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In the past couple of weeks, we’ve started to see a few airlines scheduling route reboots for the upcoming winter season and for summer 2021, but as promising as some of these schedules are and as much hope as some of these plans are giving travelers, the fact remains that a lot of what is being planned is probably not going to happen. I’d love for it all to happen, but it’s time for a dose of reality – intercontinental travel isn’t going to get easier any time soon.
For intercontinental travel to start growing at a meaningful rate we’re going to have to see large parts of the world get the coronavirus under control and we’ll probably need a vaccine too. The first requirement isn’t even close to being met and, despite what some world leaders have been attempting to suggest, most scientists seem to agree that we’re still quite a way from having a viable vaccine for Covid-19.
The Virus Isn’t In Retreat
In Europe, we’re currently seeing counties like Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and France seeing levels of infection rising at alarming rates (France recorded 6,111 infections in one day this week – its highest number of infections since May – and Spain and Germany’s numbers are the highest they’ve been since spring).
In Asia, we’re seeing countries like India and Indonesia showing no signs of getting their infection rates under control (they haven’t stopped rising since the beginning of the pandemic)…
…and on a continent-by-continent basis, things aren’t looking particularly great either.
The numbers out of the United States (as a whole) are looking better…
…but what these numbers don’t show is that there are still significant areas of the US where the virus is in the ascendancy. It hasn’t gone away. These aren’t graphs that inspire much confidence.
Borders Won’t Open While Cases Keep Spiking
Regardless of what anyone may think of the current crisis, the fact is that most governments are not about to open up their borders to any great extent while they think that there’s a risk of importing more infected people from abroad. To do so would be political suicide. Most politicians appear to be happier dealing with a struggling economy (which they can blame on Covid-19) rather than a resurgent coronavirus and a nation forced back into lockdown (the blame for which will be laid squarely at their feet if they’re perceived to have opened up borders to too great an extent).
Some politicians may feel that they have nothing left to lose and so may feel that opening up their country’s borders is a good idea, but they’ll still have to find other countries willing to open up their borders too and that’s going to be far from a simple task. All you have to do is to look at how swiftly various European countries were happy to dispense with the EU’s open border policy and impose restrictions on travel to see that even the most die-hard “freedom of movement” nations will not risk their nation’s health in the name of travel.
Air Bridges Aren’t The Solution
Right now, there is quite a lot of discussion going on about “air bridges” being built between areas with low infection rates so that some travel can “get back to normal”, but air bridges are a band-aid that could get ripped off at any moment.
Back in July, the UK effectively announced air bridges with 60 countries but, since then, we’ve seen a significant number of those bridges taken down very suddenly, and travelers left scrambling to get home before 14-day quarantine conditions are imposed. This hasn’t happened once or twice. As of yesterday, it has happened four times…and it will happen again next week too.
Even if governments decide to open up transcontinental air bridges they’ll still have to persuade people to use them, and as long as everyone knows that a bridge could be closed at a moment’s notice, any meaningful desire to use those bridges simply won’t be there. This isn’t a case of “if you build it [they] will come”.
I’d love intercontinental travel to come back but I fear that we’re still quite a way from seeing that happen. Most countries would love to open up and get trade and tourism flowing again, but while large parts of the world still haven’t got the virus under control, that’s simply not going to happen.