As we approach roughly a year and one month since the outbreak of the global pandemic. It has been a massive learning experience to say the least, with countries increasingly declaring their borders closed for international tourism, defining various kinds of safety protocols and SOPs, and so on. But looks like the pandemic isn’t done schooling us yet- New Zealand government for instance has had to stricken its international travel entry rules once again and in fact exercise a temporary ban on Indian flights owing to the sudden surge in cases within our borders.
In a recent news conference in Wellington, the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardren announced that the country will be observing a temporary embargo on flights returning from India. This includes residents of New Zealand who may be looking to return to their home country from India.
The ban will be in effect from 4 pm on the 11th of April and is expected to go on till the 28th of April. New Zealand which was lauded by the world last year for its excellent control of the pandemic, in order to be the first to achieve zero cases in the country has once again shown promptness of action to safeguard itself.
The need for such a measure was felt after 23 positive cases were recently detected close to the borders of the country; 17 of these cases were people who had returned to the country from India. This clocking in of positive cases follows a 40-day streak of having witnessed not a single locally transmitted case in the country.
Clarifying the motives behind the step, Prime Minister Ardren addressed the media, “I want to emphasize that while the arrival of COVID from India has prompted this measure, we are looking at how we manage high risk points of departure generally. This is not a country specific risk assessment…” adding however, that the possibility of extending the bn is not out of question. So far, New Zealand is the first country to have reinstated such a temporary ban in view of the second wave. Earlier this month, the country entered an air-bubble agreement with Australia which will be enforced come 19th April.
This news comes in at a time when slowly more and more countries, especially those predominated by a tourism-based economy, are opening up their borders and easing entry norms for international travellers. Despite no guarantee that it will completely prevent the possibility of infection of and transmission by an individual, rolling out of the vaccine in most countries has been a major motivation in this respect. It has even started off countless debates about the new Covid-19 Vaccine Passport soon becoming a mandatory document for travel.
Many countries have been easing their border restrictions on the basis of this document which serves to replace the need for a Covid-negative test certificate, also allowing travellers to bypass mandatory institutional quarantine and on arrival Covid screenings. The promise of merely mitigating effects of the virus and producing antibodies, seems to be sufficient for now, to revive the aspirations of these tourism dependent countries and airline companies who have long been suffering rather ugly repercussions of the pandemic.
Some such destinations are Croatia, Belize, Ecuador, Iceland, Guatemala, Phuket, Greece and Seychelles. There do continue to be exceptions too as several countries continue to discourage citizens from undertaking travel and some others outright banning it.
At present 50 countries have a completely closed border policy, 122 are in the stage of partial opening, 5 have the ‘reopening soon’ status (including India) and 43 are currently observing no restrictions at all. The vaccination rate and level of variants in a country are likely to determines which level a country is placed at. Many countries seem to enter into air-bubble agreements for the purpose of allowing travel or sometimes merely to facilitate commercial transactions.
Air-bubble/travel-bubble agreements are systems established between two countries that perceive each other to be safe and allow carriers of both the countries to fly passengers either way without any restrictions. Such an arrangement allows members of the group to rekindle trade ties with each other, mainly kickstarting sectors such as travel and tourism. As of date, India has air bubble arrangements with 27 countries including the US, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Qatar, and the UAE.
Amid a constantly changing environment, each country is developing its own set of policies in order to safeguard its borders and learn from past experience or the mistakes of another, to be better prepared for the onset of a second wave. This early precautionary measure of New Zealand is a response to the sudden spurt in positive cases being reported in India.
Despite being third after the USA and closely inching behind Brazil in total cases, as per 8th April midnight India has reported 1,31,893 new cases- the highest in the world. Despite a steady vaccination drive and increasing number of people taking the jab, there seems to be no denying that indiscriminate flouting of rules and social distancing norms has set in a second wave in the country. It sure is high time this indifferent and carefree attitude of the people is intercepted, if want to stand a chance at alleviating the outcomes that the second wave is likely to present.