Reopening of borders: A tough call


The world is currently undergoing some major events – both artificial and man-made — that are testing capacities, threatening lives, causing deaths, challenging leaders and political systems, and that are unsparing of the mighty and the powerful.

In the Mediterranean, Turkey and Greece are sparring over claims to the eastern part which have been found to contain oil; in Belarus, voters have not accepted the results of the elections that they feel were rigged so as to bring back to power the quasi-dictator who has ruled for nearly 25 years; in China huge floods have caused the Yangtze river level to rise above dangerous levels, flooding areas upstream to the Three Gorges dam and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, with loss of lives as well; this takes place against the backdrop of the confrontation in the Himalayas opposing China with its neighbour India which is similarly battling floods.

In Hong Kong fresh protests have erupted against the postponement of general elections; Lebanon is a total wreck after the violent explosion at Beirut port which has killed 200 people and maimed thousands of others; in the US, besides fighting the forest fires that are associated with hitherto unseen temperatures – up to 49 degrees in Los Angles yesterday – the campaign for the general elections in November is taking place against a background of racist violence that seems endless and unstoppable. And so on.

The tragic thing about all these troubles, many of which are avoidable, is that they are consuming the resources and energies of these countries which could have been put to better use in fighting the one common enemy that is threatening their very survival – which means, in fact, that of the world. And that is the Covid-19 pandemic. At the last count, 27 million people are affected worldwide, and 881,000 have died already. Although WHO estimates that it is only by the end of 2021 that the world may see a stop to the spread of the virus, in truth nobody knows for certain.

However, as is well known by now, the pandemic is not only taking away lives, but is also causing havoc to economies, as a result of which millions of livelihoods have been put at severe risk. Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs, economic growth has slowed down due to diminished productivity, and several countries have already announced that they have entered a recession.

It is understandable, therefore, that in all countries, governments are under tremendous pressure to open up the economies, to open up interstate or international borders so as to allow the engines of economic activity to start running again, more than they are currently doing – or where they have practically shut down, a situation which concerns the tourism industry especially. And this is despite being fully aware that removing lockdowns even partially has been accompanied within short periods by surges in the incidence of Covid cases. To say that governments are facing a real hard dilemma is to put it mildly. But the reality is that each government has to take the call individually based on country situation and realities.

However, the delicate decision to remove lockdown or to open borders depends on a combination of factors common to all countries: capacity to test and the reliability of tests available (which means having to make the ‘best’ choice); the arrangements for quarantine that must be made for tourist, fellow citizens and expat arrivals, and the list of countries from which tourists will be accepted (for example Seychelles 28; France is excluded); and the compliance of people, including tourists, with the norms laid down by WHO and implemented at country level – SMS or Sanitiser-Mask-Social Distancing.

Whereas as far as the tests and the quarantine arrangements are concerned they are more or less straightforward enough, the major problem that all countries are facing is the behaviour of people. The latter question the use of masks, bringing up all sorts of pretexts – e.g. ‘it’s my right to choose to wear or not’ — not to wear them, when in fact this simple measure has been found to be by itself probably the most effective and the easiest one to follow, and this is particularly the case in situations where social distancing is not possible.

Defying advice, people continue to gather in closed places such as churches (that led to surges in Korea, France initially), and congregate in large numbers on the beaches or in nudist colonies (in France).

Here government has announced that there will be an opening up in phases, and this is probably the safest approach to the conundrum of getting the economic engine running again. Like it or not, the health of the people has to take priority, and there can be no compromise on that. We have to be patient for some more time, and keep abreast of the world situation as it is evolving dynamically, and adjust accordingly as the weeks ahead unfold. We can well understand that the Covid pandemic has brought the tourism and associated sectors down to their knees, but it is to be hoped that the government will not give way to the reopening lobby without weighing carefully the medical implications of such a decision in the current circumstances, especially as regards the state of the pandemic in our tourist industry’s main markets.

* Published in print edition on 8 September 2020

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