough sounds to detect an early stage COVID cough.

Identifies Cough Pattern

Those who catch COVID-19 but remain largely or completely asymptomatic (and therefore do not get a test) are proving to be a challenge in stopping the spread of the virus. With this in mind, researchers have used the knowledge that coughs can be used to help identify multiple conditions to develop an AI model that can identify the individual pattern of a COVID-19 cough and thereby, aid diagnosis.

Which Conditions?

The nature and different sounds of coughs have long been used to help give information about many different conditions. Also, recently, research published in the Lancet, which also named one of the AI COVID cough researchers as a contributor (Mar Santamaria), used automated (AI) linguistic analysis to predict future onset of Alzheimer’s.

How?

The research to identify the pattern of COVID-19 used forced-cough cell phone recordings of more than 4000 subjects to create a huge cough dataset. This dataset was then used to train an AI/machine learning model which used an adapted AI speech processing framework that could make acoustic biomarkers, thereby enabling it to tell the difference between coughs.

Results

Amazingly, when the AI model’s results were then validated with an official COVID-19 test, the model achieved COVID-19 sensitivity of 98.5 percent with a specificity of 94.2 and for asymptomatic subjects the sensitivity was 100 per cent with a specificity of 83.2 percent. This research appears to show, therefore, that it is possible for AI to pick out a COVID-19 cough from other types of cough and that, as concluded by the researchers, “AI techniques can produce a free, non-invasive, real-time, any-time, instantly distributable, large-scale COVID-19 asymptomatic screening tool to augment current approaches in containing the spread of COVID-19”

Next

It is understood that the research team are now working with hospitals to create an even more diverse cough dataset with plans to create an app-based diagnostic tool.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This shows how AI technology can be used to create unique diagnostic tools that could have a huge positive impact in tackling difficult world challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and how to test and screen accurately and easily. The researchers see this tool as having value in daily the screening of students, workers, and public as a way (after lockdowns) of helping businesses and transport systems to open and operate while helping to quickly (in real time) and easily and in a non-invasive way, spot spreaders and thereby potentially help economies and countries get back in control.

Most People Happy With Virtual Doctors’ Appointments

A recent survey from Visionable has shown that 73 per cent of people are happy with the idea of having video consultations with their GP.

Pandemic Strengthens View

The survey, which originally took into account the views of 1500 people back in February (i.e. before the UK lockdown), found that at that time, 69 per cent of people were in favour of video consultations with their GP. A further 1525 people were then surveyed in May, after the lockdown and the spread of the virus. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was found that there had been an increase to 73 per cent of the number of people who preferred the idea of a video consultation rather than a (potentially risky) visit to a GP’s surgery/medical centre.

Physical Visit Not Always Necessary

The survey showed that by May this year, nearly three-quarters of respondents agreed that it is not always necessary to physically see a doctor to receive appropriate care.

Most GPs Now Offer Video Consultations

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, recently claimed that 99 per cent of GP practices now offer video consultations.  This is an 80 per cent rise since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitals also now offer video visits and virtual outpatient appointments.

Concerns

Although COVID-19 and the need to stay apart to avoid infection has been the key driver for the big swing to video consultation availability, concerns still exist about the format itself and its limitations compared to a face-to-face visit.  For example, the Visionable survey revealed that security is seen as a risk by more than half of patients, women are more concerned about showing body parts and some patients are concerned about making mistakes with technology.

Also, some professionals who were part of the survey expressed concerns that the lack of a “laying on of hands” for comfort or for investigation, made it more difficult to build engagement and trust with patients.

Favours The More Affluent

The Visionable survey also found that those on high or mid incomes are happier to have a video consultation.  It may also be the case that these people are more used to using technology such as video conferencing platforms e.g. Zoom or Teams, as part of the work and increasingly so with the remote working necessitated by the lockdown. 

Older patients may also be finding the current situation of GP Consultations a challenge. For example, back in July, Age Cymru in Wales expressed concern that older people, particularly those over 75, were finding the idea of video consultations difficult, and that this is the age group who often need healthcare the most.

Perception Problems

Despite GPs widely offering video consultations as an option now, reports in the media that appropriate access to general practice is a widespread problem have led to complaints and staff members being verbally abused by the public. 

Better Than No Consultation

Whatever the concerns about video consultations as opposed to face-to-face consultations, many commentators agree that a video consultation is better than no consultation at all.  For example, there are widespread concerns that serious conditions like cancer are being missed as patients have simply avoided making any kind of appointment to address medical concerns due to fears of catching COVID-19, and that there is the lack of awareness of the availability of video consultations and a perception that medical professionals may be too busy at the current time to see patients normally.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The 70 IT companies that replaced the old GPSoC framework are benefitting from the move by NHS digital to ensure that GP surgeries, medical/healthcare centres and hospitals all have the necessary solutions in place to conduct video consultations and perform other services and communications tasks digitally.  Users of GP and NHS services now have another option for consultations that may ensure that they can get an appointment more quickly, albeit online, and that doctors can communicate with patients safely (for both) during the pandemic, and continue to operate that way going forward.  Less affluent and older patients, however, may struggle to access video consultations and may, therefore, be more at risk in a number of ways. Doctors may also miss some aspects of face-to-face meetings with their patients and there is a possibility that other important health factors may be missed without a more holistic, face-to-face meeting. COVID-19 is, however, now firmly dictating how many medical services can be accessed and may indirectly be causing many patients with potentially serious conditions to avoid making appointments at this time.  As shown by the survey, however, many people may be warming to and becoming used the idea of video appointments and online meetings for all kinds of things.

Influencers Paid To Promote NHS Test and Trace

In a bid to raise awareness of responsible behaviour concerning COVID-19 among the younger age groups, the UK government is reported to be paying freelance social media influencers and reality TV stars to promote test and trace.

Test and Trace

Test and trace in the UK is branded as NHS but is actually outsourced to private companies and uses a network of commercial testing labs, drive-through centres, and call centres.  The idea of the service, in the absence of an effective app (the UK’s app trialled in the Isle of Wight and failed after it didn’t work on Apple devices and £11 million had been spent), is to enable the identification and contacting of people who may have been unknowingly in close contact with a COVID-positive person e.g. in a restaurant.

Problem

Even though government schemes (e.g. eat out to help out and other messages) have promoted a return to restaurants and other hospitality businesses, the current narrative focuses on young people as mostly potential asymptomatic spreaders who may not be as concerned about the impact of their behaviour on the wider population.  As such, getting the message to them that they must get tests if they have symptoms and self-isolate if contacted are deemed to be especially important.  Other challenges include the fact that the test and trace service is also reported to be failing to deliver, there appears to be a reluctance among many people to share their contact details, and there is a growing weariness of and dislike pandemic restrictions being imposed, changed and re-imposed.

Freelance Influencers and Reality TV Stars

Younger age groups that have grown up with social media and reality TV are known to be susceptible to messages by social media influencers and reality TV stars.  This is believed to be because:

– Social media influencers are perceived as being more like their audience, sharing more of their experiences and therefore more ‘authentic’ (perhaps unlike more guarded celebrity behaviour), often encouraging engagement with social issues (adding to their credibility) and being able to forge a stronger more engaging direct relationship with followers i.e. they are trusted, and they are young.

– Reality TV stars are perceived to be ‘ordinary’ (just like their audience), they are open, spontaneous and outspoken (like their young audience) and they appear familiar and almost friend-like to their young admirers i.e. there is a perceived relationship with the star.

– Social media influencers have massive reach.  Individual influencers can have millions of followers.

Proven

Social media influencers and reality TV stars have a proven record of boosting sales of products in, for example, the fashion and beauty industries through their endorsements.

Who and How Much?

The UK government is reported to have enlisted the services of Love Island stars Shaughna Phillips, Josh Denzel and Chris Hughes.  It is likely that a social media influencer with a large following could be paid thousands of pounds for a single post.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses in the beauty and fashion industries know how important reviews and endorsements for influencers and reality stars can be in boosting brand-power and sales.  Many different businesses also know how difficult it can be to effectively reach younger audiences in a cost-effective way.  It makes sense, therefore, that influencers who can promote test and trace among the young in a positive way and in a way that stresses its ease, convenience and social responsibility is likely to be a good tactic. Businesses in the hospitality sector, for example, have been particularly affected by pandemic restrictions and they are likely to support any intelligent moves to make going out much safer.

Aside from its promotion, however, questions are still being asked about how far people are having to travel to even get a test, how well the test and trace service is operating, where bottlenecks are, and how accurate capacity and testing figures are.

Zoom Zooms Thanks to COVID

Zoom Video Communications Inc has raised its annual revenue forecast by more than 30 per cent as it converts many of its vast free user base to paid subscriptions.

Pandemic Growth

Zoom’s video conferencing platform received a huge boost in user numbers as lockdown began and the platform became a serious competitor to Microsoft’s Teams. One key area of success for Zoom has been managing to more than double (to 988) its number of large customers (with more than $100,000 in revenue in the past year) in the fiscal second quarter. Overall, shares of Zoom have surged almost four-fold this year.

Security

In April and May, however, security issues were raised as research by Check Point indicated that cyber-criminals appeared to be targeting Zoom, and there was concern that Zoom did not want to offer end-to-end encryption to free users because it wanted to stay on the right side of U.S. law enforcement agencies and didn’t want its platform being used for illicit purposes by some users. In June, however, after pressure from privacy group The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Mozilla, Zoom decided to offer end-to-end encryption to all its users, not just paying customers, thereby addressing many security concerns.

Bigger Forecast

In its latest financial update, after easily beating quarterly estimates, Zoom has arrived at the 30 per cent higher annual revenue forecast. Figures show that Zoom’s revenue rose by a massive 355 per cent to $663.5m and the company’s gross profit rose to 71 per cent from 68 per cent.  This is, however, still lower than 80 per cent range that Zoom was operating at before it gained huge numbers of free users during the pandemic lockdown months.

Why?

Zoom’s increased revenue forecasts are based on the fact that it has become a well-known brand that is now widely used by many businesses, it has addressed many security concerns, it has converted more large customers, and it is believed that all these factors can give it the momentum to go on converting free customers to paying customers. This is something that its 71 per cent gross profit fugue shows that it must do.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Zoom’s growth has been meteoric and many companies who found or fully engaged with its platform out of necessity during lockdown have become regular users who may be likely to convert, if they haven’t already done so, to paying customers.  This will put Zoom in an even stronger competitive position as it tries to compete with Microsoft Teams. 

For businesses, particularly smaller businesses, Zoom has proved to be a valuable a tool at a critical time and this, coupled with people now being comfortable with (and experienced at using) it could help propel Zoom to further heights and give it some staying power as a business communications service.

Featured Article – What Are UVC Wands and Do They Work?

In the fight against COVID-19 (and as made famous by U.S. President Trump’s comments about UV light) UVC wands may kill viruses and pathogens, but are they really a safe or effective tool in the fight against COVID-19?

What Are UVC Wands?

UVC light is a kind of ultraviolet electromagnetic light/radiation that has short wavelengths (between 200 and 280 nanometers/nm).  This kind of light can alter the DNA of the Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) of organic cells. Essentially, this alteration by UVC can stop the organic cells from reproducing.  The use of UVC light in cleaning has, therefore, been to kill germs in water, air, food, or on surfaces.

UVC wands, as the name suggests, are hand-held directional UVC lamps in a wand shape.

COVID-19 and Surfaces

COVID-19 is known to be able to live on surfaces, although the time varies with the type of surface and between the different studies and estimates.  For example, as shown in the results in the New England Journal of Medicine, COVID-19 can live longest in plastic (up to 72 hours), whereas it can live on stainless steel for up to 48 hours, just 24 hours on cardboard, and only 4 hours on copper.

The fact that COVID-19 is a virus that can live on surfaces means that it could, therefore, be cleaned from that surface using cleaning products or, for example, a UVC wand.

Do They Work?

The short answer is yes if they are not underpowered or fake (there are fakes for sale online), they can be effective at disinfecting surfaces. It should be noted, however, that the distance and duration that a wand is held from an infected surface are both important factors in how effective a cleaning job can be.  Generally speaking, smooth surfaces such as glass are easier to disinfect than wood, cloth, or other textured surfaces where virus particles could settle. 

Wher They Are Being Sold

The pandemic has led to a surge in demand for UVC wands. This has generated greater sales for existing, trusted manufacturers, and has created opportunities for other manufacturers, but has also led to an online market for perhaps less effective and cheaper devices.

Health Risks To Humans

UVC rays occur naturally in the light from the sun but are normally filtered out when they react with ozone high in the earth’s atmosphere.  Devices such as arc welding torches, mercury lamps, and UVC wands/sanitizing bulbs, however, pose a health risk to exposed human skin (and eyes). Unlike UVA and UVB light that can cause sunburn and skin damage if a person sits unprotected in the sun for hours, UVC is much more intense and can burn a person’s skin within seconds.

Although UVC helps to protect humans by killing viruses and pathogens that may have settled on a surface, it can cause serious damage to human skin e.g. as a cause of skin cancer. The degree of damage depends upon factors such as the UVC wavelength, the dose, and the duration of radiation exposure. Those using UVC wands without being aware of the risks (e.g. not covering skin) and using the wands for prolonged periods may not be aware of the damage caused until several days after exposure.

Cancer

Although UV rays do not penetrate deeply into the body, they do affect the outer layers such as the skin, and exposed, delicate areas such as the eyes (basal and squamous cells).  Just as it is known that the use of use UV tanning beds/booths, especially when a person is under 30, can increase the risk of skin cancer e.g. melanoma and squamous and basal cell skin cancers, too much exposure to UVC light also brings a cancer risk.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, is very clear that “UV radiation (including UVA, UVB, and UVC) is carcinogenic to humans.”

The kinds of cancers that can be caused by UVC light, and possibly by incorrect use of UVC wands include basal cell and squamous cell cancers, melanoma (of the skin and the eye), and  Merkel cell carcinoma which is a less common type of skin cancer.

Protection From UVC

Protection from exposure to UVC (e.g. when using a UVC wand as part of a job) involves:

– Using the device according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

– Wearing protective clothing and using UV shields and filters.

Looking Ahead

In terms of keeping surfaces in workplaces, hubs, and accommodation (e.g. hotels) clean, UV light has long been used as a tool to fight the spread of germs.  The pandemic, and the lack of any vaccine or effective, widely available treatments to date have made people consider using tools such as UVC wands.  This has created opportunities for businesses manufacturing and selling these devices but has also created opportunities for fraudsters to sell fake/ineffective versions of these devices online.  It is important to remember that UVC wands from trusted sources can be an effective tool for cleaning surfaces and killing viruses that may have settled on those surfaces, such as COVID-19.  It should also be remembered that unless safety procedures and manufacturer’s instructions are followed, and unless protective clothing and items are worn/used, UVC light devices can pose a serious health risk. Robotic applications look likely to become more widespread.

Can Wearable Devices Spot Early Symptoms of COVID?

As wearable devices such as fitness wristbands and watches track signs such as body temperature, could they be used to help detect the early signs of COVID-19 infection and thereby help public health responses?

Testing

There are now many ‘wearables’ (health and fitness related devices) on the market such as Fitbits (and other fitness-tracking wristbands), Apple and Garmin Watches, and even ‘smart’ items of clothing. The idea that some researchers have been testing is that wearable devices could act as a kind of early symptom-spotting device for the wearer for conditions like COVID or flu.

Flu

For example, back in January, before the pandemic’s huge spread, research published in the Lancet detailed how researchers had noted that when people are fighting an illness such as influenza, their heart rates are faster, their sleep routines are different to normal, and they tend to spend more time sitting/lying down.  With this in mind, the researchers used fitness data from more than 47,000 Fitbit users across five U.S. states to test whether a Fitbit device could be used to improve influenza predictions compared to traditional flu surveillance methods (which can take weeks).  The researchers found that using the Fitbit data could enhance flu surveillance and consequently improve public health responses.

Wearables Detecting Symptoms

It does appear to be possible, therefore, that wearable devices could detect some symptoms/signs of COVID-19 infection.  For example, wearable temperature patches that send data to smart devices could help to record temperature and sweat rate could be measured by sensors that detect compounds in sweat.

Research

Much of the research for rapid pathogen detection, however, is heading in the direction of trying to develop miniature ‘lab-on-a-chip’ testing.  One example is research focusing on the development of an ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) that can detect the presence of an RNA virus i.e. a virus with RNA (ribonucleic acid) as its genetic material.  Such viruses include the common cold, influenza, SARS, COVID-19, Dengue Virus, and Hepatitis C.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Wearable technology is growing in popularity and health/exercise-related wearables such as bracelets continue to provide helpful insights that can help with healthy living and, therefore, help build healthier immune systems or reduce the chances of users suffering badly from diseases if they do catch them.  For example, COVID-19 appears more likely to severely affect those who are overweight.  Enhancing wearables with more medical diagnostics is an exciting prospect that could provide opportunities for specialised businesses. Research, however, is still in the relatively early stages and there are several big challenges to overcome including creating accurate diagnostic (miniature) technology, and privacy and security challenges in the sharing of fitness/medical data from wearables.

Featured Article – Back to Work!

For those whose workplace would normally be the office, going ‘back to work’ after remote working during the pandemic has its own challenges, so here is a brief reminder and checklist for moving back to the office to work.

New Rules To Protect Physical and Financial Health

The return to office requires new rules and what some call pandemic management protocols (PMPs) that can help maintain a safe office environment for all and avoid the kind of critical risks that could lead to regulatory action, lawsuits, and could threaten the financial (as well as the physical) health aspects of a business. For the time being, and as suggested by Forrester Research, weaknesses, threats and risks that businesses need to consider in their planning include:

– Changes in the behaviours and attitudes of their customers and staff.

– Changes in supply chains and customers – some of those businesses may not exist or may cut back on or change their orders and/or new suppliers may need to be sourced or contacts may have changed.

– The risks posed by an economic recession.

– The risks of a second wave and the need to re-organise in the event of the effects of local lockdowns on regional offices/branches of the business.

– The increase in costs or re-opening offices, re-organising the workplace and resources, increased cleaning, the costs, and operation of any screening equipment e.g. temperature screening, and the costs of providing hand sanitiser, masks plus safety labelling and signage.

Other potential legal risks to consider include:

– Making employees return before they are ready

– Discriminating between employees e.g. on age, gender, or health grounds.

– Violating privacy and security rights of employees and customers e.g. as more contact details are collected or failing to address the risk of increased cyber-attacks as cybercriminals may have taken advantage of remote working and any return to work confusion.

Cleaning

One of the first issues that springs to mind is the organisation and the cleanliness of the physical office environment. After an initial deep clean e.g. by professional deep cleaning (fogging) specialists, there may need to be subsequent deep cleaning if any staff test positive.  New COVID-safe cleaning regimes need to be established (particularly targeting contact points in the building) and hand sanitiser needs to be provided at key points in the office. Assessments that may be needed before a workplace return could include:

– Conducting new Health and Safety risk assessments, taking the COVID-19 risk into account.

– Checking whether ‘clocking in’ can be done online or by another non-contact, safe method.

– Whether (and how) physical meeting rooms can be used and the arrangements regarding lifts.

-The toilets are likely to need more rigorous and frequent cleaning, with the addition of more sanitizer and labelling.

Screens, Notices, Labelling and Directions

Any screens, new layouts, and directions for movement flow (customers and staff) need to be installed, made clear, tested, and labelled.  Safety labelling needs to posted and maintained around the work premises with responsibility allocated to relevant staff members.

Staffing and Policies

Policies that need to be considered/changed and communicated for the return to work include time arrivals and lateness, working at home and mobile working.

For many businesses, it may be a case of organising new rotas for a staged recovery which could mean staggered work times for staff in order to maintain social distancing. Staff will also need to be told how to report Covid-19 related issues.

Other assessments and checks will need to include:

– Getting up-to-date details for staff, and their next of kin.

– Assessing which employees are high risk, who can come back to work in what role effectively band safely, and how employees can reach their work as safely as possible.

– Discussing, clarifying, and communicating Furlough/return from Furlough arrangements.

Plans

The pandemic has brought business continuity and disaster recovery planning into sharp focus.  These plans should be reviewed and updated in relation to the move back to the workplace.

Equipment

With staff returning, there needs to be enough of the right equipment in the workplace and that equipment needs to be operated safely. Considerations could be:

– Whether all work devices and other equipment (e.g. headsets, office chairs etc) have been returned and whether repairs/replacements are needed.

– Whether company vehicles have been returned and checked and whether repairs are needed.

Telephones

The office telephone system will need to be switched back over at the right time for the right numbers, with divert and voicemail being changed appropriately.  This will also need to be tested to ensure it is working correctly.

Utilities

The water, electricity and gas will need to be turned back on at the right time and checks will need to be made to ensure that any water testing procedures (e.g. for Legionnaires’ Disease) and any pest control monitoring/testing are re-instated.

Connections and Network

The broadband and Wi-Fi connections will need to be working and network security checks made e.g. virus checking of devices that have been returned and checking that any temporary remote access methods that were enabled have been closed.

Website and Social Media

Any announcements via the website (blog) or social media concerning any changes to services, and restrictions or requirements (e.g. masks if customers visit business premises) will need to written and published plus any changes to opening hours made to the website.

The addition of any website or social media-based services should also be published.

Collaborative Working, Meeting and Communication Arrangements

Whereas work and projects may have been carried out collaboratively online, and meetings held e.g. using video conferencing, any changes made to these arrangements need to be clearly communicated to relevant staff.

Physical Security

Any physical security arrangements that were needed prior to lockdown and remote working need to be reinstated, tested and relevant details and responsibilities communicated to the right people.  For example, this could include testing the CCTV and access control system, reminding relevant people of alarm/barrier/door codes and testing alarm systems.

Looking Ahead

Whether a staggered and staged return in some businesses or a complete return (e.g. for smaller businesses), the business environment has been changed by the pandemic and the work environment must be changed to take account of this and to ensure safety and business continuity. Although the time may seem right for an operational business recovery, the risks of possible outbreaks, local lockdowns or even a second wave in the winter months remain real possibilities that businesses will need to make real, workable plans for moving forward.