These days, you can’t help but notice that virtually every COVID-19 news clip has repeatedly depicted a person being screened for fever using some device that looks like it is from Star Trek. The use of the non-contact handheld infra-red thermometer has become, somewhat disturbingly, commonplace.
So does this mean our ‘new normal’ will include the frequent practice of our temperatures being monitored via these portable infrared devices wherever we go? Or scarier yet – will it become necessary to scan entire crowds through the use of thermal imaging? Right now, of course, this is only speculation, but signs are pointing (mind the pun) to this being a potential outcome of this global event.
Some resorts recently announced the launch of thermal cameras to detect body temperatures of guests. All Emirates passengers flying from Dubai to any destination in the US will have to undergo thermal screening. Retail is even getting in on the action. Walmart said it would take the temperatures of employees when they first report to work, and the some retail chains now require customer temperature checks. Anyone who registers a temperature of 37.5C or higher “will be discreetly informed by a trained member of our staff, and we will find an alternative for your shopping.”
Who would have thought in July of 2000 that passengers would soon have to remove their belts, clean out their pockets, and discard any sharp items before they went through a security check at airports worldwide? And as if that weren’t enough, we had to start removing our shoes as well, thanks to Richard Reid who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight on Dec 22, 2001, using a shoe bomb. These events and several others have radically changed the way we travel.
The COVID-19 pandemic will most likely have a more substantial impact on how we travel and stay in accommodations than any other event in history. It will become the catalyst for dynamic technological change that will possibly remove some of our civil liberties, and it will feel as if our privacy is being invaded.
In an article recently posted in the Daily Mail, an Australian citizen and his wife, who are currently living in China, provide a glimpse into what our lives may be like until a vaccine is readily available.
“Everyone has to wear masks here. It sucks, it gets a bit annoying, but you get used to it I suppose,” Mr. Nagy explains. Mr. Nagy and Ms. Yang also document the stringent health checks required before entering a nearby restaurant. Two workers in gloves and face masks use thermometer guns to check the couple’s temperature. The couple even had to confirm that they had not been to any areas where COVID-19 was still highly infectious via an app on their phone. It’s quite incredible to think about living life this way.
Infrared temperature systems will help in instances where we customarily have queuss, such as check-in desks, shopping malls, stores, and the entrances to hotels and restaurants. Though uncomfortable, it does make sense. However, checking individuals temperature manually using hand held thermal cameras is time consuming, labour intensive (i.e. expensive), somewhat counterproductive due to standing in close proximity with the person under test, and, quite frankly, downright annoying!
Now enter thermal imaging at a mass scale.
Thermal imaging can also be used to scan a large number of people quickly, which enables a broader view and the possibility of identifying those with elevated temperatures more proactively. First fielded during the 2003 SARS epidemic, thermal fever screening systems use cameras that detect the infrared energy invisible to the human eye that people and objects emit. Whether it’s a medical organization, event, shopping mall, airport, or hotel that wants to implement this screening before you enter, the demand for this tech is going to be greater than ever before.
Though it can be perceived as invasive, it could prove invaluable in helping us manage larger gatherings such as events, concerts, conferences, and sports-oriented outings. Mass scanning is far less invasive, and much more efficient, than the normal point and click forehead thermometer as it is fully automated, there is no personal contact, and the public do not need to stop while their temperature is checked. In fact they can go about their daily business pretty much unaware that their body temperature is being monitored at all.
All of this being said, there is still the issue of asymptomatic individuals who are just carriers of the virus and show no outwards signs of infection. However a hotel for example which deploys continuous thermal imaging in the main public areas will immediately be alerted should a guest, who was perfectly well on arrival, develop a fever during their stay. Artificial Intelligence can then be used to look back through recorded images and locate all persons who have been in close contact with that person since their arrival or help determine which areas urgently need to be sanitised. Though not perfect, thermal imaging and infrared solutions are certainly advantageous, and can be used to mitigate at least the most commonly known issues with those who may be infected.
There are a myriad of articles written about what the “new normal” may look like, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert or have a crystal ball. Still, I do think we have to contemplate all the disturbing scenarios on the horizon, even those we deemed impossible before this pandemic. However I am incredibly hopeful that through the use of technology and innovation, the travel and hospitality industry will emerge stronger than before. At the end of the day, we must all work together to take whatever measures are needed to ensure that our world is safe.