We have now passed 205 million cases of coronavirus worldwide and 4.3 million deaths, figures which probably understate the scale of the epidemic and which do not reflect the broader impact on the health services and human lives through bereavement and long Covid. Most of the world remains unvaccinated. The BBC has an interactive web page with graphics showing the continuing rise in cases and progress with vaccination, still mostly first doses. The map makes it evident that there are large areas of the world with meagre rates of immunisation.
As the World Health Organisation constantly reminds us, a global pandemic requires a world effort to end it – none of us will be safe until everyone is safe. Many destinations worldwide rely on tourism for nationally significant numbers of livelihoods and precious foreign exchange, which dare not open their borders.
Most travel is intraregional. Europeans holiday predominantly in Europe, and we have seen Europe reopening for travel and tourism within and across national borders. Our sector makes much of its scale, pre-pandemic WTTC estimated that it was 10.4% of global GDP and 10% of jobs globally. In 2020 travel & tourism’s contribution to GDP dropped by 49.1% compared to 2019. This decline resulted in the loss of 62 million jobs. In the developed world, jobs were furloughed, people went on to reduced hours, and many left the industry to find work elsewhere. When lockdowns were temporarily lifted, domestic tourism boomed resulting in overtourism.
The epidemic is far from over; there may yet be more dangerous variants. As Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has so frequently reminded us: “None of us will be safe until everyone is safe. Global access to coronavirus vaccines, tests and treatments for everyone who needs them, anywhere, is the only way out.” This is a stress test for global cooperation. In April last year, the WHO launched the ACT-Accelerator partnership to provide access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT). We have heard little about it. We are not good at global cooperation and in the pandemic, as with climate change, national concerns have crowded out the international effort required to deal with the threat. This despite the fact that these threats cannot be successfully countered only at the national level.
From midnight tonight New Zealand moves to alert level 4, Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula will be in this level for 7 days, the rest of the country will be in it for three days. Since April, New Zealand has sought to exclude the virus with robust border controls.
James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, published an open letter on August 4th arguing that for travel to return global vaccine equity is required. As James points out “less than 1% of vaccines have been delivered to low-income countries. But vaccines for the privileged simply won’t cut it. Billions of lives are still at risk.” Intrepid has launched “a global vaccine equity campaign, which focuses on three key actions: a commitment to raise AUD $100,000 via The Intrepid Foundation to support the global delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, improving vaccine access and education by mobilising our on-the-ground networks, and the introduction of a mandatory vaccine policy on our trips.”
Will other companies follow?