The biggest convention center in Cannes recently announced that it is introducing a medical concierge service as an added measure of protection against Covid-19. Will destinations continue to focus on Covid safety with vaccine rollouts in full swing?
As vaccine rollouts continue to make progress in most developed parts of the world, people are bracing for a return to normal. It is already old news that the CDC has recommended lifting mask mandates for anyone fully vaccinated, and many states and municipalities have followed suit. US deaths from Covid are at their lowest in over a year. Israel, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, continues to see its case count dwindle.
Why, then, has the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès de Cannes recently announced a new medical concierge service? Powered by technology, this service will give attendees 24/7 access to healthcare, including the option to conduct medical appointments remotely. But why would attendees need this click-of-the-button access to medical care if Covid-19 is behind us?
If the experience of the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we can never be too prepared. Moreover, a medical concierge service like the one in Cannes will ultimately function more as an added level of convenience rather than as a reassurance of quality care. In general, developed countries can provide adequate treatment when needed. The recent exceptions have been caused by overwhelmed healthcare systems — and whenever this level of outbreak occurs, events tend to be outright cancelled.
Ultimately, safety measures like Cannes’ medical concierge service function like a reserve parachute: They are there in the unlikely event that the first level of safety fails. Much like a back-up parachute only makes sense if you trust parachutes to work, a medical concierge service only makes sense if health and safety measures already seem to be keeping the risk of infection under control. Otherwise, the event itself would not be safe to attend.
The real question, then, is whether we’ve reached the stage where the risks are limited but not eliminated. Do perks like a medical concierge service make sense at this juncture?
What Makes Cannes’ Event Service Special?
Arguably, the service being offered by the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès de Cannes is an extension of what has become the status quo for managing the medical needs of travellers.
More countries than ever now require medical insurance in order to enter their borders, often with the need for specific coverage for Covid treatment. Some especially tourism-dependent nations like the Dominican Republic are including it free of charge. Moreover, we have come to expect that travelers in the developed world will be rapidly isolated and treated if they show signs of Covid.
The Cannes service is more about removing the hassle from accessing medical treatments than it is about ensuring that they’re available in the first place.
Navigating a foreign country’s medical system can be daunting, especially if there’s a language barrier. Cannes’ medical concierge service works to address this issue head on. Through a partnership with the French tech company Concilio, the Palais will give accredited participants of trade shows and conferences 24/7 access to medical consultative services. The Concilio service has access to a network of 25,000 doctors, and it allows patients to set up appointments with either general practitioners or specialists — and the large catalogue of doctors makes it possible to arrange an appointment on short notice. Further, consultations can be conducted either remotely or in person, and services are available in both English and French.
Making the process as user friendly as possible could potentially help to limit infection risk if it makes people more apt to seek professional advice at the first sign of a possible infection.
Are Other Regions Offering Similar Services?
Some other countries are trying to ease the burden of managing health and safety issues, both from the attendee’s and the event organizer’s perspective.
Portugal’s state-run travel insurance, for example, includes both Covid-related medical expenses and unlimited access to a tourist assistance service.
Singapore, like many other countries, requires insurance that explicitly covers Covid treatments, but its tourism board also supports event organizers to ensure that their health and safety plans meet government standards. At the PCMA Convening Leaders (CL) event held in January of this year, representatives from the Singapore Tourism Board were ready to greet registered conference attendees as they passed through customs. These officials then handed each traveller a personalized TraceTogether token — the country’s tracking device used for contact tracing purposes. This was in addition to a series of other measures including multiple tests and social distancing rules.
Should Events Still Be on Alert?
PCMA CL was held in January, so it might be tempting to think that a similar event held now would be subject to fewer safety measures. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
What are the risk levels now? It varies dramatically from country to country. While the vaccination rate may be dropping in the US, some parts of the country may be approaching herd immunity status and infection rates continue to drop. On the other end of the spectrum is India, where infection rates may finally be on the downturn but the death toll continues to break records. Apart from the devastating impact they are having on the country itself, these numbers are concerning because they may be indicative of a particularly virulent and contagious variant circulating within the region.
What that will mean for international travel is still unclear, but the current situation in Singapore may provide a warning to the rest of the world.
The country has entered another partial lockdown on May 16 because of a recent surge in cases. Concerningly, the biggest cluster of cases was traced to airport workers who had already received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The specific workers in question worked in a section of the airport that receives a high proportion of South Asian travellers, and several of the cases have tested positive for the Indian variant of concern.
Fortunately, official reports suggest that none of the cases among vaccinated individuals have led to serious illness or death. While this outbreak is clear evidence that vaccines do not prevent transmission, there is still hope that they continue to provide protection against the worst-case scenarios.
For now at least, both the authorities and private interests are erring on the side of caution. The much-anticipated travel corridor between Singapore and Hong Kong has been delayed yet again, and the World Economic Forum has cancelled the annual meeting it had planned to host in Singapore this August.
But is Singapore noticing these issues because of its proximity to India, or because it’s tracking cases and transmissions so closely? Whether this regional situation marks the beginning of a worldwide trend has yet to be seen.
The EU is planning to reopen travel to foreign visitors under its “green certificate” system for tracking vaccinations, test results, and prior infection status. At the same time, it is building an “emergency brake” mechanism into the system, with a particular eye to the threat posed by new variants.
In this context, Cannes’ medical concierge service is certainly a boon. And hopefully medical-concierge-style services will be enough to cope with these (so far) peripheral threats to the event industry in Europe and North America. If transmissions can still occur even among those who are vaccinated, easy access to treatment will be a minimum requirement.
There are many very encouraging signs among countries with high vaccination levels, but the situations in India and Singapore may speak to a latent threat that will require continued vigilance. Just as many countries have increased their ICU capacity over the course of the pandemic, it may be time for regional organizations to begin facilitating easier access to care for international travellers.
Covid passports may be the first step, and medical concierge services the second.