COVID is over (and this time I mean it)
Some are ready to declare the end of the pandemic. But is it too soon?
The pandemic is over.
At least it is according to the airline industry, the British government and the good people of Denmark.
Earlier this week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) asked governments to drop their travel restrictions immediately. We had an interesting discussion about that on Friday, in case you missed it.
Why does the airline industry want to end testing requirements? Well, pandemics are bad for business. Have a look at these booking numbers from IATA:
At about the same time, the U.K. announced that it would drop some of its strict COVID measures, including mandatory COVID-19 certification, required face coverings in public and work-from-home rules. Boris Johnson did everything except hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner in front of 10 Downing Street. Denmark also announced the lifting of all restrictions.
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
I'm writing this story in a mask, I'm triple-vaxxed and social distanced from everyone. I'm in the most vaccinated country on earth, where you have to show your test results to visit the grocery store.
And Denmark is declaring the pandemic over? Why would they do that?
OK, this isn't a public health newsletter, although I've veered into that territory more times in the last two years than I would care to admit. It's a consumer newsletter for travelers. So the real question is, how is this going to affect your next road trip or flight? Are these countries, and is this industry, leading us even deeper into a dangerous pandemic by removing all restrictions?
If you can’t wait to sound off on this topic, feel free to scroll down or just push the red button. Your comments are always welcome.
No, COVID is not really over
If you read between the lines in all these announcements, it's clear that these entities don't want to say COVID is done, just in case it isn't.
So let me state the obvious: COVID is not over.
It may be with us for the rest of our natural lives, just like the common cold and the flu. The real question for travelers is: To what extent will COVID affect your spring trip, and maybe most importantly, your summer vacation abroad (if you dare take one)?
At this point, barring another dangerous variant, it's not difficult to imagine pandemic restrictions falling like dominoes after the U.K. and Denmark announcements. No one wants to be first with an announcement like that, except that the U.K. has political reasons for rushing into this. I'm not even going to go there.
If you live in a red state, it probably feels like COVID is history. No one is wearing masks, businesses are operating normally, there are no travel restrictions. It's just that maybe you have a lot of sick and dying relatives like I do, and that tends to happen during a deadly pandemic.
If you live in a blue state, it probably feels like the pandemic will never end. People are masked everywhere they go. Maybe you haven't seen your friends and family for years. I have friends in blue states. We visit on Zoom from time to time. This is no way to live, either.
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But is this happening too soon?
The first movers on the "pandemic is over!" bandwagon are probably moving too fast. They have their reasons. Johnson wants to normalize his office parties. The airlines want more passengers. And Denmark seems to think it's reached herd immunity. Maybe it has.
Maybe not. Maybe BA.2, the new "stealth" version of omicron, is about to launch a sneak attack. Who knows?
But for the rest of the world, watching this spectacle unfold feels like horses fleeing a barn. Once they're out, there's not much you can do about it.
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Is COVID finished? That's your call
All of which brings me to the issue of personal responsibility, which is a big deal for travelers. You can't rely on governments, and you definitely can't rely on airlines, to protect you from infectious diseases. You can only rely on them to do what's best for them, which is to sell more tickets or stimulate the economy by luring everyone back to the mall.
It's on you to make the best decisions for your health. Keep wearing a mask until you feel safe. Get a booster shot for additional protection. If you feel squeamish about traveling abroad, then stay home.
This reminds me of last spring, when the second COVID wave began to crest. I was on a cross-country trip to report on how the tourism industry was coping with the pandemic. In many states, the masks came off and people resumed their lives, only to catch the delta variant and then omicron. If travelers had just been a little more cautious, could the last two COVID surges have been avoided? Possibly.
What to do about the apparent end of COVID
Look, I spend most of my days interviewing experts on travel security and health. Here's what I'm getting from the pros:
Travel only if you feel safe(r). Don't take unnecessary risks, especially now. The situation could change quickly — it already has four times. Just when we thought it was safe — bam! — another COVID variant hit us.
Consider travel insurance. If you want to insure the basics, get "named perils" coverage that protects you against a trip interruption or delay. If you're more risk-averse, go for the "cancel for any reason" policy. If you'd rather skip travel travel insurance, I suggest postponing your trip until this COVID thing is just about gone.
Think for yourself. Think for yourself. Listen to what the experts have to say — not some random guy who has a YouTube channel or a podcast. Gather the facts and make up your own mind. I don't want you to end up stuck in a 10-day quarantine this summer in a foreign hospital on a ventilator. A crisis like this requires clear-headed thinking. Don't follow the herd.
I've been traveling during delta and omicron, and I can honestly say there have been many times when I longed for the safety of my home in Sedona. But then, "safe" is not in my job description.
😷 Your turn: Is the pandemic over?
I'd love to get your thoughts on this issue. Is the pandemic over for you? Or is it too soon to tell? The comments are open. By the way, we pride ourselves on having the best comments section online. But to keep it that way, please remember your manners and stay on topic.
About the art
For this piece, artist Dustin Elliott was inspired by the song Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. "I thought of old Charlie Watts playing a galloping drum beat high up in the heavenly skies with all the other drum gods," he says. Dustin’s goal was to capture the universal idea that with true freedom comes true danger. "You can't have one without the other," he adds. By the way, you can get a signed and numbered digital copy of this week’s art by becoming a full subscriber.