Returning to a new normal will take time Article icon


Robert Jensen is a crisis management expert.

Kenyon International Emergency Services, of which he is chairman, is retained by those organisations around the world who, in the worst case scenario, could suffer mass fatalities. When Germanwings flight 9525 crashed into the Alps, for example, Jensen was the first person that the Lufthansa chief executive called.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Jensen has worked with local authorities on their responses. And today, on LinkedIn, he has published his view on how the transition from ‘safer at home’ policies to restarting businesses and reopening schools.

Drawing on work by Dr Gerald Parker, former commanding officer of US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) who has spent his working career analysing pandemics, Jensen suggests most countries are currently at stage two - mitigation - of a five-stage response strategy.

Jensen describes mitigation as ‘managing the consequences’ of the virus, such as slowing down its spread, caring for the sick and managing the deceased while addressing the economic impact. 

Only when communities manage to get the virus under control and quickly isolate individual cases, do they enter stage three - containment - which he warns could be ‘a very dangerous time’. 

Some cities, and possibly countries, are now at this stage, and are already calling for restrictions to be lifted. ‘Move too slowly and economies are further damaged, some for years,’ says Jensen. ‘Move too quickly - lift all restrictions - and people will ignore warnings, guidelines and push boundaries.’ This could push them right back to the start, but with depleted healthcare supplies and exhausted medical staff. 

Jensen believes that businesses should plan for a sensible transition once three criteria are met: wide scale, fast and reliable testing; capacity within public health services; and consistent availability of cleaning and sanitising supplies. 

His view is that, given current trends, if the process starts now, it will take until July or August to complete, which will be followed by 

  • Increased cleaning of public open spaces
  • Phased openings of non-essential businesses
  • Phased openings, possibly using a lottery system, for gyms, restaurants, bars, museums and other entertainment facilities. 
  • Phased openings of schools
  • The return of elective medical care and routine treatments

However, before being allowed to open, Jensen envisages that businesses will be required to certify that their premises have been deep-cleaned, that they have ongoing cleaning plans, that limits will be imposed on the number of customers at any one time and that they will track and screen staff to ensure that sick employees are isolated. 

As the economy starts to reopen, and if there are no further outbreaks, Jensen predicts that people will start to travel, although it may take some time before they are confident to move beyond national boundaries. This will lead to a phased opening of borders and passenger air routes and a lifting of some restrictions on cruise liners, starting with smaller vessels. But airlines and cruise liners operators are likely to be subject to increased government regulation, particularly around cleaning procedures and pre-travel health checks. However, Jensen does not envisage any travel-related events, such as family holidays or trade conferences, before next year.

A phased approach during the containment stage will allow healthcare systems to develop better treatments for the Coronavirus and, potentially, a vaccine to be developed. While 70 vaccines are in development, realistically it could take 12 to 18 months before an effective one can be produced and distributed in sufficient numbers. Worryingly, because there is still so much that we do not know about Covid-19, such as whether people can contract it twice, Jensen predicts there could be a second wave of infections in the autumn.

It is only when a vaccine has been developed, that the economy can move to stage five of the recovery process - preparing for the next pandemic.