Making fun of anti-vaxxers who died of COVID-19 is a dark indication that we’ve all surrendered to the disease

anti-vaxx placard
An anti-vaxx placard.

  • Anti-vaccine figures are dying of COVID and their deaths are being made light of.
  • This is a distraction and represents an acceptance of COVID’s death toll.
  • We don’t have to be nice to anti-vaxxers, but we should counter them to control infections.
  • Abdullah Shihipar is a contributing opinion writer for Insider.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It has become a familiar narrative during this pandemic: a vocal anti mask and vaccine advocate ends up dying in the hospital with COVID-19. Most recently, it was 30-year-old Calleb Wallace of Texas who died after a month-long bout with the disease. Wallace, who organized anti-mask protests and founded the San Angelo Freedom Defenders, died after being placed on a ventilator. He left behind a pregnant wife and two children.

Other times, it is anti-vaccine social media posts that catch the ire of the headlines. Stephen Harmon, a man from Los Angeles, repeatedly mocked the vaccine, tweeting “Got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one,” in June, only to die of the virus in July.

This trend, becoming ever more frequent as the delta variant spreads rapidly across the country, has inspired a series of jokes and memes on social media. I myself have partaken in a few “how it’s started, how it’s going” jokes. But ultimately, no matter how vile the target of the memes are and no matter how tempting it is to participate in the schadenfreude, it is an unhelpful distraction that represents a dark reality: we’re okay with how many people are dying from COVID-19.

Making light of the dark

Before I go any further, let me say that this is not an argument for empathy for those who are fiercely anti-vaccine or an attempt to try to understand their perspective. Nor is this an argument to persuade anti-vaccine advocates. Some of them have unfortunately gone down a destructive rabbit hole that even their loved ones find it difficult to help them out of quickly. Being nicer won’t necessarily change that, but neither does making fun of them after they have died.

Eighteen months ago, when the virus first hit the shores of the United States, we were all terrified. People made runs on grocery stores as hospitals filled up with the dead, people spent time at home to “stop the spread” and flatten the curve. Every death was seen as a tragedy, a death we could prevent with collective action. After a few months, right wing governors and talking heads began promoting the idea that protecting oneself from a pandemic was an individual responsibility. If people wanted to go mask-less,, attend gatherings, or skip the vaccine – that’s on them, they thought, ignoring the fact that the virus spreads from person to person. Of course, one person’s behavior during a pandemic affects the health of others.

A year later, with the vaccines plentiful, some on the left have adopted the right’s framing. It’s now accepted that COVID deaths, predominantly amongst the unvaccinated, are a matter of individual fate. You could have chosen to get that vaccine, but you didn’t, and that’s not my problem, they are implying.

This framing effectively prevents us from taking broader action to control the spread of the virus through mask mandates, restrictions, and testings. The abandonment of a collective framing around COVID-19 puts children who are not vaccinated and the immunocompromised at risk. It’s also easy to forget that despite it all, there are still unvaccinated people who need to be reached; there are still people who need help getting a shot, still people who are deathly terrified of side effects, and still those who can’t take time off to get a shot.

The lines between the anti-vaccine crowd and the unvaccinated in general have become blurred, and we have seen that in headlines that highlight unvaccinated people who have died from the virus. Average folks who were too busy and didn’t get around to it, were scared of side effects, or wanted to wait and see its effects.

If we want to battle anti-vaccine sentiment, rather than adopting the individualist framing that Republicans proposed to begin with, we should counter them while they are alive. We should show up to outnumber them and state that we are in favor of mask mandates at school board and city council meetings. We should pressure and boycott advertisers that advertise on programs that promote misinformation,. We should push for accountability measures for Facebook, which has long tolerated anti-vaccine misinformation on its platforms.

And of course, we should push for measures that will stop the spread of the virus, including but not limited to: mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine sick leave, reducing prison populations and arrests (including immigration-related arrests), stopping evictions and getting real worker protections from OSHA. Instead, tangible actions have been abandoned for ridicule.

I have spoken to people who have lost family members to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. These people are increasingly isolated and are shells of themselves, often being hostile and aggressive to their own kin. Families feel like they have been torn apart forever.

We must remember that there are family members who are feeling two waves of pain when they’re loved ones die: the physical loss, and the knowledge that their death could have been easily prevented.

It’s not easy to hear, but making fun of these deaths effectively means we have stopped resisting mass death and have accepted its reality. It’s tempting to think that there is some cosmic justice when an anti-vaxxer dies, but it’s just the reality of how a virus spreads. Yes, anti-vaxxers are dying, but so are scores of other people.I don’t write this just to lecture others, but rather to hold myself accountable. Using humor like this is an easy distraction and a façade from the shame we should feel that this is where our country is at during such a late stage in the pandemic.

There will be more anti-vaccine people who die of this illness in the months to come, and I’m going to try to resist the urge to make light of it. The real joke is on us all.

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An innovative new airline seat just won an industry award – take a look at the design that could be the future of air travel

Safran Interspace seat
Safran Interspace seat

  • Airline cabin manufacturer Safran won two Crystal Cabin Awards at the Aircraft Interior Expo 2021.
  • The company’s Interspace seat, which promotes privacy and comfort, was the Special Jury’s Choice.
  • Its hands-free, hygiene-focused Beacon Clean Lavatory won the Clean & Safe Air Travel category.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

An annual contest highlighting innovative aircraft cabin technologies has named a comfort-focused airline seat and a hands-free lavatory as this year’s winning designs.

At a virtual ceremony for the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2021, airline cabin manufacturer Safran was presented with two Crystal Cabin Awards, which are decided on by 28 expert judges, according to CCA. Safran’s unique airline seat Interspace took home the Judges Choice Award and its touchless Beacon Clean Lavatory won the Clean & Safe Air Travel category. In pre-pandemic times, the expo would judge designs in eight categories but reduced them to two in 2021 to reflect where the industry is in the wake of the pandemic.

Interspace was this year’s “Special Jury’s Choice” for impressing the international panel of judges with its padded wing. The wing is situated on the right side of the seat and can easily deploy as a body rest to improve lateral comfort and provide additional privacy, according to Safran. Interspace is adaptable and can be installed into economy and premium class cabins without carriers having to replace any seats.

The seat was designed in conjunction with Universal Movement, a studio aimed at enhancing the travel experience through innovative technology. CNN Travel tested out the prototype in 2019 and reporter Francesca Street said the wing was surprisingly comfortable when leaned against and that she barely noticed her seat neighbor.

Safran Interspace seats
Safran Interspace seats

Safran’s other expo product, the Beacon Clean Lavatory, is a hands-free bathroom that won the Clean & Safe Travel category, which is awarded to innovations that promote health and safety, according to CCA.

Beacon focuses on features that minimize contact and promote cleanliness, according to Safran. It includes a toilet made of anti-microbial materials, a 265nm UV light that quickly disinfects key surfaces of the toilet, a large sink to reduce splashing, and an exterior sink for washing hands.

Safran Beacon Clean Lavatory
Safran Beacon Clean Lavatory

“Safran wins the two new Crystal Cabin Awards, a mark of recognition highlighting all the creativity and agility our teams have shown in recent months. We have in fact been able to innovate and anticipate the needs of our airline customers, and the expectations of passenger comfort and safety,” said Safran Cabin Charman Norman Jordan and Safran Seats Chairman Vincent Mascré.

The wings of the Interspace seat are designed for privacy and comfort, but it is hard not to see the similarities to some designs that came out of the COVID era. Some seat manufacturers have already jumped on the opportunity to design pandemic-era seats that would provide barriers between passengers or promote social distancing.

Aviointerior’s “Glassafe” seat was revealed last spring and features a head-level barrier aimed at reducing the spread of germs between passengers. It comes as a kit that can be placed over existing seats.

Aviointeriors Glassafe seat
Aviointeriors Glassafe seat

Meanwhile, French engineer Floridan Barjot created the PlanBay cabin seat concept, which is intended to promote social distancing through dividers. It comes with three barriers that fit over the middle seat, creating two cacoons in the window and aisle seats.

PlanBay social distance seat
PlanBay social distance seat

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COVID-19 vaccines impact on menstrual cycles needs to be investigated after 30,000 women report changes, says top scientist

Late period
A late period can be caused by many things besides pregnancy including changes in birth control.

  • 30,000 women have reported their periods being altered after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Research is needed to understand why this is happening, according to a paper in the British Medical Journal.
  • Periods can be heavier or delayed because of an immune response and poses no danger to one’s body, say experts.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, thousands of women in the UK have been saying that their periods have been disrupted, say experts.

More than 30,000 women said their menstrual cycle being somewhat altered after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, reported Sky News.

The UK’s Yellow Card scheme, where people can voluntarily report their side effects to any medication – including vaccinations – has shown that many women have seen a disruption in their periods.

Dr. Victoria Male, a reproductive immunologist from Imperial College London, wrote in the British Medical Journal that while these changes are safe and short-lived, has stated that an investigation as to why this happens is crucial.

In the US, the National Institute of Health is investing $1.67 million into understanding how the COVID-19 vaccines impact periods.

Dr. Male states that periods can be heavier or delayed because of an immune response, and poses no danger to one’s body.

“Robust research into this possible adverse reaction remains critical to the overall success of the vaccination program. One important lesson is that the effects of medical interventions on menstruation should not be an afterthought in future research,” wrote Dr. Male.

Writing in The Telegraph, Caroline Criado-Perez, author of Invisible Women, said: “As with most clinical studies, the Covid-19 vaccine trials did not investigate menstrual cycle effects – in fact, in many trials women are wholesale excluded because of potential menstrual cycle effects.”

There is no reason to be significantly concerned about menstrual changes and long-term impacts, writes Dr. Male, as the vast majority of those reporting the post-vaccine alterations state that normality ensues quickly.

Meanwhile, the data available shows that the COVID-19 vaccine has no adverse effects on fertility and pregnancy.

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A doctor from Oregon who said mask-wearing can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning got his medical license revoked

covid mask and shield
A Nepalese health worker in protective gear, ready to collect swab samples to test them for the coronavirus in Singh Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

  • The Oregon Medical Board has revoked the license of a doctor who refused to wear a mask.
  • Steven Arthur LaTulippe ran a family clinic and falsely told his patients mask-wearing could carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • He told the board he would continue to refuse to follow COVID-19 guidelines like mask-wearing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

An Oregon doctor who falsely claimed that wearing masks can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning has had his license revoked.

As of September 2, Steven Arthur LaTulippe is no longer allowed to practice, according to records from the Oregon Medical Board. LaTulippe also received a $10,000 fine.

An investigation conducted by the Oregon Medical Board found that LaTulippe engaged in “8 instances of unprofessional or dishonorable conduct, 22 instances of negligence in the practice of medicine, and 5 instances of gross negligence in the practice of medicine.”

LaTulippe’s family practice, South View Medical Arts, did not ask patients whether they had been in close contact with someone who exhibited COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive for the disease, records say. LaTulippe had also asked his receptionist to screen individuals for COVID-19 by looking at the patient’s facial expression rather than asking common screening questions.

He “had trained his receptionist ‘to look at [the patient] and just take a look at them and see if they look sick,’ and, if the patient was ‘smiling and happy,’ the receptionist was instructed to ask how the patient was feeling,” medical records say. “If the patient indicated that they ‘felt fine’ and they were ‘not ill,’ the receptionist would direct the patient to sit in the waiting area” before heading to an examination room.

Neither LaTulippe nor his wife, who ran the clinic with him, wore a mask between March 2020 and December 2020 while treating patients, the investigation says. LaTulippe also told patients they didn’t have to wear a mask in the clinic unless they were “actively ill, coughing, [or] congested,” the investigation says.

Masks have been show to dramatically reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Additionally, LaTulippe told elderly and pediatric patients that mask-wearing was “very dangerous” for them because they can exacerbate asthma or “cause or contribute to multiple serious health conditions” like strokes, collapsed lungs, and pneumonia. He also claimed that mask-wearing would lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

LaTulippe believes he’s been “a strong asset to the public in educating them on the real facts about this pandemic,” according to the investigation.

The board originally suspended his license in December 2020. When investigators asked whether he planned to follow COVID-19 protocols like mask-wearing, LaTulippe said no.

“In a choice between losing his medical license versus wearing a mask in his clinic and requiring his patients and staff to wear a mask in his clinic, he will, ‘choose to sacrifice my medical license with no hesitation,'” the investigative report reads.

His decision to flout COVID-19 guidelines like mask-wearing was irresponsible and “actively promoted transmission of the COVID-19 virus within the extended community,” investigators wrote.

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Rep. Matt Gaetz suggested Nicki Minaj should be Donald Trump’s running mate in 2024

Left: Donald Trump in a blue jacket and red tie. Right: Nicki Minaj in a black dress against a green backdrop
Left: Donald Trump; Right: Nicki Minaj

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz in a tweet suggested that Donald Trump and Nicki Minaj run for office together in 2024.
  • Minaj over the course of this week has tweeted skeptical remarks about the COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Those remarks led to an anti-vaccine protest and criticism from high-profile figures like Joy Reid.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Rep. Matt Gaetz on Friday suggested Nicki Minaj should be former President Donald Trump’s running mate in 2024.

Gaetz was responding to an article from the Daily Beast that said Minaj publicly shared the phone numbers of two reporters who were looking into her claim that an individual got swollen testicles after having received a COVID-19 vaccine.

“My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied,” Minaj tweeted.

“Trump/Minaj 2024,” Gaetz tweeted in response to the Beast article that reported her claim.

Earlier this week, Minaj revealed that she is not yet vaccinated against the coronavirus. She said she would not attend the Met Gala because vaccines were mandated at the event.

“They want you to get vaccinated for the Met. If I get vaccinated it won’t for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now. In the meantime my loves, be safe. Wear the mask with 2 strings that grips your head & face,” Minaj wrote.

Immediately after, she received intense backlash from high-profile figures, including MSNBC host Joy Reid, who blasted her for using her platform with nearly 23 million followers to amplify vaccine skepticism.

“You’ve got that platform. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing that you got that, that people listen to you,” Reid said. “And they listen to you more than they listen to me. For you to use your platform to put people in the position of dying from a disease they don’t have to die from, oh my god, as a fan, as a hip-hop fan, as somebody who’s your fan, I’m so sad that you did that.”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson invited her to speak on his show.

The nation’s topmost coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci also responded, saying there is no evidence the vaccines cause reproductive issues.

Despite efforts from health officials like Fauci to dispel worries about the coronavirus vaccines, Minaj with her tweets has galvanized significant anti-vaxxer impact.

Earlier this week, for example, anti-vaxxers demonstrated outside the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control, where they chanted “down with the CDC, Fauci lies to me.” There a masked man told the crowd, “Nicki Minaj said I’m not going to take your vaccine,” according to a video of the event.

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A meteorologist was fired from his TV station after 33 years at the job because he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine

  • Karl Bohnak, a meteorologist who spent 33 years at NBC affiliate WLUC, has been fired.
  • He said the television station fired him because he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • “I have authority over my body,” Bohnak wrote in a Facebook post announcing his termination.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A meteorologist who spent more than 30 years working at a Michigan TV station has been fired after he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Earlier this week, Karl Bohnak in a Facebook post said NBC affiliate WLUC terminated his employment after his 33-year tenure there.

“I am leaving TV6 because the station’s corporate owner, Gray Television, has mandated vaccination against COVID-19 for anyone entering a property owned by the company,” Bohnak, a vaccine skeptic, wrote. “Since I chose not to take one of the shots, I was fired.”

“Many of you have taken one of these injections, and that is absolutely your right. It is also my right to choose the medical options I feel are right for me,” he continued. “I have authority over my body.”

Gray Television, a publicly traded broadcasting company based in Atlanta, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Earlier this month, the Biden administration said all employers with over 100 employees must require workers get the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Some businesses and Republicans have lashed out at the rule as an overstep, while executives and CEOs, including the Business Roundtable, have welcomed the move.

Health officials have for months urged that the public get vaccinated against the coronavirus. So far, more than 55% of the total US population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

There is, however, a group of skeptics who believe the vaccines are either unsafe or unnecessary. Research shows that the vaccine offers significant protection against the coronavirus. Unvaccinated people, for example, are 11 times likelier to die from COVID-19 compared to vaccinated people. Unvaccinated people are also 29 times likelier to be hospitalized with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Additionally, COVID-19 outbreaks have been hitting unvaccinated populations especially hard. And the Delta variant has been spreading quickly in states with the lowest vaccination rates.

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An in-person bar mitzvah for Chris Christie’s nephew led to several positive COVID-19 cases at a New Jersey middle school

Chris Christie.

  • A New Jersey middle school switched to remote learning for a day after several positive COVID-19 cases surfaced, some of which may have been caused by a bar mitzvah.
  • The bar mitzvah was held for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 13-year-old nephew.
  • The school is planning to resume in-person learning by Monday, the superintendent said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several middle-school students who attended a bar mitzvah for the nephew of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got infected with the coronavirus, according to Mendham Township schools Superintendent Salvatore Constantino.

Students came out to celebrate on behalf of Christie’s 13-year-old nephew last weekend. On Thursday, the school decided to shut down in-person learning for the entirety of Friday, Constantino said. That day, the school held virtual classes.

“I know that there were some cases where people that were in attendance did end up positive,” Constantino told Insider. “But that was not the only situation that we had. Our school closure really has very little to do with Christie’s bar mitzvah.”

A “couple of cases” surfaced Thursday night, days after the bar mitzvah, Constantino said, but “I can’t give causal relationships between any event and where they got COVID.”

Constantino told Insider the school expects to resume in-person learning by Monday. Friday was used as a reset day for the school to determine its next steps and conduct contact tracing.

“We were able to use Friday to evaluate the situation and make sure we had all the information we needed,” Constantino told Insider.

A photo taken at the event obtained by the New York Post shows the parents of the nephew and their four other kids posing at a club in Newark, New Jersey, without masks.

It’s unclear how many students contracted the coronavirus at the bar mitzvah.

Insider asked Constantino how many people at Mendham Township are currently positive for COVID-19. Constantino declined to say repeatedly, citing privacy concerns. “It’s not pertinent” information, Constantino said. “We’re dealing with young students here. We don’t give out that information.”

“I know it didn’t cause an outbreak because we don’t have enough positive cases to use the word outbreak,” he added.

It’s also unclear how many people were in attendance at the event.

The students who have tested positive for COVID-19 are going to quarantine and participate in remote learning for the time being, Constantino said.

Christie told the Post his brother, the father of the nephew who had the bar mitzvah, had been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Last year, Christie was hospitalized in an ICU after he contracted COVID-19. Prior to that infection, he had flouted mask guidelines from health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Upon his hospitalization, he urged the public to take the virus seriously and wear a mask.

“Leaders, all across the politics, sports, the media, should be saying to people, put your masks on and be safe until we get a vaccine that could help to protect us,” he said.

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More international airlines are banning cloth masks on flights in favor of medical and surgical masks

Frenchbee flight attendant wearing a surgical mask onboard
Frenchbee flight attendant wearing a surgical mask onboard

  • International airlines are starting to require passengers to wear surgical masks over medical masks onboard.
  • According to one study, surgical masks “offer substantially higher filtration efficiencies”.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More international airlines are starting to require surgical masks over cloth masks.

In August, Finland national carrier Finnair became the latest airline to require passengers to wear surgical masks on board, joining Lufthansa, Frenchbee, Air France, LATAM, Swiss, and Croatia Airlines.

Finnair said on its website: “Please note that we do not accept masks made of fabric, face shields, masks with a valve or scarves used as a mask, as they allow air to escape and do not provide comparable protection.”

Acceptable masks are surgical, valveless FFP2 or FFP3, N95, or equivalent, according to the airline.

A study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Canada and published in the Physics of Fluids journal determined medical-grade N95 and equivalent masks better protect against COVID-19.

While some international carriers are mandating surgical masks, no US airline has implemented the policy, and the CDC has not banned cloth masks in its mask guidance. According to the agency, cloth masks are acceptable as long as they are double-layered, tightly woven without punctures or holes, and fit snugly around the face.

However, some carriers do ban certain types of face coverings, like scarves or masks with vents or valves. For example, Delta, Spirit, Hawaiian, Frontier, United, and American do not allow bandanas to be used in lieu of a double-layered face covering or surgical mask, according to each company’s policy.

Getting passengers to comply with face mask requirements has been a challenge for airlines since the start of the pandemic, which has led some carriers to ban customers who do not comply. Last week, two JetBlue passengers caused chaos on a flight when they refused to mask up, forcing the airline to ban them from flying the carrier again.

In the US, the choice between wearing a medical-grade, surgical, or cloth mask is ultimately up to the traveler, though research suggests transmission on aircraft is rare. Last Wednesday, a published peer-reviewed study conducted by Delta Air Lines revealed the risk of COVID-19 transmission on aircraft where all passengers test negative within 72 hours is less than 0.1%.

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Private companies are exploiting international travelers with outrageous COVID-19 testing costs

Visitors at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, enter the state after the new pre-travel testing program launched.
Visitors at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, enter the state after the new pre-travel testing program launched.

  • Testing for my family of four to travel from the UK to Spain cost £550, or $762.
  • There is no reason that testing needs to cost this much, especially when there are free at-home tests available.
  • Private companies are jacking up prices, making overseas travel out of reach for many.
  • Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance writer, journalist and editor based in the UK.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

PCR testing has emerged as a multi-billion dollar industry, and the UK is the world’s second most expensive place for COVID travel tests, behind only the US. With extortionate prices for PCR tests, overseas holidays were pushed off-limits for many UK families this year, making trips abroad a luxury of the better off.

Determined to visit our ramshackle old farmhouse in the Andalusian mountains in Spain where myself, my husband, and our two boys lived for the better part of a decade, we had no choice but to pay the exorbitant expense of COVID travel testing.

The compulsory testing equated to an additional £550 ($762) on top of the cost of the holiday, and the sum would have been significantly higher if myself and my husband had not been fully vaccinated. The Spanish government requires all arrivals to Spain from Britain to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 prior to arrival, or proof of full vaccination – our unvaccinated teenage sons had to have a PCR test before leaving the UK at the cost of £70 ($97) each.

The majority of the COVID testing budget was spent on re-entering Britain, where a compulsory day two test administered by Randox – hailed as the UK’s largest COVID-19 PCR testing provider – cost us £240 ($332).

This was on top of the 160 euros we had to pay just a couple of days earlier to acquire a negative COVID antigen test certificate in order to leave Spain. This nasal swab test, like the rapid ‘self tests’ that are provided for free for domestic use in Britain, doesn’t have to be sent off to a laboratory and provides results within 30 minutes. The tests were administered by a doctor in a private clinic in our local Spanish town.

At one level, some may argue that charging for COVID testing to travel is not unreasonable. If people choose to travel abroad during these precarious times, they should be charged accordingly, and should bear in mind the additional cost of PCR tests before booking their holidays – a “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it” attitude.

However, rather than merely being a matter of choice that comes with additional financial burden, excessive COVID travel costs symbolize escalating inequality in the wake of the pandemic. As many private firms enjoy a COVID windfall, making huge profits on testing, the less wealthy are forced to forgo holidays abroad as travel becomes something only the rich can afford.

The ‘cheaper’ tests are unavailable

Others who took the plunge and travelled overseas this summer cite similar grievances about the cost of testing. Paula Kowalska recently returned from travelling to an “amber” country – a nation sandwiched between the “safe” green countries that require no quarantine regardless of vaccination status and the “high-risk” red countries on the UK government’s travel traffic light system. Kowalska said she was shocked to find the tests she had bought less than a month ago for £35 were no longer available, replaced by ones that cost £60-£70.

“The government website advises the availability of £20 tests. However, these are so limited they are never available or are available by appointment only in certain locations, with 4 or 5 slots a day only,” she told me.

And yet, COVID testing for travel purposes in certain countries is significantly cheaper and, in some instances, free – indicating that there are bigger issues at play.

A friend of mine, who has dual Czech and British citizenship, recently travelled back to Britain from the Czech Republic. The COVID test she was required to take before leaving the Czech Republic and re-entering Britain was offered for free since she was a Czech citizen.

Some nations are even using COVID tests for travel as a political tool. France offered free COVID tests for tourists. However, as of July 7, 2021, the French government decided to make tourists pay for tests, stating it was about “reciprocity,” since French tourists are required to pay for tests abroad. When they want to, nations can and are providing free COVID testing for travellers, so what gives in the UK?

Blatant profiteering

To shed light on the contentious cost of COVID tests for travel, I spoke to Hussain Abdeh, director at Medicine Direct, a UK-based online pharmacy.

Abdeh explained how any medical product that is sold in the UK needs to meet certain regulatory standards.

“Simply put, all PCR tests that are available in the UK meet the same standards of accuracy regardless of the prices they are sold for,” Abdeh said.

He explained the possible origins of pricing differences, saying it could be due to different manufacturing costs or wholesale costs. But this is problematic given that, as Abdeh pointed out to me, usually we would see bigger brands like Boots and Lloyds offering the cheapest prices, due to their buying power and discounts. This, however, is not the case with PCR tests, as Boots seem to be one of the most expensive on the UK market, currently at £79.

“However, with that said, the UK is allowing travel from some countries that offer a free PCR testing service such as Germany and Italy. This tells me that the free PCR testing services being offered by those countries also meet the standards for PCR tests that have been implemented in the UK,” Abdeh told me.

The inconsistency in costs suggests an incentive of profiteering is at play.

The UK’s “test to travel” scheme has prompted concerns about Tory cronyism – whereby Conservative Party officials grant contracts to donors and connections so they can profit from the crisis.

Some of the private firms that are milking the PCR travel test market, like the Northern Ireland-based firm Randox, have links to members of the UK Conservative party. In April, Randox proudly asserted it was “supporting UK holidaymakers by reducing the cost of PCR tests to support travel to £60 per test” – again proving that the costs of tests don’t need to be as high as they are.

In November 2020, without any competition, the UK government awarded Randox, whose testing kits were recalled in the summer of 2020 because of concerns about contamination, a £347 million COVID testing contract.

Despite being awarded nearly half a billion pounds in taxpayer money, Randox continues to privately charge citizens from £86 for a travel test-at-home kit consisting of a pre-departure PCR test, a day two PCR test, and a travel certificate.

New rules confirm prices don’t need to be so high

When I reached out to the Department of Health and Social Care for commentary on the cost of COVID travel tests, they stated:

“Our top priority has always been protecting the public and the robust border and testing regime we have in place is helping minimise the risk of new variants coming into the UK.

We are reviewing all private providers to ensure they meet our robust standards and over 80 private travel testing companies have been issued a two-strike warning for inaccurate pricing and face removal from the list if they do so again.”

On September 17, a major update on international travel rules in England was announced. New lighter testing requirements are being introduced as the government seeks to give the struggling travel sector a boost ahead of state support coming to an end this month. The overhaul means that as of October 4, people who have had two jabs will no longer need to take a COVID test before entering England. Later in October, the day two PCR tests will be able to be replaced with cheaper lateral flow tests.

For me, the scrapping of expensive test requirements and complicated travel arrangements, following months of outrage from the tourism sector and travelers, is yet more proof of the profiteering out of travel tests that has been going on for months.

It’s not like the changes are being made due to the virus shrinking. On the contrary, studies show that for some weeks now there has been a worrying waning of immunity as confirmed cases rise.

Choosing the scrap pricey tests after the summer holiday rush, as doctors warn that the country is heading to a “knife-edge” winter for the NHS, shows that the testing was fundamentally used as a means of profit from the start.

And, for families who had to forgo a holiday this year due to unfeasible additional costs, the costs are a stark exemplar at the new societal inequalities created by policy response to the pandemic.

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It’s never been more clear: companies should give up on back to office and let us all work remotely, permanently

Work from home
  • With the rise of the Delta Variant, companies should switch to all remote.
  • All-remote is better for workplace collaboration, the environment, and companies’ bottom lines.
  • Companies that switch to all-remote should be intentional about collaboration and technology.
  • Jeff Chow is SVP Product at InVision.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s time to go back to the office for good – the home office.

With the CDC’s recommendation that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of COVID-19, employees across industries are wondering what the new future of work looks like. As the possibility of another shelter-in-place order looms, companies are deciding whether moving to a hybrid situation – simultaneously in-person and remote – is worth it.

It’s not. Simply put, the concept of “forever remote” makes sense for numerous companies and industries. For many, America’s “back to work” isn’t a simple light switch, but many organizations are better off to shut the lights off at the traditional office. The switch to all remote will broaden a company’s talent pool and increase employee happiness and retention, while limiting a lease and lowering its carbon footprint.

There are benefits to becoming a fully-remote organization. A top example is that the talent pool now goes national, or even international. Organizations are no longer limited to recruiting employees from a given radius to their offices. Asynchronous work helps to open the door for employees to work across time zones to get projects and deliverables completed in time.

InVision, where I work, has been all-remote since its inception. We have the luxury of hiring people living across the US and in 25 countries.

Additionally, without the need for a large physical office presence, companies can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on leasing office space or building an expansive campus.

There is also evidence that eliminating an office for all employees to work remotely is better for the environment. Eliminating a daily commute, whether it’s driving a vehicle or taking mass transit, helps cut down on emissions. This was initially noticed back in the spring and summer of 2020, when a decline in transportation due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 6.4% decrease in global carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of 2.3 billion tons. The United States had the largest drop in carbon emissions at 12%, followed by the entirety of the European Union at 11%.

In a June 2021 McKinsey survey of over 1,600 employed people, researchers found about one in three workers back in an office said returning to in-person work negatively impacted their mental health. Those surveyed also reported “COVID-19 safety and flexible work arrangements could help alleviate stress” of returning to the office. Not everyone who works for the same company is going to get along. In an all-remote environment, it is far easier for people who are at odds to simply avoid each other. HR won’t have to spend nearly as much time mediating between (or terminating) office Hatfields and McCoys.

So, how exactly do you quickly pivot to remote again and stick with it? The key is intentionality. Teach managers to make a point of celebrating wins and good work on group calls. Build encouraging collaboration into managers’ Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s. Take advantage of face-to-face opportunities by holding in-person, all-company all-hands meetings as a time to build culture, not a time to just do more work.

Treat working groups to dinner (use some of the money you saved on your lease!) and let them get to know each other as people. To be intentional, invest in new ways of working that are oftentimes better ways of working: reducing necessary meetings and adjusting more feedback sessions to asynchronous collaboration. Meetings that remain on calendars should be reserved for the purpose of being highly engaging and energizing moments for teams to brainstorm and do generative sessions.

Second is technology. By now, we’re all familiar with the likes of Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, but there are other products that can actively improve collaboration (full disclosure: I work for InVision, which makes one such digital collaboration tool, namely Freehand).

Take a thorough look with your IT team (and talk to your employees) to see what they need on a day-to-day basis. What tools does your accounting team need? Do they differ from what the marketing team needs (spoiler alert: they do). And don’t force everyone to use the same tools. If your accounting team loves Microsoft Excel, that’s fine for them. I can guarantee, however, that your product design team is not going to use it.

Finally, invest in your employees’ ability to make the transition (again).

GreenGen, which provides green energy solutions for businesses and infrastructure projects, had one of the most pioneering ideas. “We had our employees do a two-day work-from-home resiliency test. This was to ensure that everyone’s home Wi-Fi was adequate so that all of our documents and materials were easily accessible online, and that we could troubleshoot any potential problems preemptively,” said Bradford H. Dockser, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of GreenGen. “Ensuring that our team members got monitors, mice, and keyboards at home made the transition seamless.” With that sort of intentional stress test, GreenGen didn’t skip a beat.

Above all, the main key to returning to the home office for good lies within communication. Technology and innovative products have helped to bring colleagues closer together virtually, as people work from anywhere at any time. Initial shelter-in-place orders taught many businesses across industries that remote work can be just as effective, if not more so, than the traditional office model. Businesses should make the call to go all-remote permanently. Their employees, their investors, and the environment will all thank you.

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