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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

When will the world open up again for travel?

Tanutam Thawan

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OPINION

9 months since the first outbreak in China, international borders remain mostly sealed. Most travellers, excepting certain categories, are prevented from leaving or entering in the majority of countries. The shutters went up in March and April in much of the world, a bit later in some countries, as governments and medical officials figure out how to safely re-open their borders, fearing another surge of Covid-19 within their borders.

Whilst the latest coronavirus has now infected 25,90,750 people worldwide (as of 9am on September 2, Thai time), another 861,251 have succumbed to complications related to Covid-19 as the virus proves to be both more infectious and deadly than seasonal flus.

The “summer surge” in the northern hemisphere, when keyboard warriors opined that the warm weather would reduce the efficiency of the virus to infect people, has turned out to be a furphy. In the US, the southern states of Florida and Texas, also the hottest states, have been the hardest hit with new infections over the past three months of summer.

In Thailand, the government closed the borders in early April and have kept things sealed up ever since, re-opening for a select few, along with 1000s of repatriates – all have to complete a mandatory 14 day state-controlled quarantine.

The Thai government, like governments around the world, have become very risk-averse. Although treatments have improved for Covid-19 patients, the death rate for people who are infected remains uncomfortably high and many of the patients report persistent long-term symptoms as a result of their bout with the disease.

Governments are also weighing up the protection of their citizens with the economic realities. Lockdowns, globally, have plunged countries into recession. Now the word “depression” is openly being used to describe the parlous health of the world economy. And the worst of the economic damage is yet to come as peoples’ savings dwindle and the earlier government stimulus finishes.

In the US, the strongest economy in the world, a dangerous disparity has emerged between Wall Street and Main Street with a surging stock and bonds market, but record unemployment, bankruptcies, store closures and evictions facing the average American. Pundits are predicting a major correction which could set off a chain reaction of similar corrections around the world and deterioration of the almighty USD. The US Federal Bank, aka. The Fed, has been printing imaginary digital currency and buying up stocks and bonds to artificially keep confidence in the stock market bubbling along. Someone has to pay for all that debt somewhere down the track.

But, back to the borders…

The US-Canada border, the world’s longest undefended boundary, has been shut to all nonessential travel since March. Land border crossings are down 97% compared to last year. In addition to its land border restrictions with Canada and Mexico, the US remains closed to travel from China, Brazil, the UK, the EU and Ireland.

In Europe, including the 26 members of the Schengen Area where passports are not needed to cross into fellow-European countries, borders were close in March. Some then re-opened for summer travel but have, in some cases, begun to shut them down again.

Britain announced a 14 day quarantine requirement for all visitors from France at the start of August. This week France reciprocated. Spain has had another surge in July and August after earlier containing the virus. Spain was one the hardest hit countries in the world, early on in the pandemic.

Norway has imposed a similar requirement for visitors from Spain and 8 other European countries. The EU is recommending its members reopen to countries deemed “epidemiologically safe” or “risk free” – China, Japan, and South Korea, but keep the borders closed to most others, including the US.

Some EU member states, like Poland and Hungary are refusing to reopen to any other countries at all.

China, which has been closed to most foreign visitors since March 28, has partially reopened to a few Europeans who hold Chinese residence or a valid work permit, but otherwise keeps its borders sealed.

All this sealing up and border protection has also seen a resurgence of nationalism – keep us safe and foreigners out!

The solution, for a lot of governments, is that the best way for countries to protect themselves against Covid-19, is to keep foreigners out and reduce their reliance on foreign imports.

In the US, the Trump administration has used the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to shutdown all asylum claims at the borders, immigration processing, and prevent most foreign workers from crossing the borders. The rhetoric plays into the far right of politics providing emotional reasoning to keep those pesky foreigners out of their country and the borders sealed. There has been cases, almost everywhere, where nativism rises to the top in plenty of social media clips, where spiteful middle class citizens turn feral and anti-foreigner. Behold the rise of Karen! Whilst borders remain closed, xenophobia simmers.

There has been enough of that in Thailand too. Without revisiting any of the nastier examples, at least one leading politician hasn’t helped the situation with his attacks on “dirty farang”.

In a world that had become increasingly connected, and supply chains relied heavily on cross border co-operation for an interconnected world economy, the pandemic has changed everything. And governments are simply struggling trying to find out new ways to keep their economies bubbling along whilst also doing their best to battle a new virus.

Airline travel had never been so popular as it was in the months before Covid-19 first broke out in China. Now the world’s aviation market has seen a 97% drop in traffic. The US administration has turned on China, previously its major trading partner, with a promise to lock it out of manufacturing supply chains – a promise impossible to keep.

The one thing that remains mostly open is the internet, connecting people across borders even when they’re mostly closed. So at least we can still share stories and ideas as the world struggles into the next phase of this pandemic.

Take yourself back to March and April when we all thought this would be over “soon” and things will be back to normal “in a couple of months”. How wrong we were. 9 months in and there are more borders being closed than opened and the best we can hope for in the world of travel is a virtual tour on YouTube or a staycation inside our own borders.

PS. The greatest pandemic in recent history was called the Spanish Flu (even though it originated in the US). SARS and MERS, also deadly coronaviruses, ended up with dull acronyms. A few other pandemics of the 20th century didn’t even get a name. How will history describe this pandemic? Covid-19, the 2019 Pandemic, The Great Pandemic?

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Laurent

    Saturday, August 29, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    It should be called, the fake pandemic

    • Avatar

      Daniel

      Friday, September 4, 2020 at 5:37 pm

      Yes, youre right!

  2. Avatar

    Bill Hawlins

    Saturday, August 29, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    Why don’t you just report the news instead of editorlizing? Comments like ” The rhetoric plays into the far right of politics providing emotional reasoning to keep those pesky foreigners out of their country and the borders sealed” are uncalled for.

    • Avatar

      Roger

      Monday, August 31, 2020 at 8:40 am

      It was published as an opinion piece

    • The Thaiger & The Nation

      The Thaiger & The Nation

      Wednesday, September 2, 2020 at 2:30 pm

      It’s an ‘opinion’ piece, clearly labelled as such. You are well entitled to respond and have a say. We’ve done 4 opinion pieces in about 3 months – please allow us to indulge ourselves sometimes. You don’t have to read but we’re delighted when you do and appreciate that your views may be different from the writers.

  3. Avatar

    Mez

    Sunday, August 30, 2020 at 7:41 am

    Thx ! Two sides to every opinion. I agree with the world majority. Vienna convention violations, currency manipulation, and import disparity? Hmmm

  4. Avatar

    Mick

    Sunday, August 30, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    So millions of cases, many deaths, many autopsies, many medicines I presume are/ and have been tested and tried. Are our Doctors all fool’s that no one has said this method cures Covid 19. So many dumb doctors and medical experts, can’t find a cure. I have heard stories of amazing results yet nothing concrete available. The incompetence is astounding. Highly paid medical experts, and they have nothing. Just as well they’re not in charge of keeping aeroplanes up in the sky, or your car running. It’s either gross incompetence, or something more sinister is at hand.

  5. Avatar

    Roger

    Monday, August 31, 2020 at 8:42 am

    Spanish flu did not originate in the United States. It originated either in Europe or China. But to this day, no one really knows for sure.

  6. Avatar

    Daniel

    Monday, August 31, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    Probably by the end of the year, mass vaccinations will start.

    Medical staff, elderly people, military, politians and rich people first.

    Then as the production increases most “normal” people too will get the vaccine.

    Optimistically, less than one year from now there will be no closed borders anymore nor travel restrictions as long as you can show that you have covid-19 antibodies.

    Thus everything will be fine… until the next weird infection comes!

  7. Avatar

    josh brolin

    Wednesday, September 2, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    I agree with the other guy, Bill Hawlins above, stick to the facts a little bit, these opinion pieces are just rehashing the same rubbish. Thailand isn’t going to re-open its borders any time soon as their plan is clearly to make some big hotels or Thai airways royal orchid travel company some serious cash to try and reverse their downturn.

    I’m waiting for some country to admit the truth that you can’t stop a virus, ignore politics and the left wing complainers and just get back to normal. But I think big pharma and this vaccine agenda has now taken over.

    Just stop with these articles that mean nothing, if you cant say anything factual and just want to give opinions, then you might as well work for that popular Thai expats forum.

  8. Avatar

    Bobby M

    Wednesday, September 2, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    I think you have missed the point regarding the expected summer reduction in infections.

    As I understand it. It is a fact that Covid 19 cannot survive in high temperatures. You mentioned two of the hottest states in America. What I believe you have failed to realise, is that it can both survive and spread easily in air conditioned environments.

    So you can expect anywhere from homes to shopping mall’s that are air conditioned to be the place’s that have maintained the virus in hot climates. I genuinely feel that this is what has kept the infection rates down in Thailand. Mall’s and other large air conditioned environments were closed and there are far fewer than for example the two American states you mention, add to this that in rural Thailand, Air con is minimal.

    Even your standard hospitals don’t have air con in the wards. I think this could have helped you with both your recovery and infection rate more than you realise.

    There are hundreds of thousands of people that want to see girlfriends, boyfriends, fiancé and Thai families they love and I might add, both have and are continuing to support financialy from afar.

    Here is an idea for you that could work and would be reasonable for both

    30 day minimum stay (recommendation to extend free entry visa to 45 days) this would open the ability to more people whilst making it worth while for a vacation.
    Sanitised taxi transfer or hire car to hotel or rented condo anywhere up to and including the family home in rural Thailand.
    Must remain with track and trace in hotel room, apartment/condo or room at family home for 14 days
    Allowed to be joined by one person fiancé/ girlfriend etc who will be allowed out to get food/ shopping. They must wear face covering at all times outside the room.

    No hoops to jump through
    No tests, they are expensive and all but pointless as they are not accurate
    14 days self quarantine is enough, after which the visitors are allowed out of the room.

    Yes there will be some infections, but I it’s far more manageable to cope with several small fires than a totally out of control forest fire called Phuket.

    This will help your travel industry start to obtain an income
    Provide jobs
    Allow airlines to start to trust you and build schedules knowing they can sell tickets
    Start to rebuild your economy and show the rest of the world you are opening for business.

    You have to start somewhere and I feel this idea would be a good balanced approach.

    • The Thaiger & The Nation

      The Thaiger & The Nation

      Wednesday, September 2, 2020 at 2:39 pm

      Great response. Thanks for your opinion and ideas.

    • Avatar

      Rick Murphy

      Thursday, September 3, 2020 at 12:05 am

      Your’s is the first reasonable scenario I have heard up to now. Unfortunately politicians around the world try to justify their existence by coming up with a bunch of bull crap requirements. The best way to come up with a viable solution is to stop all income for the politicians until they come up with a reasonable way to reopen the countries. If you stop their income, you can rest assured they will come up with something quickly.

  9. Avatar

    Tommy A Clark

    Wednesday, September 2, 2020 at 8:33 pm

    Don’t post opinions as facts if you can’t prove it. The Spanish Flu was “thought” to have originated in France, China and Britain. Spain was neutral in WW1 but reported on the war. News of the sickness first made headlines in Madrid Spain in late May 1918 however it has been suggested that the first case was reported at a military base in Kansas, USA. This again was during world war 1. Those are the facts, therefore it is not really known where it originated. But I expect your a U.S. hater anyway.

  10. Avatar

    Muhin

    Thursday, September 3, 2020 at 12:40 am

    Thailand should totally ban infected foreigner. No tourists for at least 6 months. The health of the nation is more important. It is a pity that the leaders of other countries are not as wise as Prayut

  11. Avatar

    EdwardV

    Thursday, September 3, 2020 at 4:39 am

    The conventional wisdom is the Spanish flu originated in the US, mostly because that’s where the first cases were diagnosed in 1918. However the Pasture institute in 1993 said the precursor virus likely came from China and then mutated in the United States. The theory is it was brought in with the Chinese labor corps troops as they passed through North America on the way to the war in Europe in 1917. People forget China declared war against Germany and participated in WWI. Many of them came down with similar symptoms to the first wave of the Spanish flu early in the trip. Some of them never made it aboard the boat to Europe.

  12. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Friday, September 4, 2020 at 11:33 am

    The world will open about six months before Thailand.
    The Thai dictators will hang onto the emergency powers as long as possible for their own benefit.

  13. Avatar

    Mike

    Friday, September 4, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    Europe is open – thousands of international daily flights!
    Only South East Asia is still closed. Paranoia!

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