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Opinion – Saying goodbye to travel restrictions is the right call

At risk of being blackballed in the early stages of my writing career, I’m putting forward my opinion on why travel restrictions should remain a thing of the past.

If you’re still paying attention to coronavirus news two years on, you’ll know PM Boris Johnson has decided to shorten quarantine periods, scrap predeparture and day two arrival tests, and abandon new local lockdown measures all together.

And while these decisions were made suspiciously close to the time that the boozy, height-of-lockdown parties at No.10 were made public – which quite frankly rendered politicians as having zero credibility in policing their citizens on this matter – many people are jumping for joy regardless.

France quickly followed suit by ending restrictions for UK travellers, causing a surge in bookings for skiing holidays overnight. Spain has announced it will be treating the coronavirus as an ‘end-emic’ now that 91 percent of its population has received the vaccine.

It appears that many countries are finally throwing in the (restrictive) towel. And if I’m honest, these decisions have been a long time coming.

For those who have flown across international borders in the last year for whatever reason, you know that travel restrictions have required forking out an additional hundred pounds per trip and could possibly have induced some premature grey hairs.

Purchasing timeslots for pre-departure and arrival PCR tests, filling out lengthy travel authorisation forms, and the paranoia caused by potentially catching the virus and subsequently being trapped in your travel destination for an additional 14 days has been draining, to say the least.

The release from these travel annoyances is almost euphoric… can you feel it?

Having said that, there are a few other reasons why travel restrictions have become a waste of time and money – so let’s explore them.

For starters, many people have boarded flights with a paid-for negative result in hand, only to test positive a couple days into their holiday.

Were they still in the incubation period of having the virus? Did they catch it on the plane? Was it the droplets from the hotel receptionists’ subtle cough that floated through the air, past their masks, and into their respiratory system?

Who knows? There’s no way anyone could know.

The rapid global spread of the Transformer-sounding Omicron variant is proof that pre and post travel testing regimes are obsolete. If travel restrictions really worked, the number of known variants jumping from national populations into the international population would likely not exist.

On top of this, the amount spent on testing by a single traveller for one journey is usually in the range of £50-100. Multiply this by the number of passengers on 100,000 flights that take off each day and the financial gain from laboratories worldwide is incomprehensible.

That’s without factoring in the tests unknowingly purchased from websites advertising services from fake or unverified laboratories, as well as individuals who were desperate enough to snap up forged vaccine passports from dodgy sellers.

No doubt there will be a documentary on the medical sector’s profit from travel testing coming soon, and I’m sure the official figures will be enough to make anyone feel feverish – especially since routine tests haven’t proved to be a successful deterrent to Ms. Rona hitching a free ride.

Now before the comments calling this article ‘out of touch’ and ‘in bad taste’ start rolling in, I’m not saying we should stop caring about the spread of the virus altogether.

Protecting the vulnerable, disabled, and immunocompromised remains paramount.  Mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing where possible should still be standard protocol. At the very least, we can all still value not having someone standing on our heels while waiting in line for the self-checkout.

It’s worth noting that vaccinations and boosters have significantly reduced hospitalisation cases and diminished the severity of COVID symptoms for those who aren’t lucky enough to be asymptomatic.

And although being vaccinated doesn’t completely stop anyone from carrying or transmitting the virus, careful consideration of these trends has led many European nations with high vaccine take-up to begin treating the once-pandemic as an endemic – something comparable to the seasonal flu, which causes death in upwards of 20,000 people globally each year.

Looking at the scientific data, it appears that we have already seen the worst that the coronavirus can do. We have the hard work and dedication of researchers, scientists, and medical professionals to thank for getting us out of that horrible year-long period.

A year after its rollout, the vaccine has proven to be effective for the 61 percent of individuals worldwide who have made the decision to receive it. For those who have chosen not to, they’ve made a personal decision that likely won’t be changed by pro-vax arguments at this point.

Granted, it’s impossible to ignore that many developing regions continue to struggle with slow vaccination rates, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia.

The richest countries in the world – who are now taking steps to ‘live with the virus’ – are largely (and unsurprisingly) to blame for the humanitarian crime of vaccine disparity. Actually, I wrote about the brutality of vaccine nationalism last year.

Wealthy countries should increase their funding for the vaccination program Covax to ensure that countries in these regions get the doses they need.

This would help to speed up production processes, facilitate vaccine transportation, and dose administration. Countries hoarding surpluses of the vaccine could also make a huge difference by redistributing these overseas.

But the World Health Organisation has warned that international travel bans have created obstacles for global cooperation against COVID variants by delaying the shipments of lab samples that would advance scientific research into new strains.

Abandoning travel restrictions will make it easier for professionals to learn about and share data on current and future coronavirus variants. And in the meantime, citizens in countries where travel-for-leisure is common can finally be allowed to do so normally.

That said, we all have a moral responsibility to approach this newfound freedom with caution. Pack your masks, keep your travel-sized sanitisers on deck, and keep a considerate distance from others when you can.

We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after traveling through darkness over the last two years – let’s not mess it up, eh?


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