Is this how COVID ends?
For some travelers, the pandemic is coming to a close. Then again, maybe not.
COVID is over — or is it?
In the last few days, more countries have all but declared an end to the pandemic. On Friday, Lithuania lifted the majority of its travel restrictions. You no longer have to present a vaccination certificate to access indoor public spaces such as hotels, restaurants and museums. It follows the Scandinavian countries and the U.K., as I reported last week.
I'm in Cape Town, where the government has relaxed many of its COVID rules and is widely expected to drop even more restrictions next week. Omicron hit South Africa first and it was one of the first countries to come out of it.
But what happens next? Well, that's why you read this newsletter, because we ask the big questions — and answer them.
You have to carefully review the announcements because some important restrictions remain in place. And then there's the most difficult part: making an informed decision about when and where to travel, based on what you know. What I've learned in South Africa this week may help you figure out how COVID ends.
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COVID hasn't really ended
The narrative that COVID has somehow "ended" is untrue, as I mentioned last week. Take a look at Lithuania's announcement. On Friday, it sent a press release that announced it had lifted "a majority" of its travel restrictions. But a closer review reveals a complicated system of entry requirements. Your ability to travel to the country depends on your vaccination status and the country you're traveling from. (The United States is listed as a "gray" country, in case you were wondering.)
This isn't the end of COVID. It's the beginning of an enormous, complicated bureaucracy that could keep even more travelers out of any country.
But that's beside the point. The notion that somehow COVID has finished with us, or is even on its way out, doesn't line up with all the facts. Rather, most countries eliminate restrictions based on data such as new case rates, mortality, and vaccinations. Until then, we'll still have to navigate an increasingly confusing world of color-coded countries and testing requirements.
Vacation in Lithuania, anyone?
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Should you stay or should you go?
We had another great discussion on Friday about when it might be safe to travel again. (By the way, if you missed the debate, you can sign up for the full version of this newsletter and read the whole thing.)
Bottom line: Some subscribers are already traveling as if the pandemic had ended. Others say they're ready to plan a trip. And still others say it's way too soon.
There's no one correct answer. Whether you go should depend on your vaccination status and health. If you're double-boosted and young, you're probably good to go. If you can't or won't get vaccinated or are immunocompromised, you should stay home.
But it's this narrative about COVID ending that so many readers find bewildering. It's almost as if the (ahem) journalists covering this event are too eager to declare the pandemic over. And in doing so, they're willing to overlook a lot of critical details.
Fact is, many of these travel restrictions will remain for months, even years to come — and some could be permanent.
In deciding whether to travel, you have to read the government announcements c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y and check your risk profile. If you have any misgivings, you might want to read the government announcements, check with a medical professional, and consult a professional travel advisor.
How South Africa is dealing with the end
In Cape Town, the end is happening so quickly that it's giving people whiplash. First, they had an almost unbelievable omicron surge. (Remember when they still called it the South Africa variant?) And then cases fell just as abruptly.
You'd think they would remove all the COVID restrictions. But as they say in Xhosa, one of the languages spoken here, hayi ngokukhawuleza — "not so fast." In mid-January, most airlines returned to South Africa. Last week, the government brought full-time, in-person schools back. Next week, it's widely expected to further loosen face mask rules.
As I reported in Forbes yesterday, people in Cape Town are eager to move on from COVID. They feel as if the world unfairly singled them out during omicron, and getting out of pandemic prison a little early is only appropriate.
But the end here has come in stages, not all at once. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is missing a few key facts. The narrative may end up getting you sick — or worse.
What do you think about the end?
Is the end really the end? Or is it the beginning of a new phase with a patchwork of confusing travel restrictions? What does it all mean for you? I would love to get your thoughts. The comments are open.
About the art
Artist Dustin Elliott says he was inspired by South African big game for this one. People running away from COVID reminded him of "a young herd of spry gazelle" fleeing a big biomedical multinational pharma cartel. "Can these progressive, law-abiding altruistic empaths escape the mask syringe virtue combo? Or will it be here until the next election cycle?" he asks. "Stay tuned."