Surely the biggest hurdle for those of us desperate to get an EasyJet to somewhere hot this year is the ‘stale’ air we all share on a flight? Apparently not: the World Health Organization says that the quality of air in a plane cabin is very carefully controlled and changed up to 30 times an hour. So perhaps that long-dreamed about a nap on the mile-long Es Trenc beach in Mallorca is only weeks away?
Before assessing whether or not we should be packing the swimming trunks this year, here’s a caveat: absolutely anything could change as the health, social and economic impacts of the dreadful coronavirus unravel over the summer. But if a country were to open its borders to foreign tourists, what might the implications be? And what measures would be required to mitigate risk?
Public Health England says that passengers should sit as far apart as possible – which could be considered to be stating the obvious. But, sitting ‘far apart’ would require legislation or voluntary guidelines for carriers to change the seating configurations on their aircraft, introduce strict sanitation regimes on toilet door handles, armrests and the tongues the air steward uses when poking around for ice cubes for your pre-holiday beverage. These – and many more issues – would need to be addressed. Adding coronavirus to the already long list of germs on packed flights may be a germ too far for carriers to make it worth the cost of fuel.
Whilst it’s a long way to go for a week on the beach (and the weather is more akin to Bogner Bay than Bondi Beach), the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made it clear that the nation’s borders will not be opening to tourists for a long time to come. She said border restrictions will be in place for, “…some time…” and they would remain so until a vaccine is developed, which could be as far away as a year to eighteen months.
On 4th May 2020 she said that she would be discussing the creation of a ‘travel bubble’ between New Zealand and Australia. Otherwise labelled a ‘trans-Tasman travel bubble’, the arrangement would allow for strictly monitored two-way traffic once both nations have managed to contain the virus.
Prime Minister Ardern’s announcements cut right to the heart of the matter. Tomorrow’s world is no longer going to be one of carefree globetrotting and internationalist politics. All nations have retreated to put the security of their own citizens first, placing the health of the individual before economics and ideology. The reality is that when nation-states have worked so hard to eradicate Covid-19, no country is likely to reintroduce liberal border controls until a proven vaccine is produced, deployed globally, and when ‘Covid-Immune’ passports are introduced.
This not only means that the bikini will have to gather dust for another year (although Skegness is always an option) but that transnational structures such as the EU free market and freedom of movement will be ideologically challenged. Other tough political choices lie ahead. Can global free trade and the movement of goods from country to country continue when we know that Covid-19 can survive on wood and metal for up to four and five days respectively? Is it wise to import crates of fruit from Peru? What might happen to global supply chains for car parts made in China?
Whether or not we will be able to enjoy a pint in the airport whilst waiting to board a cheap flight to Mallorca anytime soon may seem irrelevant now. Because the world economy and political structures are undergoing a seismic shift the likes of which have never been seen before – and which make the Brexit concerns of only a few months ago seem like trivia.