Where would you go on vacation if travel wasn't restricted any longer? It's a real question around here. Roland-- who has the travel bug even more profoundly than I ever did (and I left home at 15, hitchhiked from Brooklyn to California and stowed away on a ship that I was planning as a first step towards getting to then-remote Tonga-- has been taking car trips to places like Phoenix, Navajo Nation, Death Valley, Vegas... anyway. I'm reluctant to leave the house except when absolutely necessary. But we do talk a lot about where to do when it's over, even if we will both define "over" differently,
Roland, a teacher, has had his first shot and will get his second next week. My doctor counseled waiting because the vaccines don't work well with the chemo-maintenance regime I'm on. We finally worked it out for a shot next month.
Meanwhile, Roland and I talk about where everyday. Mexico is a strong contender for several reasons, other than because we both like the country. It's near. It has reasonably-priced drugs that I need and usually get in Thailand. One of the drugs is Vimpat (lacosamide), an epilepsy drug that is effective in treating neuropathy (a common side effect of chemo). It costs around $1,200/month in the U.S. In most other countries it costs about a tenth of that, although the best pharmacy in Bangkok, sells it for even less. I usually buy 6-10 months worth at a time and I'm almost out now... having cut my dosage in half.
But let's leave out the drug tourism. And just consider where we want to go without that as a consideration. We were planning to visit the caves of southwestern France, the Dordogne-- when the pandemic hit, so there is that. But, now I'm more likely to opt for something less rustic. And caves seem too enclosed and virusy right now. So... Paris before Périgueux if we decide on France. But France... instead of Italy or Spain? I've been leaning towards flying to Madrid, driving down to Granada and Seville in Andalucia and then taking the ferry to Morocco. Yeah, that's my first choice. But...
France- 23,306 new cases, 4th worst in the world, yesterday (59,390 cases per million residents)
Italy- 23,600 new cases, 3rd worst, yesterday (50,441 cases per million)
Spain- not reporting lately but horrific numbers and 67,334 cases per million
Morocco- just 407 new cases reported yesterday, bringing the reported total to 485,974, with just 5,379 active cases and just 13,061 cases per million residents... if you believe the numbers, which I don't.
OK... that leaves east Asia, where numbers are relatively very low and where the pandemic has been extremely weak. Bhutan would be a good place to go, as I explained recently. In fact, just about any place in east Asia is a safer bet than Europe. And the places I'd be most likely to visit as a first trip? Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Bali and Roland insists on including Sri Lanka on the list. These are Sunday's numbers:
Thailand- 65 new cases-- 377 cases per million residents
Vietnam- 11 new cases-- 26 cases per million residents
Taiwan- 2 new cases-- 41 cases per million residents
Bali- Indonesia isn't doing as well as other countries in southeast Asia but Bali doesn't seem to be faring as badly as the rest of the country. According to Bali.com there have been 34,897 cried cases and 947 deaths
Sri Lanka- 545 new cases-- 3,991 cases per million
This morning, Rick Noack reported for the Washington Post how European countries are debating inviting tourists back in this summer if they have vaccine passports-- proof of being fully vaccinated. Countries more dependent on tourism, like Spain and Greece, are pushing the EU to open but uber-politically correct countries more concerned with Dr. Zuesse, like Germany, Denmark and France, are worried that this path toward reopening could also be "a path toward a two-tier system that could leave the unvaccinated as outsiders in places such as gyms, restaurants and cinemas." That sounds like a great idea to me-- so long as vaccines are free and accessible to everyone-- but I think everyone unwilling to get vaccinated should be sent to a desert island. [You can probably guess from the Ricky Nelson song up top that I'm not overly concerned about political correctness.] Noack reported that Israel recently launched digital vaccination certificates to allow access to gyms, concerts and restaurants. "Israel also agreed to trial a travel bubble with E.U. members Greece and Cyprus to open the door for vaccinated travelers. Meanwhile, Cyprus has also said it will begin in May to welcome vaccinated visitors from Britain."
The European Commission is expected to submit a proposal on how to bridge the divides with the bloc this month, which could lay out a joint plan for digital vaccination certificates that would work across the E.U. and potentially beyond.
Compromise proposals could include exceptions for individuals who have recovered from covid-19 or those who can provide a recent negative test result.
It is unclear what a digital vaccine certificate would look like. Personalized QR codes-- used in Israel and difficult to forge-- would be one possible option.
But finding common ground across the E.U. will not be easy. Vaccination rates vary widely. So does the political will to put the vaccinated in the fast lane for travel-- with countries most dependent on tourism cash leading the way.
“Those who are vaccinated should have full freedom,” said Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has joined Greece and Spain in support of vaccination documents.
...If no E.U.-wide solution can be found, Greece and other countries may opt for bilateral deals.
The French and Germans "appear worried about how a proposed pass would be received by the large number of vaccine skeptics." And then there's this little problem: "There is also still no scientific consensus on the extent to which vaccines reduce transmission of the virus, raising the possibility that vaccinated travelers may spread the virus even if they do not get sick themselves." And this: "The European Commission hopes to vaccinate 70 percent of the E.U.’s adult population by the end of the summer, which would still leave more than 100 million Europeans without immunization in late September." Yeah... we're going to stick to east Asia if we go anywhere.
Last week the NY Times' Max Fisher took up the same topic, referring to the COVID-passports as "the next major flashpoint over coronavirus response."
Dividing the world between the vaccinated and unvaccinated raises daunting political and ethical questions. Vaccines go overwhelmingly to rich countries and privileged racial groups within them. Granting special rights for the vaccinated, while tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated, risks widening already-dangerous social gaps.
Vaccine skepticism, already high in many communities, shows signs of spiking if shots become seen as government-mandated. Plans also risk exacerbating Covid nationalism: sparring among nations to advance their citizens’ self-interest over global good.
“Immunity passports promise a way to go back to a more normal social and economic life,” Nicole Hassoun and Anders Herlitz, who study public health ethics, wrote in Scientific American. But with vaccines distributed unequally by race, class and nationality, “it is not obvious that they are ethical.”
...Special privileges for the vaccinated would, by definition, favor demographics that are inoculated at higher rates. In Western countries, those communities tend to be white and well-off.
This evokes an uncomfortable image: professional-class white people disproportionately allowed into shops, baseball games and restaurants, with people of color and members of the working classes disproportionately kept out. If workplaces require proof of vaccination, it could tilt employment as well.
“If vaccines become a passport to doing different things, we’re going to see the communities that have been already hardest hit by Covid being left behind,” said Nicole A. Errett, a University of Washington public health expert.
...Still, some poorer countries that rely on tourism are embracing the idea. Thailand’s authorities have said that they hope to set a policy this summer for accepting vaccine passports.