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The world is opening up again

After more than a year of the pandemic travel is opening up again, and depending on which country at different speeds

Around the world a state of emergency has existed for the last 12 months. The travel industry has been hardest hit, and in many places has come to a standstill. The world is gradually opening up again, not least due to good vaccination progress – although at vastly varying speeds.

In Asia and Australia the impact of the pandemic has been far less serious than in Europe or the Americas. In part, this is because individual countries closed their borders. Exceptions exist, however. A two-way travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand was recently set up to allow movement between the two countries. Images of people in each other’s arms, having not seen each other for about a year, went around the world, while the recently imposed ban on Australian citizens returning from India, a red-listed zone, caused controversy.

There are positive signals from the US, where vaccination levels are among the highest and around 45 per cent of the population have received a first jab. Accordingly, domestic air travel has mushroomed in recent weeks. More and more Americans are travelling to the Caribbean again. Nevertheless, fear of repeated outbreaks is widespread. A spring break surge of visitors to Miami and Fort Lauderdale triggered news headlines, followed by warnings issued by the authorities. Subsequently, Miami immediately limited access to Miami Beach.

As is well known, vaccination numbers in Israel are high. With around 60 per cent of the population vaccinated, the country is proud to be the first to have reached a state akin to herd immunity. Greece quickly responded a few weeks ago by announcing it would welcome Israeli citizens via a safe travel corridor.

In South America Chile, which had vaccinated a high proportion of its population at an early date, probably let its guard down too soon. All of a sudden infection numbers shot up again. According to many experts, one reason was that many Chileans had opted for cheap trips to neighbouring Brazil, where an extremely aggressive variant has been rampant for some time.

In that respect the UK has been much more cautious. Despite good vaccination progress, foreign travel to selected countries is not be permitted again until 17 May. Around Easter, Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened severe punishment for rule breakers and warned his compatriots against taking longed-for holiday trips to Mallorca. Countries in southern Europe had earlier already announced a quarantine waiver for vaccinated travellers from the UK, once travel started up again.

Against a backdrop of low infection rates on Mallorca, the German government had removed the island from its red list of countries and regions. Subsequently, some 40,000 people travelled there from Germany over the Easter holidays. This caused controversy in Germany, where rising infection rates have meant that holiday accommodation has not opened even for local tourism. Many feared that the holidaymakers could trigger infections on Mallorca again, although in retrospect those fears were unfounded.

This was probably the result of passengers being tested upon flights arriving and departing at international borders. Whereas during the summer months of the pandemic in 2020 testing was severely lacking, the travel world has now comfortably adapted to travellers’ testing needs. In the eyes of many travel experts this will likely significantly help to make cross-border travel safer for both source countries and destinations.

In the final analysis, whether or not the world can open up for travel over the coming weeks and months will probably depend on several factors:

  • on countries making progress with vaccinations,
  • on routine widespread testing taking place,
  • and not least on whether virus variants occur and existing vaccines are effective or can be adapted.

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