Usually these updates look at situations around the world that I think are of interest and have some bearing on international travel and business operations. Given COVID-19 and the lockdowns that are in place around the globe, there is very little international travel going on and to a large extent other concerns and issues have been somewhat suppressed as people pull together to try and contain and manage the virus. That is not to say that criminality, unrest and conflict have gone away and indeed we are witnessing changes in patterns of behaviour from bad actors , as well as different risks facing businesses (from a physical, IT and operational perspective) than we experienced just a few months ago. Of course none of these are particularly new, but rather a reflection of how risks, threats and the chance of an event occurring have been affected by the changes imposed upon us by governments, as individuals seek to exploit opportunities that have been exposed (cars racing on deserted roads) or act in reaction to restrictions (anti-lockdown protests).
Like a lot of people, my thoughts are turning to what the return will look like. My colleague Dr Simon Worrell is addressing this well from the medical perspective. I am, however, more interested in what the security landscape may look like, what perception may exist and the controls or processes that may need to be considered from a security perspective.
Whilst exactly how we are going to come out of this isn’t clear, and will more than likely vary from country to country, what seems to be reasonably certain is that until we have a vaccine or develop useful herd immunity within wider populations, life is not going to return to “normal”. This means that we may see waves of relaxation and subsequent tightening of restrictions on movement and association. Whilst people will be rightly concerned about the virus and becoming infected and possibly seriously ill, it is also important not to develop tunnel vision on this one issue.
The use of face masks by the general public is a topic of debate in the UK. It is worth considering how you would deal with the increased anonymity of face masks. For retail outlets what does this mean for theft and how could/would you counter it as more shops are allowed to open. For any type of premises, it is going to make identifying unauthorised visitors more problematic, and what does the virus mean for dealing with trespassers or physical problems generally? As we grapple with a fluid situation, will we become less aware of gaps in our physical protection as we change our working patterns and attendance at locations outside the home in accordance with instructions issued by authorities?
Alongside the everyday problems that the transition in and out of lockdown brings, we also have to look further forward to international travel and how the security situation in countries around the world may have been affected by measures that have been imposed. Could the heavy-handed practises adopted by some countries blow up in the faces of the authorities as the pressure is released? With economies crippled by the lack of industry, will criminality and the targeting of perceived wealthy international visitors increase? Only time will tell if this is the case, but common sense suggests that we should plan for these and other scenarios and take appropriate precautions.
All the issues that existed pre-COVID-19 are still there and whilst we can hope that the virus gives a sense of perspective to some of those involved, I think that we can expect to see the same hotspots (Iran and Syria, North Korea for example) to again have attention focused on them as we move back towards normality.
From a travel risk perspective, medical issues are the most likely factor that will affect a trip or assignment and if there is any good from this, it is that it focuses people’s minds on an aspect of travel that sometimes gets taken for granted – however we shouldn’t neglect other risks, because when we do is when we are almost guaranteed to get caught out.