New variant, same old travel woes


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The Covid-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry in countries that depend on foreign visitors. As new waves of infections take hold and ever-changing rules to curb the spread of the disease are put in place, the overall effect is increased uncertainty, undoubtedly hurting global tourism. “I am so frustrated that they keep changing the travel rules,” Cath Colbridge from the UK told a reporter. “It’s gotten to the point now that we’ve given up on planning a vacation abroad and bought a motorhome, so we can at least get away from it all for a few days.”

In this article, I will offer snippets of news, some bad and some good. The bad are about how the variants of Covid-19 have endlessly plagued the travel and tourism (T&T) industry. The good news is that, in the midst of the peak travel season, the hardworking Dhaka airport workers are doing all they can to give a helping hand to weary travelers.

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As if the T&T industry didn’t have enough, on December 20, many countries announced new rules on gatherings and travel before the peak holiday season. With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly across the world, governments and health organizations, including the WHO, are now advising travelers to exercise caution and, if necessary, postpone their trips to their respective countries and to l ‘foreigner. Airplane passengers have been two or even three times more likely to catch Covid-19 on a flight since the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Needless to say, last summer, as people got vaccinated and started moving after more than a year of “lockdown,” the Delta variant put the brakes on travel plans for many, and as Governments were trying to cope with a resurgence of disease, infection and the spread of Covid-19, the initial optimism quickly gave way to another round of frustrations.

We are now in the middle of winter and vacation, which is a busy travel season in the Northern Hemisphere. The tourism industry is trying to get back on its feet. Speaking with many of my associates in Bangladesh, I realized that average tourism incomes are low except for a few large, resourceful resorts. Locals travel, but foreign visitors are reduced to a trickle. Ecotourism is almost nil and the hospitality and tourism sector (HTS) has been asking, without success, for government support since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Tourism takes another hit

The new Omicron variant, changing travel rules and the lingering uncertainty are once again affecting tourism. The rules for traveling to each country are different. The dos and don’ts of quarantine, testing, vaccination requirements and other protocols and practices created a chaotic situation. Also in the various airports, the local rules are varied. For example, in some places you can eat freely and not wear a mask. In others, you have to prove that you are vaccinated, and so on.

A relative of mine traveled from Dhaka to Bangkok with his family. The following days in quarantine were chaotic for them. There were daily tests, self-isolation, and food was delivered to the hotel room. And all this at your expense!

Going back to the plight of the T&T industry in developing countries, research suggests that the Covid vaccines used in many parts of the world offer almost no defense against the highly contagious Omicron variant. Even if the infections turn out to be mild, the speed of the variant will have serious consequences. The main reason is that Omicron seems to spread much more easily than the delta variant that has dominated the world since the summer – Omicron is 25 to 50% more transmissible, according to some British estimates.

The protection offered by Chinese vaccines will not be enough to stop Omicron from causing global disruption, said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

“The scale of the infection will overwhelm health systems, just because the denominator is potentially so large,” he said. “If you have a wave of infection all over the world, shock, what is the world like on the other side?” We haven’t started to think about all of this. “

Getting a PCR test in Dhaka

Earlier this month, I was in Dhaka when the United States government announced that effective December 6, all passengers traveling to the United States should undergo a PCR test one calendar day before travel.

When I contacted the testing clinic in Dhaka operated by PRAAVA, I was told that if I traveled on, say, December 15th, I would not be able to take my test on December 14th. December 14 to be in the 24 hour window. But I was informed that PRAAVA did not take samples after noon. Therefore, I had to take the test on the morning of December 15th. When I told them that I was planning to fly on the night of December 15th, a member of staff asked me to stop by the Banani clinic to pick up the result at 5:00 p.m., just before I left for the airport. .

The reason I mention all of this in detail is to convey my belief that the average Bangladeshi (and I later learned from many foreign travelers) would be misled by the misinformation that the clinic was operating on. On the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, it was announced that the new Global Testing Order shortens the time frame for required tests for all international air travelers to one day before departing for the United States. But, there is a big difference between 24 hours and the requirement of a calendar day, as the CDC itself states, “A passenger whose flight to the United States is at any time on a Sunday should test negative at any time. the Saturday.”

At Dhaka airport, another passenger mentioned that we needed to get a stamp from a DGHS official in a remote cabin. We then realized that the PRAAVA advisor had failed to inform us of two important steps after the results (in PDF form) were available: 1) Unlike in the United States, a hard copy of each test result should be printed from a government database, and 2) The print had to be stamped at the DGHS counter at the airport.

There was a long line in the departure lounge with almost 50 people in front of me waiting to get a seal on their print. Compounding our problem, PRAAVA was unable to upload our results to the official database. A DGHS staff member directed us to room 2 at the end of the boarding lounge. There, Ashiq and his colleagues were very keen to help, but could not find our test results using our passport numbers or phone numbers. Ashiq called PRAAVA, and after two hours of racing we finally got the documentation we needed.

Dr Abdullah Shibli is an economist. Two of his new books, “A Fairy Tale” and “Economic Crosscurrents”, are available on rokomari.com

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