Coping with COVID
November 24, 2020

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Monday it's "in the final development phase" of a mobile "digital passport" app that would tell airlines if international travelers had been vaccinated against COVID-19. The app would help "get people traveling again safely," IATA's Nick Careen said in a statement, by "giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements."

Australia's Qantas announced Monday that it's on board with requiring a "vaccination passport" for international travelers, starting next year. "We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travelers, that we will ask people to have the vaccination before they get on the aircraft," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told Australia's Network 9. Korean Air and Air New Zealand also backed the idea but said any changes would have to be coordinated with their respective governments.

In the past few weeks, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Oxford University-AstraZeneca have announced that large trials showed their respective COVID-19 vaccines to be safe and hightly effective at preventing the disease. This encouraging news "has given airlines and nations hope they may soon be able to revive suspended flight routes and dust off lucrative tourism plans," The Associated Press reports. "But countries in Asia and the Pacific, in particular, are determined not to let their hard-won gains against the virus evaporate."

The IATA and International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, have been working on a digital pass they hope to roll out in the first quarter of 2021. This app would use blockchain technology and wouldn't store user data, IATA said. Korean Air is among those in the airline industry looking at trying out CommonPass, an app endorsed by the World Economic Forum and created with the Commons Project Foundation, and International SOS's AOKpass is currently being used on flights between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan. Peter Weber

September 23, 2020

After the U.S. hit 200,000 recorded COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called it "a staggering number that’s hard to wrap your head around," adding that "behind every COVID-19 death is a family and community that will never again be the same. There's a devastating human toll to this pandemic — and we can't forget that."

But "our biology is working against us" when it comes to computing this new grim death toll, Sarah Elizabeth Richards reports at National Geographic. "Researchers say our brains aren't wired to make sense of big numbers."

Maybe it helps to break it down into smaller pieces. "The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days," The Associated Press notes. "It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama," being wiped out in seven months. "The tally means a U.S. death has happened every 1.5 minutes, on average, since the first official fatality in late February," Richards adds. "It means we have lost 1,450 plane loads full of people."

"If you think about it like that, assuming there are 138 seats in a classic 737, that would mean eight planes have crashed on U.S. soil every day," David Kessler, a Los Angeles-based grief specialist, tells National Geographic. "Can you even imagine that?"

Lots of people are finding it hard. That's partly because of everything else that's going on: Massive wildfires, hurricanes, civil unrest, a divisive election, and coping with life in a pandemic. "If you're already stressed out, the 200,000 statistic becomes just another thing," Princeton cognitive psychologist Elke Weber tells National Geographic. "If you think about people living in a war zone, the kind of thing that was once appalling becomes normal. Our brain neurons fire when something changes, but they stop after a while. If you're in a room with a bad smell, you eventually stop noticing it."

People can also become less compassionate as an amorphous tragedy grows too big to be personal, adds Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon. "Our feelings are very strong for one person in danger, but they don't scale up very well." To keep from getting numb, try to focus on the loss of individual people, not the politics or the fight over face masks, Kessler advises. "We're not talking about Juan's mother or Susan's brother." Read more at National Geographic.

Editor's note: A previous headline of this article misstated the number of COVID-19 deaths per minute. It has been corrected. We regret the error. Peter Weber

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