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Air bridge plan, UK tech shield, emission drop and more: best of the week’s news – E&T Magazine


E&T staff pick the news from the past week that caught their eye and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them. For the full story, just click on the headline.

Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor

Heathrow CEO endorses ‘air bridges’ and quarantine to get people flying again

I know I’m a little selfish, but I have a holiday booked for mid-July and it would be great if I could actually go on it. Also, my destination is in America, so they’ll probably let any riff-raff in at this rate. Also, I won’t be going to Disneyland or any touristy spots like that, so the further I stay away from people, the better.

Anyhoo, Heathrow Airport’s CEO has endorsed proposals to enforce quarantine on people flying into the UK to get the airline industry back up and running while minimising coronavirus risk to passengers. John Holland-Kaye backed the idea of ‘air bridges’ between countries with low levels of infection as a way to boost the tourism sector.

I don’t know what will happen, like everyone in the UK. It’s a load of gobbledegook that we can’t make sense of. It’s like everyone in the UK is waving their arms around, making stupid noises, running in random directions and all the other countries are looking at us like, “What on Earth?!” and we’re like, “What? Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do?” as we continue to flap around like panicked chickens.

Holland-Kaye said there’s no perfect way to make sure only healthy people fly at this stage, so we have to take a risk-based approach.

I love this ‘playing with fire’ attitude we have going on. Let’s just throw a load of people into the flames and see who comes out the least burnt, or not as dead. Am I right?

Anyway, I still want to go on holiday. It may take a week or whatever to get through all the checks, but it’s something I’m willing to do so I can get out of the country for a bit.

Dickon Ross, editor in chief

From home working to the retreat of globalisation: what will stay?

Features from our latest issue, in which we look at different aspects of what life could be like after lockdown, are now all available to read online. People have got so used to new ways of working from home that they’re starting to ask if some of them should continue after the crisis. We look at the risks as well as opportunities of so many people working from home. On a global economic scale, too, things have changed. Supply lines have been disrupted, stocks have run low and just-in-time chains are broken. Is the pandemic adding to existing pressures from climate change and an emerging protectionism for a more local, national approach to industry? Is globalisation on the retreat? Read my editor’s introduction for more on our latest post-pandemic predictions or dive straight in and explore all our coronavirus coverage.

Tim Fryer, technology editor

Government making plans to shield UK tech base, says Johnson

This is the last thing we need! As if the engineering and technology sector didn’t have its troubles to seek, Boris Johnson is offering to wrap it in a protective blanket. Now, we only need to look back a couple of weeks to when a similar proclamation regarding care homes appeared to attempt to rewrite the history books. While that was easily disproved, pledging to protect tech companies in the future takes a bit of trust – and that’s in pretty short supply right now.

Not many tech companies that are financially vulnerable are actively tied up in national security, but it would be reasonable to expect the Government to step in to support them and keep British governance. As for all those other companies whose clever technology could be used to establish national advantage (for China, by implication) in the future, I can’t see any shield appearing to protect them. If it’s not currently tied up in national security, then I think there’s little resonance for British technology companies in the Prime Minister’s ‘promise’. In these strange and uncertain times, companies would do better relying on their own ingenuity and agility.

Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor

Covid-19 could cause biggest drop in carbon emissions since WW2

Global carbon capture capacity more than enough for climate targets

There’s been a lot of chatter about how the coronavirus pandemic could make 2020 the ‘best’ year in decades for carbon-emission reduction – silver lining, look! – but as with any complex situation the truth is infinitely more complicated than this. Once lockdowns are lifted, you can bet your bottom dollar that billions of people worldwide, desperate to relieve the stir-crazy pressure after being cooped up for so long, will stream back onto roads, railways and airplanes. Commuters and holidaymakers will pump millions of tonnes of carbon back into the environment. Heavy industry around the world will fire up the factories again – it’s already happening in China. There’s still the possibility that this pandemic will have a permanent positive effect on society and the workplace – turns out a lot of us can still do our jobs very effectively and efficiently without travelling to a specific building every day just to sit at an allocated desk – so there may still be a long-term positive impact on carbon emissions once the new normal settles in. Time will tell.

Millions of attempts to access child abuse content during UK lockdown

Slew of ‘Zoombombing’ child abuse cases being investigated by UK authorities

People often like to boast that a crisis brings out the best in people. Unfortunately, it also brings out the worst. A huge number of people in the UK have apparently become so bored during lockdown that they’re looking for child abuse images in the millions. Doesn’t that just restore your faith in humanity? Not shopping for their neighbours, or learning to play the piano, or catching up on books and box sets, or honing their gaming skills, or having virtual pub meets with friends. Nope, they’d prefer to spend the time pathetically masturbating to child abuse images online. There aren’t many people on whom I wish intense physical harm, but these wastes of space should get it with both barrels. 

Jack Loughran, news reporter

Heathrow CEO endorses ‘air bridges’ and quarantine to get people flying again

One can’t help feeling that the opinion of Heathrow Airport’s CEO on air travel in a coronavirus world should not be taken too seriously by policymakers. John Holland-Kaye has put on a song and dance about “taking it seriously” and making sure “only healthy people” can fly. Realistically, the virus can be contagious before flyers show any symptoms at all and there’s only so much that a mask can do to fend it off when the wearer is trapped in a small fuselage, breathing recirculated air for hours at a time.

Kaye has backed the idea of “air bridges” between countries not too badly affected by Covid-19 (surely that would rule out the UK at this stage?) and the quarantining of passengers. Really, it feels like he would say almost anything to get his airport up and running again. That is his job, after all. Most ‘good’ CEOs are skilled at framing their company’s interests in a way that will supposedly benefit society as a whole. They may be experts in their field, so their opinion holds some water, but the inherent conflict of interest means everything should be taken with a rather large spoonful of salt. Best leave this one to the epidemiologists.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor

Majority say they will change the way they travel after lockdown ends

The cynical comeback to this headline is to suggest that maybe the story is reporting on how drivers are planning to start sticking to the speed limit as the volume of traffic on UK roads gets back to its normal levels. I’ve been sticking to only going out early in the morning even as lockdown has been gradually eased and a lot of motorists seem to regard the empty roads as a sign that usual rules don’t apply.

In fact, the news is that more than a third of people say they might rethink the way they travel in future, with one in ten saying they’re cycling more since lockdown began.

Cycling UK, which organised the research, is not unreasonably using the results to argue that there’s demand for cycling infrastructure if only the government would invest in it. I’d certainly back them – that time I’m spending outside the house getting a run in first thing in the morning could just as easily be spent cycling the eight miles or so to the E&T office when it reopens, killing two birds of exercise and commuting with one stone.

I’ve tried this journey in the past but lost heart out of genuine fear for my safety navigating the narrow country lanes of North Hertfordshire. If there were some way of making the journey without having to encounter the steady stream of vehicles hurrying to get to their own places of work, I’d definitely give it a go again.

Of course, there’s a completely different interpretation you could put on the headline – one that wasn’t within the scope of the research. How likely are people who – again, like me – could theoretically use public transport for their journey to work to stick with, or even switch to, the security of sitting alone in their car rather than stand on a packed bus or train rammed with coughing and sneezing fellow passengers?

Yes, let’s use the current situation to think differently about how we do everyday activities like commuting, shopping or simply enjoying our leisure time. At the same time, let’s recognise that every change we make is going to have a host of repercussions for post-lockdown society.

Vitali Vitaliev, features editor

Heathrow CEO endorses ‘air bridges’ and quarantine to get people flying again

At last! It nearly defies belief, but we may be able to fly again soon, it seems.

Like most compulsive travellers who have been forcibly grounded by the virus, I have been rejoicing at the news that certain airlines will resume some of their flights come July and certain airports will open their doors to passengers again.

There’s one thing, however, that puzzles me slightly: the 14-day-long quarantine for everyone arriving in the UK from overseas, be they visiting foreign nationals or returning UK citizens. They are all to be subjected to a compulsory period of self-isolation at their home or their hotel. Those who breach the quarantine will be liable to a fine of £1,000.

Let’s leave the hotels alone for the moment, albeit it’s hard to imagine all foreign visitors booking their hotel accommodation for at least a fortnight (hotels themselves will be very pleased, I’m sure) and let’s try to imagine how and by whom the home quarantine for the UK citizens can be effectively monitored and imposed. As we all know, the police, who have the authority to impose fines, don’t have the right to enter our houses without a warrant, which certainly won’t be provided for such a (relatively) trivial matter as checking whether Mr. A or Ms. B are stuck at home, or out shopping, or walking in the park. The local and the medical authorities may volunteer to do the checking, but again one doesn’t have to let them into a house and the fines they may impose without proper checking can all be successfully disputed in courts.

In reality, the enforced 14-day self-isolation for returning passengers is an unrealistic myth, for even the most conscientious and health-conscious citizens will not refrain from coming out for a slow and properly socially distanced walk in the park, if they feel healthy – and why shouldn’t they?

Alas, this latest regulation is just one in a chain of half-baked and – in my opinion – totally unnecessary time-and-money-wasting government decisions taken since the start of the pandemic. It is largely due to them, I would suggest, that the UK, even with its brilliant NHS, has ended up with one of the world’s worst rates of fatalities.

Ben Heubl, associate editor

Companies face surge in data access requests

Scrutinising the personal data that big tech companies like Amazon possess for this story was an interesting journey. What really stood out is the additional responsibility the regulator put on companies that sell personal smart devices. If the information they gather as you read on your Amazon Kindle or use your Amazon doorbell, for example, falls within the scope of GDPR regulations, the company has to report it back to you.

“Has to report” might be slightly misleading, though. Sure, under the law it “has to report”. In Germany, there’s a saying which translates literally as: “Where there’s no judge, there’s no hangman.” If there’s no-one taking companies to court for failing to provide you with your personal data when you request it, there’s no problem? It seems so.

The public are now waking up to the fact that companies do have an obligation. Yet, these companies still appear to be able to do as they please. Since GDPR kicked off in 2018, two years ago – the anniversary of when the law became enforceable is 25 May – hardly any companies have been fined for failing to comply with data subject access requests. This could change as more customers are disappointed with the results of their data requests.

I can smell a change in the air. After the pandemic and with more requests reaching companies, the regulator might think twice about imposing fines.

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