When can we travel again?

By Shakir Reshamwala

Despite the coronavirus pandemic showing no sign of abating, governments around the world are opening up the economy and easing lockdowns. Schools have also opened in some countries. In many nations, this resulted in a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases, prompting authorities to clamp down again.

But one sector that is still badly affected is the travel and airline industry. The United Nations said earlier this week the pandemic cost the global tourism sector $460 billion in the first six months of 2020. Airlines have ramped up pressure on the European Union to coordinate virus measures, demanding an end to quarantine “chaos” and access to reliable and quick testing.

Myriad requirements by different countries has made travelling – if it’s even possible to do so – a headache. Some nations require a PCR test, some mandate compulsory quarantine of varying durations, some need travelers to download intrusive apps, some require all of the above, while others none.

But weary people are desperate to travel again for leisure. In Taiwan, there are flights to nowhere, which circle the island and return back to the same airport of departure. In Thailand, a mothballed plane has been converted into a café to make patrons feel they are dining inflight. Some countries are only allowing flights within ‘travel bubbles’ with relaxed rules.

In Kuwait, travel is mostly restricted to those heading to their home countries, to study abroad or for treatment. Stringent conditions are required to travel – including mandatory PCR tests. Passengers also cannot arrive directly from 30-odd countries, further complicating matters. Those determined to arrive have to spend 14 days in a third country, test COVID negative, download a tracking app and quarantine at home upon arrival.

This has dissuaded many in Kuwait from travelling. Both Kuwaitis and expats living in Kuwait are avid travelers, particularly in the summer months when the heat is unbearable. This is a time when Kuwait empties out, with explorers heading to all corners of the world. Obviously, the summer of 2020 was an exception, with the entire populace confined to the country, and during the curfew and lockdown, at home, leaving people antsy.

Every other person you meet these days says their travel plans were affected by the pandemic. Some still haven’t applied for ticket refunds in the hope that they can fly as soon as the crisis blows over, or because they fear airfares will skyrocket once restrictions are lifted and it makes sense to hold on to their tickets, especially since most airlines have waived rebooking charges. Others do not want to pay hundreds of dinars for PCR tests – both ways – for themselves and their families, and are waiting for things to return to normal.

Nobody knows when this pandemic will end, but one thing is for sure – the moment the all-clear is given, people in Kuwait will return to their globetrotting ways.

shakir@kuwaittimes.com