‘The virus has not reached a peak’, specialist in travel security, health and emergency assistance Robin Ingle speaks to Ian Taylor

The next six months “will be tough”, Robin Ingle warns, noting: “Everybody thought the coronavirus was a China issue but it’s a global issue [and] the West can’t do what China did.”

The Ingle International chief executive, a specialist in travel security, health, insurance and emergency assistance, is in a better position than most in the industry to know.

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He says: “This is not going to go away immediately. A lot of places are not confining [people] today, but this will change. Some authorities think the infection rate will go down in summer, [but] the infection is global now so there will remain reservoirs of illness.”

Ingle notes “one billion people a year catch flu and 250,000 a year die from flu”, but he dismisses the suggestion that governments have overreacted, saying: “Governments appear to be trying their best. It’s not over-reacting. But we do need better planning.

“Some countries have been caught off guard. It was a mistake to quarantine the cruise ship [Diamond Princess] off Japan. They didn’t appear to have effective quarantine measures in place. They should have taken people off.”

The global impact of the virus hit home with the outbreak in Italy. He says: “In Italy, they didn’t know how transmission happened, that is why they shut things down. I don’t think it was a bad thing. They had a lot of people leave the region and spread the virus.”

Coronavirus healthcare pressure

Ingle suggests: “The biggest problem in the developed world is that healthcare systems, as in the UK, are already operating at the max.

“It’s a big deal when you have thousands of cases and health workers more likely to become infected because they are immersed in this. Governments have not been spending a lot on infrastructure, including healthcare, because of financial constraints.”

But he adds: “There are a lot of smart people working on this. We have modern healthcare and tracking systems and there is so much incentive to solve this.”

He is critical of the media response, saying: “It’s everybody’s responsibility to provide reliable information. [But] people are susceptible to the wrong sources of media – 75% of digital content is fake or misleading. The problem is that people are more likely to go to Instagram, Facebook or TikTok.

“The majority are looking for someone to guide them. People and businesses need to think critically about the information they are sourcing. Companies should be sharing reliable sources of information.”

Business responses to coronavirus

“Some businesses have reacted well, but a lot have been ‘gobsmacked’,” Ingle suggests. “They thought ‘This is about China’.

“Many insurers are panicking and applying new clauses to restrict coverage for trip cancellation or interruption. Airlines have to control costs, so they are cancelling flights. Companies are providing refunds or credit to people to change bookings. [But] that may change. At some point, companies will need to hold on to cash.”

He warns: “The virus has not reached a peak. We’re going through the fear stage, which is why you can’t buy hand sanitiser. It will reach a peak and then come down.

“We will get a handle on it – and people are still going to travel – but it won’t go away immediately. There will be a cycle of flare-ups. That is why I say it will take six months.

“Behaviours may change – people may become more hygienic. It looks like China may have a handle on it – the number of new infections is coming down. The US could be a problem because the government has downplayed the virus, the US health system is strained and there are access issues for people.

“In developing countries, like Iran, you have a poor population, a lack of public health and people struggling anyway. There was a Covid-19 diagnosis in Lagos two weeks ago. There are one million refugees on the Syria-Turkey border. Where you get that sort of population, you will get disease.”