Imagining 2030: Living with Pandemic

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Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.

Christine Nikol works in FX trading in London and New York and has a background in politics, journalism and management consulting.


Date of first infection?” asks the nurse, not looking up from his electronic chart.

May 2026” I answer, and he taps the screen. He rummages through his trolley, finds a pack of pills with a green cover and hands it to me without saying a word: he can tell from my chart I know what to do — I’ve taken AniFlu before.

While I swallow the pills, the nurse pulls an iTrack from his hip holster and holds the device against my shoulder. The chip under my skin blinks green a few times, sending him my data.

It’s been five years since the outbreak of Vyborg Flu – a new flu so serious it kills the frail in a matter of weeks and debilitates the healthy for months. 20% of the infected die if they aren’t administered a treatment. No government was able to produce enough vaccines to inoculate everyone, and the virus keeps mutating. Eventually, they gave up on large-scale vaccination and focused on coming out with the right cures.  Now the labs are able to crank out enough of the latest AniFlu to cover most new infections: the key is getting it to people who’ve been exposed in time.

My chip flashes red: “Four people” says the nurse, “that’s a lot”. The data is right. I’ve been within one meter of four people since my chip detected this latest infection: my sister, a date and a delivery man. Everyone uses drones for deliveries, but AmazDrone messed up the delivery of a confidential work document and my law firm had dispatched a rare human courier so I’d sign a deposition in time. Limiting human contact is a Key Health Objective at Caswell, Xia & Co: the office even uses the latest iHolo to project a hologram of the senior partner from New York. Country quarantines were lifted last year, but international travel for business purposes is still banned. On the bright side, CO2 emissions have never been lower.

The nurse puts on a new pair of gloves and asks me to open wide: he has to check that I’ve swallowed the cure and log it in iHealth. “Aaaaah” I groan, as he moves my tongue from right to left. “Right. Good to go” he says, “Remember to call your exposures,” he reminds me. “That might be awkward” I say under my breath: the Skype dates with Albert had been promising, but there was no chemistry when we met in person and I was hoping to avoid him. But I know the moment my iTrack data came through to the nurse, the RingPo was dispatched to find the four people I’d exposed and make them take the AniFlu. It was only polite to give them a head’s up.

Yes, I’ll let them know” I reply. The nurse ticks a box on his screen.

The RingPo are the medical police that execute Europe’s Ring Prophylaxis strategy. Identify the infected, trace who was exposed, track them down and administer the cure so the virus doesn’t spread. It’s what they did when Ebola struck in 2015, but back then they had to figure out your exposures manually and interview the sick, who could barely tell one day from the next, and then call and knock on doors to find everyone. They tried that when Vybord began, but governments were quickly overwhelmed and peoples’ memories couldn’t be trusted. Tech firms tried using social media and complex algorithms to do the job, but tracking every person-to-person contact was just too difficult. That’s when the chips came in: now any time you come within coughing distance of another chip, its owner and the date are logged. If you get sick, information on each person you exposed during your contagious period is given to the RingPo.

Apple and Google developed the process together, but even though Apple gave iTrack away for free, its trillion dollar Health & Technology division was taken over by the US government and the WHO. It’s not unprecedented: Merck was nationalized during World War I. Google somehow stayed private, with a “public-private partnership” to support the RingPo.

As I leave the clinic I start feeling drowsy: the pills work fast. I exit through the corner of the old Harvey Nichols store that’s been converted to a hospital. There’s no need or desire for physical stores anymore. Knightsbridge is empty except for a few people waiting outside the clinic and the drones buzzing away above. I check my nose for any bleeding, but it hasn’t started yet. I know I won’t sleep well for weeks. Since I’m not too drowsy to speak yet, I pull out my phone to call my exposures and decide to start with my sister. She’ll be upset because she’s pregnant, which makes her a much higher risk if she gets sick.

I’m lucky. I’m a healthy 37 year old, I’m not pregnant and I was able to freeze my eggs after they managed to develop gene therapy that gives embryos immunity against Vyborg. It cost me 40,000GBP, but at least my hypothetical child won’t need a chip in her arm. I’d like a little girl: the EU made maternity and paternity leaves mandatory to help the reproduction effort and women now make up a slim majority at the head of universities and businesses. Too bad it took an epidemic to put the policy in place. But since women like me are still scared of getting pregnant as long as the flu rages, governments decided there can’t be any other deterrents to rebuilding the population. It’s hard enough to create a relationship when human interaction is discouraged.

Maybe when the RingPo have finished with him, I should try again with Albert.

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