Like an archaeological dig with a thousand pieces slowly and painstakingly pieced together, we are discovering the image of Covid-19. For anxious travelers there’s definitely more hope than ever, but one big piece, India, dangerously eludes our grasp.
Vaccine passports requiring every single traveler to have her own cell phone, natural African herd immunity and a dangerous virus fuse in India are all center point.
Kenya’s Tourism Minister, Najib Balala, told a Chinese news agency last week that it was working closely with WHO and the European Union to create a “vaccine passport.”
Revealing probably more than he was supposed to, Balala said that “two UN agencies” were designing both the material look and the implementation of the passport which will become the world’s first universally held document.
Balala also revealed that those in the know believe this passport will be good for only one year following full vaccination, because – he said – annual vaccinations against Covid-19 will be necessary well into the future.
This is because the world will not achieve any viable level of vaccination that could stop the spread of the virus until well into 2023 or 2024.
The European Union first announced its “Digital Green Certificate (DGC)” on March 17. Since then cruise companies, other countries, football franchises and all sorts of not-for-profit organizations have announced a plethora of other types of vaccine passports. One gaining a large amount of traction in the U.S. is the Rockefeller Foundations’ CommonPass.
Clearly standardization is required, and today’s announcement by the EU that Americans who are fully vaccinated will be allowed into the EU this summer presages the DGC as the winning entry. If so and based on current designs, that will mean that every single member of a traveling family or party will have to carry his/her own cell phone for the DGC readout display.
So Kenya right now is in a holding pattern with the virus, a flat peak actually of slightly more than 10% positivity for quite a few weeks. Hospitalizations and deaths, too, remain high. What many Kenyans believe, though, is that herd immunity is being agonizingly achieved, because the numbers are not rising despite national behaviors that are growing increasingly resistant to government mitigation efforts.
Last week Kenya cordoned off six heavily populated provinces and forbid travel between them because of the persistent positivity, hospitalization and mortality levels. Few people seem to be obeying the directives and police are no longer enforcing them.
In contrast the numbers in South Africa are looking good, trends are diving downwards and the mass vaccination campaign is not due to start before May 17. I think that the discipline that South Africans have shown towards mitigation efforts and their trust in their government means that once the vaccination campaign begins, South Africa may become one of the healthiest countries to visit.
Regardless that sub-Saharan Africa is inching towards herd immunity, through agonizing infection and/or vaccination, the real unknown is India.
The numbers are staggering, more than 350,000 new cases daily; the irony is heart-breaking, India leads the world in vaccine production; and the explanations pointless if in such a petri dish of virus a variant arises that confounds us all.
That has always been the problem. Will the virus naturally mutate into something beyond the range of current vaccines before it’s quashed out? If it does, it will be in India that the virus spawns a new team.