New Zealand, which has always pursued a “complete eradication” agenda, is excused from this harangue, but few others are. Why, after the continued success of vaccines, are all highly vaccinated countries not open?
I don’t necessarily mean quarantine free, without proof of vaccination or testing, I just mean open to visitors who are willing to jump through hoops, whatever they may be.
The answers, as varied as they are, just aren’t very good.
Few Countries Have Logical Travel Policies
New Zealand is excluded because the jeopardy the country is playing with, or for, is higher than others. No cases slipping through are ok, and that’s been the policy from day one. It’s clear, linear, admirable and digestible.
The United States never pursued zero covid-19 like New Zealand, nor did Canada, the UK, anywhere in Europe really; and the same for South America, most of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and anywhere else I’ve missed.
Strategies in these areas were always to keep virus infection rates down, so as not to overwhelm healthcare systems, while taking reasonable precautions until vaccinations could mitigate the worst outcomes, like death.
Spoiler alert: they have, they are, and most people who want access to a vaccine in highly vaccinated countries have had many months of opportunity to get one, for free.
99% of current deaths in the United States are among unvaccinated people. 97% of all covid-19 related hospitalizations are also among unvaccinated people. It’s hard to see how a bunch of vaccinated visitors would change that.
The achievements of vaccines also shouldn’t be understated – yet leaving borders closed means they are. If everyone’s had a chance to be vaccinated, there’s no reason not to let other vaccinated people in. A few lab studies have questioned how vaccines stack against variants, but against hospitalization and death, the first real world study of 500,000 people was immensely strong, with both the Beta and Delta variants.
Statistically speaking, case counts and deaths have also completely decoupled among fully vaccinated people, per every study I’ve seen. Feel free to point any out, if there’s any to the contrary.
Simply put: thanks to vaccines, rising cases do not automatically mean bad outcomes like hospitalizations or death. It’s why highly vaccinated countries such as Singapore say they’ll likely stop reporting case counts, once vaccinations hit key metrics. They no longer tell the important story for most people.
Breakthrough covid-19 cases may still happen, particularly with variants, but people who are fully vaccinated are high unlikely to have bad, life altering outcomes.
Virtually all epidemiologists agree that variants aren’t unexpected, at all. A lack of variants would be be far more unexpected if they didn’t exist, because just about every virus in history has mutated over time with an endless array. Most historical viruses become more infectious and less deadly over time.
There’s nothing wrong with being alarmed by variants. But being alarmed that variants continue to emerge and change is wrong – because it shows a total, fundamental lack of understanding for how (virtually all) viruses work.
Policies Lack Common Sense
Countries which depend on tourism have opened their borders to vaccinated visitors and the results speak for themselves. Where vaccination levels are high, no significant new waves of death or hospitalization have followed, from allowing vaccinated people in. If they had, again, it would be more surprising.
Despite all this clarity, the US (still) bans millions of fully vaccinated people from highly vaccinated regions such as the European Union and UK, while allowing many millions of people from largely unvaccinated areas, who are unvaccinated themselves, to enter the country without issue.
The UK demands people pay for a PCR test after arrival, even if vaccinated, for the purpose of genomic sequencing – aka understanding variants. Yet, recent figures show less than 5% of all positive tests (of which there are very few) are being sequenced.
Speaking to politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, an unfortunate trend emerged as to “why” borders haven’t reopened more widely: polling. Polls suggest most people like tough border policies, due in part to fear and stigmas created around the virus, such as naming variants after regions.
Because politics is all about votes and control, and not necessarily being correct or doing the right thing, plans to reopen international travel have stalled. The findings of virologists, transport experts and celebrated epidemiologists are being widely ignored in favor of the emotions of the masses displayed in polling data.
Testing Eliminates Chatter
Many countries still require pre-flight covid-19 testing, and sure, it’s a slight pain. But rapid testing, which can often be done from home or hotel; is a very small price to pay. Many are willing, if it means free movement of the people again.
If testing continues, not only are potential travel visitors vaccinated, they’ve also tested negative for covid-19 at the time of departure, which makes visitors far more secure than most people already in the country.
You can’t necessarily say that for anyone in the domestic setting already, which only adds further question as to why borders aren’t open.