Passengers leave Sydney at the beginning of the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, which turned out to be short-lived. Photo: AP
COVID-19 has made a habit of turning many so-called experts into clowns, but the devastating Delta variant has an even more sinister tendency to muzzle anyone completely.
Yeah, mistakes we’ve made more than a few in the past few months yours really inclusive, regarding travel and the pandemic.
Now, after a year and a half with so many tough lessons, it seems like a ripe moment to review and reflect on where – in some cases, seriously – we went wrong in this type of COVID confession.
Here’s an rundown of the 10 mistakes we made while traveling during the pandemic, how far we’ve come, and how far we need to go.
BLOW? NO PROBLEM
If there is one specific disappointment with overseas travel during the pandemic, aside from being unable to travel there, it is the failure of the much-touted travel bubbles to inflate fully. The launch of the trans-Tasmanian version of the bubble, which unfortunately now resembles the unfortunate Hindenburg, sparked tremendous optimism that this could be a way of allowing residents of low-case countries to travel safely to a limited number of equally safe destinations. Although the Trans-Tasman Bubble was a stop-and-start affair (and now completely stopped due to Delta), it was the only major travel bridge between destinations ever made with the much-touted Singapore-Hong Kong model from afar cooperated dump.
CRUISE SHIPS ARE FLOATING PETRI BOWLS
The Ruby Princess was one of several cruise lines to experience severe COVID-19 outbreaks on board over the past year. Photo: Nick Moir
Cruise ships dismissed as “petri dishes” are becoming one of the great early clichés of the pandemic (plus the words “unprecedented”, “cohort” and “pivot”). Eighteen months later, we have bitterly found that pretty much every closed, poorly ventilated space, from shopping malls to nursing homes and classrooms to factories is susceptible to the virus. Sure, it is not beyond reproach, but it is thanks to the cruise industry that it was the first segment of the travel industry to seriously and zealously address its health and hygiene deficiencies. Now that cruises in the northern hemisphere have resumed, the strict but sensible protocols put in place by cruise lines appear to have been successful, with a relatively small number of cases recorded on board passenger ships.
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AIR FILTRATION SYSTEMS IN AIRPLANES WORK MIRACLES
In our naive, unprecedented (sorry) pre-delta daze, air filters were presented as the only measure that would make air travel perfectly safe. The reality is that no confined space is completely safe, although COVID cases caught directly on airplanes are difficult to locate. In fact, Qantas states on its website that “the risk of contracting COVID-19 while on an aircraft is low due to a combination of factors including the cabin air filter system and seating arrangement (that is, passengers are facing away from their faces) -to-face) and the high backs of airplane seats that act as a physical barrier. “However, she has rightly vowed to only accept fully vaccinated passengers on her future international flights (and when will she expand the mandate to domestic flights? ).
WHEN MASKS WERE OPTIONAL ON DOMESTIC FLIGHTS
Photo: Getty Images
Hello? What did we think Do you remember when wearing masks on domestic flights was not mandatory because of these miracle filters? Imagine sitting next to another maskless passenger in the Delta era (not the airline)? Now, masks are considered so important that some European airlines recently banned the less efficient, if more attractive, fabric versions in favor of higher quality versions, including surgical masks or respirators. US airlines are trying to replicate the edict.
RELAX. THIS WILL ONLY BE A SHORT AND SHARP LOCKDOWN
It won’t hurt, I promise. As we bitterly noticed with the Delta variant, the short and sharp three-day lockdown will last more than three months. It will be years before we recover from the devastating effects of the lockdowns on tourism and our travel rights.
IT’S NOT A RACE
Note that in these friendlier, fluffier times of COVID-19, not only have politicians tended to make this statement, but senior medical authorities as well. Now, combined with the excruciatingly tedious sourcing and distribution of vaccines, we are racing to catch up with the rest of the world, especially on resumption of travel. It was only about a year ago that the rest of the world looked with unspeakable envy at COVID-free Australia and New Zealand. Now, of course, we suffer from jealousy because life and travel overseas bring some normality back to normal as insecure as it may be.
FREE, FINALLY FREE
If there is any benefit to being a laggard in vaccination (Australia still ranks 33rd – just out of 34 – out of 38 OECD countries in vaccinating its populations) it is recognizing that the notion of “freedom days “À la Britain and Israel mode to mark the complete relaxation of the COVID measures are not advisable. Fortunately, Australia’s return to normal, or some semblance of it, will be a slow and measured approach, with the fully vaccinated receiving the most reward. Anti-Vaxxers will still be able to hold their demeanor, but whether you accept it or not, they are not going anywhere, and we don’t mean anywhere, even including domestic travel, fast. The world is now exclusively your fully inoculated-with-possible-booster oyster.
WE MUST LEARN TO LIVE WITH COVID …
… and it won’t be an easy thing, seeing Delta is harder than seeing your worst roommate ever. Singapore, one of the true gold standard nations when it comes to managing COVID, has recorded an average of nearly 500 new cases a day since opening its society after a very successful introduction of vaccination. Fortunately, it has not recorded any deaths. Australia watch out.
THE HOTEL BREAKFAST BUFFET IS DEAD. SO THAT WE NEVER LIKE TO FORGET
About a year ago we died out of the hotel buffet, which was replaced by the more hygienic a la carte approach. Then it went on and off again and again and, as a blow to the wolverines, will probably be over again when travel is finally resumed. Step back from the plexiglass sneeze protection and mask yourself.
HOW THE WEST WAS LOST
Do you remember all the luxury Kimberley cruises we dreamed of last year when the concept of an open Western Australian border seemed doable? Perth itself used to be considered the most geographically isolated city in the world. Now it is also the most self-isolated city in the world. During the pandemic, some unlucky Eastern staters who were unlucky enough to be mid-zero when Premier Mark McGowan (who, incidentally, was born in NSW) closed his borders to visit the WA Citadel. Now we are reminded of the text of the famous Dame Vera Lynn classic from another global crisis: We’ll meet again / Don’t know where / Don’t know when / But I know we’ll meet again one sunny day. But honestly, we now have a much better chance of visiting Perth, Scotland anytime soon than Perth, Australia.
Anthony Dennis is the editor of Traveler in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.