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International Travel Recovery?

May 15th, 2020
International Travel Recovery means trekking

We love to travel but WHEN can we go?

Aside from everything else, this COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a big spanner in many travel plans.  How long until we have an International Travel Recovery? When can we go?

It is likely to take ‘a wee while’ as my Scottish grandma used to say. Of course, it will happen, and when it does it will be safer than ever before. The big question is how quickly. Recovery must be staged, new protocols must be in place and different rules will apply depending on the country and region that you visit, and when.

International travel will recover a little this year. Next year will probably recover a fair bit more, and so on.  The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it could take 3 years to get completely back to ‘normal’.  Things will look different.

Where to go?

Many of the countries that our travellers like to visit are being hit hard by the virus. Lets not even mention the awful graphs and tragic suffering of the poor population of the USA.

Some countries have done well against COVID-19 like Vietnam, Bhutan,  and of course New Zealand, but popular countries like Tanzania and Brazil are likely to lack appeal for a while.  Countries with the potential for intermittent lockdowns may be a concern if virus flares and travellers might be stranded. Countries with weak intensive care infrastructure will be unpopular with senior age groups.  If a traveller contracts COVID-19 and falls into the 20% who gets very sick, it will be difficult to obtain high-quality treatment in some parts of the world. Destinations close to Australia with relatively good virus control will be popular.

Destinations, where a traveller can fly direct from one’s home port may be popular as it will minimise stopovers in potentially crowded airports. Countries with shared bubble arrangements will be the first to open.

Journeys might be longer. There will be more mucking about, maybe having to spend time in quarantine, so short trips of less than a week maybe will not be worth it.

Testing will be used extensively.

Get used to that nasal swab?? Temperature testing, nose swabs, and blood tests will all have a role to play. Thermal scanners are being used more and more eg  Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International  Airport thermally screens arriving passengers, triggering an alarm if they have a fever. Hong Kong is very strict with its arrivals who undergo extensive testing and quarantine before being released into the country.

Emirates Airline is testing passengers for COVID-19 at the airport

Vienna is also testing people at the airport according to the BBC – it takes 3 hours and means you can avoid quarantine. You can also get tested on the way out – all by appointment.

Currently, nasal PCR tests will reveal people who are actively secreting virus,  but not if they are just in the early incubation phase. Those incubating the virus could have a negative test and then get then sick a few days later. The average incubation is about 5 days and can be up to 14 days. Repeated testing will be necessary.

Cleaning will be the new obsession

Airports, aircraft, and hotels will all get cleaner. There will be less touching of surfaces; measures that have been long overdue in my view.

Aircraft already have new guidelines about personal protective equipment for staff,  more frequent cleaning during the flight especially toilets, and changes to the way food is supplied.

Maybe on some flights,  instead of Qantas pyjamas, we will be issued our own Medical Standard Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Maybe just on short flights –  I am not sure how we would use those aircraft bathrooms in PPE.

Or maybe we will be given the clear face shields or masks. (Didn’t those newborn Thai babies look so cute in the face shields?)  Suits and masks may be cheaper for airlines than leaving the middle seat free? Or what about a personal ‘cone of silence‘ type contraption over each seat? Carry on luggage is likely to be less.

Hotels will be cleaner. For example, the Hilton hotel chain now has a lot more cleaning protocols for their rooms – more often, more high tech, and more visible. Hilton is planning, among other things, – rooms with a freshness seal to prove no-one has been in the room since it was cleaned. External corridors are becoming popular, so travellers can move straight from their car to their room more easily. Breakfast buffets may be a thing of the past – more on buffets shortly.

Cruises are quite unpopular at present, but cruise lines will adapt to reassure future passengers that it is safe to cruise again.  Cruises likely will need to test everyone who gets on the ship (for fevers or for COVID19) and even test people daily in case they start excreting virus. Certainly, staff will need to be tested daily. Buffets should go extinct, unless perhaps if staff do the serving. Check out this scary Japanese video of how fluoro paint spread through a banquet as a proxy for the spread of germs or faecal matter.  Hand-shaking would likely give similar results, so no touch greetings should become the new normal.

Some cruise lines have already issued new guidelines  – screening during boarding, more cleaning, more masks, staggered arrivals, more non-touch facilities, better ventilation of cabins and public areas, more space between passengers who are arriving, waiting, and being entertained, and better facilities for testing and managing infectious diseases on ships, including PPE for the staff. This new committment to clean will help stop other infectious diseases like the norovirus and influenza outbreaks that sometimes plague cruise ships. It might also be necessary to implement a system where if someone is sick and going on a cruise they can transfer to a future cruise for free so there is no incentive to get on the ship with their contagious disease.

A Vaccine?

We are all waiting for this much-heralded vaccine.  There over 100 candidates under investigation. Sadly. it is by no means a sure thing. There are always many dead ends in vaccine development. The usual time to develop a vaccine is about 10 years and no-one has managed any type of coronavirus before. However the scientific might of this planet is focused on this problem so if it is possible, I am confident, it will be done.

Isn’t it a shame how for so many years, the stories circulating widely in humanity have revolved around bullets and wars and the heroes are those with guns and bombs. Yet, up until a hundred years ago, for millennia in fact,  humans have been battling germs; TB, yellow fever, diphtheria, septicemia etc.

Everyone seems to have forgotten the lessons of history. Vaccine makers are no longer the heroes. Yet just over a hundred years ago, the French doctor, Calmette spent most of his career trying to get tuberculosis under control. He and his lab assistant Guerin looked after the future BCG culture, for over 10 years. They grew it and passed it 230 times into new cultures, even during the first world war when France was occupied and bombs were falling, when getting ox bile for the culture medium was extremely difficult.  The BCG was first used in 1921, not even a hundred years ago, and now it is being trialed in health care workers to see if it might help. There is a lack of evidence to date re BCG and COVID-19 but research is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the old fashioned system of finding cases by extensive testing, contact tracing, and quarantining those exposed, will do a lot to ensure we stop this wretched COVID-19 virus.

Stay home if sick – do it for your community

People need to stay home if they are sick. Look how a worker with a scratchy throat became a super spreader and set off a cluster in her workplace. Hopefully, in future,  Australians travelling (or not) will stop this silliness of ‘ cracking hardy’ when they are sick and stay away from others if they have respiratory symptoms. In my view, paid sick leave of tourist industry staff may do as much to stop this virus as any vaccine.

Maybe we will have a situation where persons about to embark on a big trip will think about self-isolating for a few weeks so they don’t get a fever on the plane and be denied travel.

Fancy or better quarantine?

If we have to quarantine on return to Australia, or on arrival in a destination country, maybe there will be a new industry of luxury quarantine. No-one wants to be shut in a windowless hotel room for 2 weeks, with food they don’t like, and no medical care – especially with children. Can we trust those preparing the food? Instead, what if we were locked up in a rather nice villa with a small private garden or pool?  You would cook your own food for safety and do your own cleaning for safety. Or even better, what about a security service that you employ to monitors you in your own house so you can stay at home and can guarantee that you have not gone out. Technology seems a good avenue for this.

Other diseases might attract a bit more attention

As a travel doctor, I would hope that other infectious diseases like influenza, meningitis, Japanese encephalitis, etc might attract a bit more interest and care. Many people travel without getting the recommended vaccines. Certainly, COVID-19 has received unprecedented attention and for good reason,  but infectious diseases are everywhere. Frequent careful handwashing stops a lot of infectious diseases, and don’t forget to wash the thumbs.

Job losses affecting disposable income

Many Australians have lost their jobs (and 6 million Australians are on the jobkeeper scheme) so many travellers just won’t have the usual supply of spare cash to travel. When Theree is an international travel recovery, trips may be very cheap as destinations try to encourage travellers to return, even like Sicily in Italy paying them to do so.

Travellers are good at saving their money, and COVID-19 cannot stop travel in the long term.

International Travel Recovery?

Travellers are a resilient lot, and generally don’t mind choosing to take a little risk as long as it’s not silly.

We are used to taking precautions. Once you have travelled to India, it is not a surprise that infectious diseases are potentially lurking ‘all over the shop’.  Frequent careful handwashing has always been a critical travel skill.

I think by next year, if not before,  we will restart travelling internationally but it will be safer than ever. Business travel may come back sooner. Even now, we are seeing the occasional traveller for an urgent business trip. Sometimes a zoom meeting just won’t do the job. Employers are being especially careful with health precautions.

Meanwhile, until there is an international travel recovery, we will likely travel locally – which will be relatively safe, but Grey Nomads heading off around Australia might need some travel advice.

Until the planes return to the sky, we will try to save our travel dollars, research our next adventure, and bide our time until options return. We will be even more ready to Travel Well, hopefully soon.

One Response to “International Travel Recovery?”

  1. Sean Flint says:

    Good article Deb

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