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As vaccines roll out, businesses face a new quandary

January 6, 2021, 11:14 AM UTC

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Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

As vaccination drives roll out at varying speeds, there’s a big question mark over the issue of what may become—hopefully temporarily—a two-tiered populace.

In Israel, which is running the world’s speediest COVID-19 inoculation campaign (though that hasn’t warded off the need for a tight new lockdown), the health ministry has unveiled a “green passport” that will allow vaccinated people to do things like attend mass gatherings and sporting events. It said the passports will also probably be used by hotels, malls and restaurants.

On the other side of the world, in Los Angeles County, vaccine recipients are getting a digital record, stored on their smartphones, that could end up being used for entrance to concerts or flights.

Some airlines are quite keen on the idea, as a way to return to quasi-normality. Qantas said a month ago that it would require passengers to be vaccinated first if they are to get on-board this year—a step beyond the industry-wide push for a standardized way to show that passengers have at least been tested before departure.

The debate over preferential treatment for vaccinated people is one that’s loaded with many, many factors ranging from the behavioral to the ethical. Would the promise of benefits push skeptics to become vaccinated, or would their withholding be seen as evidence of the vaccination drive being some kind of authoritarian conspiracy? What about people who can’t get vaccinated, for reasons ranging from their personal medical circumstances, to the failure of governments to inoculate people quickly enough?

For officials, these quandaries veer into the territory of human rights—always a balancing act, so they will have to tread carefully due to the constitutional implications.

But what about businesses? Many will undoubtedly have to comb through legal implications too, but, especially in the absence of official rules on the subject, their big issue will be deciding whether or not to continue treating all their customers equally.

For example, once a sizeable proportion of the local populace has been inoculated against COVID-19, will retail chains face pressure to let vaccinated people into their outlets without a mask? Will vaccine resisters then complain that they’re being discriminated against? None of the currently-available vaccines are authorized for use in kids—does that mean cinema operators might have to discriminate against young moviegoers?

In a sense, it’s great to be able to ask these questions—let’s never forget how incredible it is that vaccines are already being rolled out, barely a year into the pandemic. But I certainly don’t know what the answers are, and I’m fascinated to see how they materialize.

More news below.

David Meyer


Senate flipped?

Raphael Warnock has defeated Kelly Loeffler in one of the two Georgia runoffs, and Jon Ossoff appears likely (at the time of publication) to defeat David Perdue, too. That would mean the Democrats narrowly take control of the Senate and President-elect Joe Biden gets to appoint his cabinet and push through a left-of-center legislative agenda without obstruction at every turn. U.S. futures are slightly down, apart from Nasdaq futures, which declined more than 2%. Fortune

Middle East

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are friends with Qatar again, following a four-year trade and travel blockade against the tiny petrostate over its perceived closeness with Iran and alleged support for terrorism. The Trump administration and Kuwait worked behind the scenes to end the regional crisis—though the looming Biden presidency may also have played a role, as the President-elect is a lot less supportive of Saudi Arabia than Trump is. CNBC

Hong Kong

Hong Kong authorities have arrested dozens of opposition figures under a controversial Chinese national security law. The detained individuals include American lawyer John Clancey. Antony Blinken, Biden's secretary of state pick, said the incoming U.S. administration would "stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy." Fortune

Chinese payments

President Trump issued an executive order that would ban transactions with Chinese payment apps such as Alipay, WeChat Pay and QQ Wallet, claiming they "continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy." The move comes as Trump's Treasury Department and the New York Stock Exchange are arguing over the paused delisting of three Chinese telecoms giants. Financial Times


Grammy wait

The 2021 Grammy Awards have been pushed back from Jan. 31 to Mar. 14, due to rising coronavirus infection numbers in L.A. and across California. That means a clash with the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, whose organizers are far from gruntled. The Recording Academy, which runs the Grammys: "Nothing is more important than the health and safety of those in our music community and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly on producing the show." BBC

GE probe

General Electric has concluded its probe into shareholders' claims of fraud and abuse at the conglomerate, and will not be asking former CEO Jeff Immelt and other executives to give back compensation. From the law firm that ran the investigation: "The company does not have a sound legal claim to bring against any current or former officer, director or employee of the company, or against KPMG." Bloomberg

Wuhan probe

China has denied entry to a World Health Organization team that's trying to investigate the origins of COVID-19 in the city of Wuhan. The WHO said the team didn't get visa clearance. "I have been assured that China is speeding up the internal procedure for the earliest possible deployment," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general. BBC

Ant Group

Chinese regulators want (the currently missing) Jack Ma's Ant Group to share the consumer-credit data it has collected. According to the Journal, this could mean feeding the information into a nationwide credit-reporting system run by the central bank, or to share it with a central-bank-controlled credit-rating company. Wall Street Journal

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.