OPINION: EASE OF TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS – CAN GOVERNMENTS PREVENT THE SECOND WAVE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

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It is a bit strange when the first post in my Travel page is about this topic. However, as a travel lover, I think a lot of when this “no-go” situation will end. Thus, I decided to start with this opinion blog. I would like to express my thought of whether countries can prevent the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic with their latest policy about ease of travel restrictions.

We are going through the most challenging time in human history. All we can see in the last few months are empty streets, the downturn of the world economy, companies have to cut down their employees’ number, people lost their jobs. The whole economy has been impacted, and the Tourism industry is not an exception.

According to a report from the World Tourism Organization, the result of the tourism industry in the Q1 of 2020 is the worst one in international tourism history. There are 67 million fewer international tourist arrivals, with a loss of US$ 80 billion. Near 100% of destinations are subject to travelling restriction.

Countries have started reopening. They are trying their best to recover their economy from the impact of the virus. Many of them have started from the middle of May to open their borders and allow travelling. Some have the policy to open for international tourists in June. The question is: what is waiting for countries when they ease their tourism policy?

The complete ease of lockdown is not a good move. The most infected countries in the first wave may face big troubles if they do that, with the high risk of importing Coronavirus to their countries. It is understandable why some economies decide to allow international tourists early. They are dependent on the development of tourism. After a long time of lockdown, those governments will try to recover their economy. But, if they rush to reopen, things can get worse. The reopening should go along with a tight controlling policy.

14-day self-isolation upon arrival: Good or Bad?

Several countries apply this policy when international tourists pass their borders. I see two types of this policy: self-isolation for all arrivals, or self-isolation for people who are tested positive with Coronavirus.

Take the former measure first. Some countries require all arrivals must self-isolation for 14 days. That is a mandatory policy without exception in certain countries like the UK (unless tourists want to face a fine of £1,000), Belgium or Bulgaria. Some other nations have a slightly easier policy when setting out the list of exemption of mandatory self-isolation. For example, French policy excludes arrivals from the UK, the EU (except Spain) and a few other countries. Or, Germany excludes visitors from the EU, the Schengen Area and the UK (except for arrivals from the list of the high rate of infection).

In the latter measure, tourists will be tested at the airport whether they are affected by the Coronavirus or not, or they have to provide a health certificate as an alternative to the test. If the result is negative, feel free to enjoy the country. Otherwise, they have to take the self-isolation measure in 14 days. It is a measure to make sure that the country will not import the virus from the others.

However, from the travellers perspective, they may hesitate to travel with these policies. For the first type, they have to prepare for two weeks of “going nowhere” situation before enjoying the trip. For the second type, they may not want to take the risk of staying in other countries for two weeks, and they cannot enjoy their trips. Even the 2-week isolation passes, they will not have the feeling of continuing their planned journey. They just want to go back as soon as possible.

One more significant problem of the second type of policy is that governments can only reduce the risk of importing infected people to their countries, not eliminate it. The reason is that it usually takes up to two weeks to see if one person is infected by the virus or not. We cannot test positive immediately after the virus goes into that person’s body. It means, for example, if one person is infected ON the plane to Iceland, it cannot be determined when that person arrives in Iceland. Then, that person can still spend their time in Iceland. During the time they stay, they can cause somebody to be infected by the virus inside them. Countries cannot accomplish the purpose of preventing the Coronavirus from outside.

Domestic or International Travelling?

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It is not an easy question to answer. For some countries, international travelling is the central source of GDP in the tourism industry. But, in this situation, domestic tourism maybe dominates the international one.

The most appropriate approach is that countries reopen tourism destination internally first. It can also be a way to motivate people to travel. Domestic travelling is as essential as international tourism.

Of course, it is difficult for countries which are dependent on international travel arrivals. Governments of those countries can think of an experiment: reopening the travelling in a small region like an island or small cities. For example, Vietnam is considering reopening for foreign tourists from July 1 to Phu Quoc Island (an island located to the south of Vietnam).

Other countries can do the same. They can think of allowing international tourists to enter into some small attractive cities. They are not too big to control. The government can test the effectiveness of the reopening policy in small towns to see whether they should reopen the whole country.

Choosing between the domestic and international tourism is not an easy task. However, governments should consider whether they would like to recover the economy slowly but safely, or they would like to reach the second peak of the pandemic.

Face Mask

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

I save the best point for the last. If governments and their citizens took using face mask seriously, the increase of positive cases in the world would not be that bad. It will not eliminate the virus from the public but can reduce the risk of fast spread of it (given that the virus can stay for a while in the air). That is a crucial lesson that countries can learn from the first peak of the pandemic.

It should be the right policy if governments force people to use face masks in public transportation, public travelling place. Each of us also needs to be aware of that and wear face masks when going to a crowded place. It can be weird because you are travelling and you want an excellent photo, but you have to wear a face mask. I understand. But, if you are doing so, it is also a way to protect yourselves.

Luckily, some countries apply this rule to their policy when they ease travel restrictions. Governments start mandating people to wear face masks in shops, supermarkets and public transports like Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, to name a few.

Final Thought

Travelling will not be the same post-pandemic. The urge of reopening to recover the depressed economy forces governments to take action quickly. However, when governments start to issue any tourism policy, they should take into account all elements. I think now is not be the right time for a nation to reopen their whole country. Governments need to take some experiments to measure whether there would be a second wave of the virus of not.

I love travelling, and I have not much time left in Europe. I came to Europe with the dream of travelling around this continent. Then, I ended up inside my house (now, with the ease of social distancing policy, I am stuck in my city).

There is no way to change countries’ policies now. I am waiting patiently and praying that everything is fine in July, then I can think of going somewhere I feel safe.

Let’s wait and see what happens next months.

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