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It may seem strange, but things have felt pretty normal lately. Though the pandemic still isn’t over, the New York Times reports that businesses in the vast majority of states are currently categorized as “mostly open.” According to Education Week, only three states plus Puerto Rico were still ordering schools partially or fully closed as of April 12. Even California, which was setting staggering daily COVID case records just a few short months ago, is now planning to fully reopen on June 15. 

But the reopening hasn’t been as straightforward as it seems – public sentiment around it has been complicated by new virus strains and varying vaccination statuses. As companies and governments try to strike the right balance in their approach to getting back to business, we used narrative intelligence to explore the nuances in the public reaction that business will need to understand as they chart their path forward.

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Air Travel Takes Off Into a New Normal

Few trends suggest a shift to pre-pandemic activity more than the recent surge in air travel. Around 1.5 million travelers passed through airports on March 21 – the largest number since before the pandemic.

Though online narratives about air travel are mixed, a key trend emerged from the data: While negative stories got a stronger response, the conversation is now seeing a higher volume of positive stories.

Mentions of negative and positive stories about flying

Negative stories about the safety of flying decreased while positive stories increased, January – March 2021.

Stories that instilled fear around air travel during COVID-19, like this study linking last summer’s COVID outbreak in Ireland to air travel and an LA Times piece reporting that pilots felt “rusty” after flying less during the pandemic, attracted more shares than stories emphasizing the precautions that airlines were taking to ensure passenger safety.

Read our new report for our full narrative intelligence analysis around air travel in 2021.

While stories emphasizing the dangers of air travel seemed to get the most attention, this seems to be driven by a vocal minority, as blanket opposition to flying appears to be diminishing overall. Statements expressing disapproval of air travel dropped 93% between January and March. In contrast, the volume of stories expressing optimism around the future of flying rose 70% during this same time period.

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Vaccine Passports Make Big Waves

With businesses reopening and the COVID vaccine rollout still in progress, narratives have emerged around the use of “vaccine passports” as a way for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated and thus gain access to businesses, spaces, and activities that might otherwise be dangerous. 

Since November 1st, 2020, the vaccine passport narrative accumulated 2,640,757 mentions within the Vaccine conversation, but did not gain significant traction until mid-February 2021. 99.8% of vaccine passport mentions since November 2020 occurred in recent months, amassing 2,635,357 mentions from February 1st to April 5th, 2021.

Vaccine passport narrative gains traction

The vaccine passport narrative gained traction in mid-February and spiked in late March.

The narrative initially gained traction the week of February 15th, 2021, due to a UK-based petition titled “Do not rollout Covid-19 vaccine passports”. That week, the narrative was mentioned 67,363 times. The UK-based petition continued to amplify the vaccine passport narrative into subsequent weeks as news outlets began to also report on vaccine passport hesitancy. As of April 9, the petition link had been shared 53.5k times on Twitter since its publication and accumulated 330,691 signatures.

In a major spike, the vaccine passport narrative increased in mentions by 496% the week of March 29th compared to the week prior. The peak was driven by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order that prohibits the mandate of a COVID-19 vaccine passport. 

Zignal narrative intelligence on vaccine passport narratives was cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Read more news articles that leverage Zignal data on our press page.

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Investing Gets New Wind in Its Sails

Though the pandemic hasn’t gone away, we, as a society, have started to adapt and learn how to function around the virus. This has not just allowed businesses to reopen – it has also impacted financial activity among the public.

Using the Financial Publications profile in the Zignal platform, we found that, in recent months, “coronavirus” has come to occupy a much smaller share of mentions within the overall conversation. From June to December of 2020, it occupied 34% of all combined mentions of the 28 issues we tracked within the conversation, while so far this year it has only occupied 20%. We then broadened the conversation beyond media publications to include social media posts, and found that positive sentiment around numerous finance-related topics has improved over the last few months. Here’s just one example:

Investment banking historical sentiment

Sentiment around “investment banking,” Jan. 2020 – March 2021.

These findings are encouraging signs that reluctance to spend and invest, which was widespread at the beginning of the pandemic, is waning, presenting opportunities for financial services companies. 

Learn more about changing attitudes related to financial services in our recent Labs Report.