Following Moderna’s announcement this weekend of a second highly efficacious vaccine, my internet cable was cut by workmen but not until a ridiculous number of clients contacted me about booking flights. My reply? Patience. The time has not come yet.
The good news about a vaccine definitely increases the prospect of travel earlier in 2021 than later. But not even the most optimistic of us experts will suggest before mid-year.
Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing a “summer” surge just like America did in July. Likely as America gets vaccinated and spring arrives in The North, sub-Saharan Africa will experience a terrible surge just as America is, now.
Tanzania remains an unknown, because the government is suppressing real statistics. Elsewhere, however, governments seem anxious for the world to know the truth and extent of their outbreaks. The statistics are honest albeit constrained by available government resources.
There are a number of facts that should give travelers to sub-Saharan Africa immediate pause:
The geographical situation of sub-Saharan Africa is flipped to what most of the travelers to the area are used to: Most visitors to sub-Saharan Africa visit during the opposite season from which they left. (Along the equator countries like Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and northern Tanzania don’t experience as wide a fluctuation between seasons as countries further south.)
This geographical positioning means that just as virus mitigation efforts in the Northern Hemisphere move towards relaxation as human activity moves outdoors, the reverse to a lesser extent occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. The virus is worse during winters. Anxious travelers from The North, recently vaccinated, will be revisiting the area for the first time since the outbreak at its worse time.
I wrote earlier regarding a possible extra tolerance of the virus among native sub-Saharan Africans. These studies have improved and continue to suggest this. What is not yet known is whether this is because of the demographics of the population (such a much larger percentage of young) or whether Africans who have fought many more diseases for a much longer time simply present a stronger defense to Covid. Probably both.
Finally it goes without saying that (excluding Tanzania) under resourced public health authorities are going to under report the extent of the virus. (Tanzanian authorities are not allowed to discuss the virus.)
All this means that the extent of infection in sub-Saharan Africa is probably much greater than that of most other developed places in the world. It also means that fewer sub-Saharan Africans may be symptomatic even though they’re infectious, reducing the likelihood that even a widely available vaccine will be well subscribed in Africa.
I remember in the 1970s as tourism was growing exponentially in Kenya and Tanzania that travelers by habit were far more hygienic than they are, today. There was an understanding back then that there were lethal diseases for which there was no vaccine or cure. Frequent sanitizing of the hands and a greater care in what was being eaten were simply rules of the day.
Americans weren’t wearing masks, then, but I rarely saw an Asian who wasn’t. Guess who’s doing better in this pandemic?
So the 1970s’ travel behaviors to sub-Saharan Africa are going to be critical for the near future even if the traveler is vaccinated.
No vaccine is 100% effective, and the efficacy of a vaccine whose trials were conducted in America is not wholly reflective of its efficacy for an American visiting abroad. It will be a number of years before the environment of safety reaches some equilibrium worldwide.
So for the time being, sit on your hands, breathe deeply and wait until some of us experts say the time is ready. It won’t be too long but it’s not now.