Above all the usual concerns like budgets, securing vacation time or actually picking a place to go, there’s one thing holding international travel back more than virtually any other. It’s testing.
People remain rightfully worried about the risks of testing positive just before a trip and being forced to cancel, or worse, testing positive during travel knowing they may be unable to come home, or could be forced into unpleasant isolation facilities.
After tinkering with the concept earlier this summer, Europe is continuing to alleviate those worries by dropping testing requirements to visit many countries, allowing many people to move much like they did before the times of covid-19.
As the trend catches on and increasingly becomes the new norm in a post-pandemic, now endemic world, people don’t quite know how to feel about it. It seems like some countries don’t either.
More Countries Drop Travel Testing
In the summer of 2021, a handful of European countries dropped testing requirements for all fully vaccinated visitors and numbers don’t lie.
These countries, like Spain, have done remarkably better with inbound tourism than those which kept testing requirements for the fully vaccinated, and they managed to do so without significantly changing the trajectory of the covid pandemic.
That’s bringing new confidence to other countries that it might be the best approach going forward, as economies look to recover.
From February 11th, the UK will follow suit and officially end testing requirements for fully vaccinated visitors. You won’t need a test before travel or after you arrive, and it’s as close to life as it once was, once you get in.
Sweden and Switzerland are also dropping all covid-19 travel testing for fully vaxxed visitors. Cyprus is too. The European Union, for its part, is also in rapid pursuit of a new simplified travel plan, which would end testing requirements in more nations ASAP.
Far away in Asia, even Singapore is dropping testing requirements for people who are both vaccinated and recovered, in a bid to regain confidence in the travel experience.
In the Caribbean and Latin America it’s harder to find countries which do require a test than those which don’t.
Most epidemiologists now agree that cases simply aren’t as meaningful a statistic in the bigger picture of the covid-19 pandemic as they once were, and therefore the risks and roadblocks associated with tracking each and every case may no longer be worth the economic and social peril that a slow tourism recovery can bring.
By summer, international travel could really be back to simply grabbing a passport and jetting off. Here’s a look at how to keep track at every country’s changing restrictions.
Oddly, The USA Isn’t There Yet
This puts the United States, which still requires a covid-19 test before travel, and even recently tightened the timing of these pre-travel tests, at somewhat peculiar odds with many mostly European countries which aren’t often regarded as allowing as many civil liberties and freedoms as the good ole’ U-S-A.
By keeping these pre-flight testing requirements, the US is making it harder for its own citizens and residents to travel abroad than most. The risks of getting stranded abroad, unable to board a flight back to the US after a positive covid-19 test are just too high for most people.
This means business travel, which has always been a vital lifeline to airlines, hotels and the hospitality industries will remain indefinitely slow. This could have a knock on effect as more businesses are forced to close, or reduce workforce.
The updated US requirements have also frustrated many who see no benefit to being fully vaccinated, since pre flight testing rules for un-vaxxed US citizens reentering the country are exactly the same.
Due to these ongoing risks to international travel, Americans are continuing to prioritize domestic trips which don’t require testing. Until covid-19 testing measures are dropped for all fully vaccinated visitors, or citizens entering the US, not much will change – for better and worse.
People Don’t Know How To Feel About Testing
After years of officials telling everyone to get tested, tested and tested, reversing the message about whether it matters for travel is stirring mixed emotions.
Discussions on Twitter show both instant anger and confusion when countries announce drops to travel testing and that’s made even harder by the fact that testing sounds great as a soundbite of “protecting the people”.
Because it sounds good, people draw a conclusion that it must be good, even if it’s actually almost entirely ineffective. Therefore they’re less happy to give up that opinion when pushed on the issue, because they feel invested.
Speaking to travelers, people seem to be in two minds: happy they don’t have to test anymore to go places, yet worried about all the worst case, doomsday scenarios of a new variant sneaking in.
And that’s where perspective is huge. Now that vaccines, treatments and research are helping to reduce the likelihood of outcomes requiring hospitalization, the process of normalizing covid-19 to something “like the flu” or other seasonal illnesses is starting.
It’s not easy changing public perception to the notion that there’s no point in testing asymptomatic people, or tracking cases, and that simply monitoring the overall health picture in a given country makes much more sense. People are excited and afraid.
Years of conditioning means people can’t zoom out to a world where people die every day of heart disease, cancer, pneumonia and a never ending list, and in many places now, in far greater numbers than covid-19.
Testing has become a stress ball of life, giving comfort whenever a scratch or tickle appears in the throat, and telling people that it’s longer needed to enter any given space like a plane, or to enter the country can sound worrying.
The End Of Travel Bans And Testing?
The travel bans imposed on Africa amid Omicron were a flash point. Even risk averse epidemiologists were writing op-ed’s saying that travel bans are pointless. By the time a variant is found, it’s already everywhere.
In countries where infection rates continue to remain high, health professionals often tend to point out that nothing really changes with pre-flight testing. Some people will be sick and others will not, but that’s already the case in the country, so what does all the hassle help to achieve? And at what cost?
The next few months will be the most fascinating time of the travel recovery since it all started. Countries are rapidly dropping travel testing and that means barriers to get on planes are disappearing. A real recovery could actually start, in response.
People will remain in two minds for a while, but the sooner people feel the confidence to travel without worrying about worst case isolation and positive test rules, the more likely it will be that the next recovery will be a sustained one.