Out of the darkness and into light

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History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
– Seamus Heaney (from his ‘The Cure at Troy’ adaptation of Sophocles’ play Philoctetes), as frequently quoted by US President-elect Joe Biden

It’s Autumn here, going on November
I view the leaves in all their splendour
Is it déjà vu, I just can’t remember
I stop a while and take in the scene

I stop a while and ask a stranger
Is this the place that was once called Memory Lane
I don’t know where I am or what I’m after
I’m stuck here again back on Memory Lane

Now the leaves are falling and it’s coming on to Winter
Nights keep getting shorter and shorter every day
One sign up ahead says ‘DANGER’
Another one says ‘STOP’
One says ‘YIELD THIS WAY’ – Van Morrison, Memory Lane

And so, as the terrible year called 2020 nears its sure to be unlamented passing, and as autumn bathes the northern hemisphere in golden leaves and spring brings rebirth to the south, a pitch-black shadow that has hung over the whole world across all seasons may soon be lifting.

No, I’m not talking about the US election result – although the removal (perhaps it will need to be of the forced dragged and screaming variety) from the White House of the narcissistic, lying, bigoted oaf named Trump will surely help – but the even more welcome news that a COVID-19 vaccine may be in sight.

On Monday, US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced that their Covid-19 vaccine – currently in final phase three trials – had shown an efficacy rate above 90%, at seven days after the second dose. In layman’s terms, that means protection from the virus is achieved 28 days after the initiation of the two-dose vaccination.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity. The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19,” said Pfizer Chairman and CEO Dr. Albert Bourla.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development programme at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen. With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”

Based on current projections, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses globally in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion in 2021.

Global stock markets have soared on the news and you can bet that if the travel retail channel was a single enterprise, its value would have rocketed too (certainly that of individual constituents, such as Dufry, SSP and Autogrill, did).

(Above and below) How travel-related stocks soared on news of a COVID-19 vaccine

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of this news for our world and our business sector. If all goes well with the development between now and the conclusion of the Phase 3 trials, the emergence of a proven, safe vaccine will certainly accelerate the recovery of the global travel market – and with it all related segments such as travel retail.

That’s still some time off but the prospect is not only real but likely. And remember, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is just one of almost a dozen vaccine candidates now at stage 3 level (vaccines must go through a three-stage clinical trial process before they are sent to regulatory agencies for approval). The world has been through the heart of darkness but for the first time in many long hard months there is clear, discernible light ahead.

Over 71.5 million Americans may not share my unbounded delight at the departure of the 45th President of the US (though over 76 million do) but if the Pfizer and BioNTech news turns out to be as positive as expected, then the whole world will rejoice in unison.

I don’t know where this train’s bound
Whole lotta people tryin’ to turn it around
Gonna shout till the walls come tumblin’ down
And the great correction comes
– Eliza Gilkyson, The Great Correction