Propelling hygiene innovations in a post-COVID world

  • 2021-04-16
  • 1587

COVID-19 has delivered on hygiene innovation. Whether in terms of masks or other hygiene verticals, new developments and technologies have emerged rapidly that promise a future of permanent hygiene, under one condition: upgrading an outdated pre-COVID regulatory framework. At stake is not only a major step forward in global health, but also the economic recovery and transition to a sustainable future.

Regulatory reforms are ex-post animals, reactively responding to technology developments once they have taken place, rather than anticipating or accompanying them. In fact, over the past 20 years, digital trailblazers have revolutionised the ICT industry, constantly outpacing regulatory regimes. Sometimes, hardship fuels innovation; in that regard, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a breeding ground for innovative solutions, especially in hygiene. How can we make sure that the right regulatory framework is in place to sustain this innovation, instead of killing it? It is time for regulations to stop playing catch-up and chart a post-COVID path forward.

The 2020 race for masksRarely has demand for a product accelerated so rapidly than in the case of face masks. In fact, demand for masks and personal protection equipment (PPE) skyrocketed over the past 18 months. At the outset of the crisis in March 2020, China stopped being the global supplier; and countries began to introduce trade barriers, thereby making face masks a precious commodity. While inventive solutions intended to be short-term stopgap measures blossomed, technology stepped in to improve the fabric of masks.

Progressively, initial export bans made way for better systems of co-ordination. The EU responded to cross-border emergencies. On 7 May 2020, the European Commission began the process of delivering 1.5 million masks to Member States to protect EU healthcare workers. Since then, the rescEU medical reserve has delivered millions of items of PPE to Member States at risk of shortage. A year in, there is still more the EU can do to equip citizens with the best possible protection.

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