Whether, when, how and where to travel is more and more confusing.
You would think that someone like myself, having just returned from almost a month in Tanzania, would have some sage advice for you. Our trip to an “adventure” destination – one clearly in the throes of Covid – went off without a hitch. There were new hurdles to overcome that we all managed quite well. So what’s the problem?
Leading answer: Omicron. Close second: surging infections worldwide. Important third: increasing confusion.
Omicron was announced by South Africa then W.H.O. while we were on our Tanzanian safari. Because Tanzania borders three of the seven countries currently sequestered from the rest of the world for their surging amounts of Omicron, it’s unthinkable Omicron wasn’t also in Tanzania, among us.
We didn’t die. We didn’t get Covid. But I can’t be sure that Omicron or even Covid was in Tanzania, because there’s no reliable health statistics recording from Tanzania.
According to Fauci on ABC’s This Week and multiple reports from southern Africa where most of the clinical science is occurring, Omicron appears to be “milder.” How mild? Cold mild or flu mild? Probably “severe” cold mild.
A fully vaccinated person is about half as protected from Omicron as Covid in general. Boosted that becomes 75%. Boosted and masked whenever clearly appropriate, then you are probably as safe from Omicron traveling as you were from the common cold five years ago.
Realize that as always in the past, if you begin your foreign trip run down from doing too much work just before you begin, or if you let down your ramped up hygiene on the trip, or if you party too much and take no time off from the trip, that you’ll probably get sick. That’s the way it always was. It’s the reason you traveled with a pharmacy in your bag.
I don’t think that when the history of this pandemic is written that Omicron will be considered one of the medically serious variants. Culturally and socially, though, it’s a whopper.
SURGING INFECTIONS : WORLDWIDE
There was a time when the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere had different virus spike periods that tended to correlate with their winter and summer seasons.
No more. The whole world is surging. All the legitimate references and science agree, it’s mostly the Delta variant (excluding southern Africa) and the sick are mostly the unvaccinated.
Those of us fully vaccinated are anxious to know our odds of becoming “breakthroughs.” I can’t get good enough information on this, constant enough across sources, to be able to tell you anything with lots of confidence. As a risk-taker all my life I think I believe becoming a breakthrough is not something to seriously worry about. With little evidence but much intuition, I believe the likelihood of becoming a breakthrough so small as to not be different from what it was in the past to get flu when you had a flu shot, or pneumonia when you had a pneumonia shot, or even malaria when you’re taking your pills religiously. But I can’t find enough data to support this suspicion.
Quite apart from being unable to get a handle on breakthroughs, surging infections is an existential threat to everyone, vaccinated or not. It means hospitals, ambulances, evacuation flights, insurance clerks – all are stretched to the limits. So it means it will be harder to fix our broken arms or diagnose our salmonella. It means the likelihood of another variant is greater than ever.
So do we just go into our rooms and shutter the windows?
Well, apparently not. Pandemic fatigue is now its own pandemic.
“While the virus gathers strength, a pandemic of pandemic fatigue undermines our ability to stop the virus,” former CDC director, Tom Frieden, told CNN.
I’m sure you’ve seen it in your own grocery store. Fewer and fewer people masking even as authorities urge us to mask up. This is a worldwide phenomenon.
I spent so much time reading the government travel advisories to Morocco, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia and Germany.
There is no consistency. Canada, in fact, avoids any specific recommendation regarding the safety of traveling to any country because of Covid. Instead, it begins every single country description with a generic message of “Covid-19 – Travel Advice” totally avoiding any estimation of Covid seriousness in the country.
Australia thinks it’s fine to travel to Tanzania (if you avoid troubled political areas), but the U.K. warns its citizens that Covid has caused such a health strain on the country that “the availability of treatment for non-coronavirus-related illnesses, particularly for non-urgent care, has been adversely impacted… Limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care.”
Germany has a “travel warning against any non-essential tourist travel to Tanzania” but because of anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers in the country, the so-called ‘warning’ concludes:
“However, this is not a travel ban, as has been judicially determined (Leipzig District Court).” Thank goodness for such clarity.
But the prize goes to America! The U.S. CDC says Morocco is just honky-dory to travel to, but the U.S. State Department says “Don’t Travel To Morocco.” (!) Same country!
On the flipside countries like Morocco – which W.H.O. and WorldOMeter say has one of the lowest infections on earth – has closed its borders and ferries and airports “to keep it that way.” But South Africa, which is probably one of the most deadly places on earth right now for Covid disease, has a virtual open-border policy.
Most European countries are slowly closing down to more and more countries, but Switzerland has decided to completely open up.
What the hell is going on!
The pandemic is global, but there is not and never has been a global organization capable of implementing a global response. So everybody is doing it on their own, with information filtered by the bizarro politics of the day and muddled even further by a misunderstanding that science knows everything right away. The result is … confusion. Whether I should travel to Tanzania shouldn’t really be different if I was born in Chicago, Adelaide, Toronto, Manchester or Berlin.
But is. So what should you do?
Don’t travel through or into a surge, whether you’re vaccinated or not.
Don’t travel unvaccinated and unboosted.
Don’t travel unless you’re completely comfortable doing so in a mask.
Make your plans as always, but make your decisions at the very last minute.
But please, don’t stop making plans to travel. The virus as we know it attacks the lungs. Don’t give it leave to go after our souls.
One of your best ones, Jim. I agree 110%