By William J. Furney
Cases of coronavirus are breaking out all over Europe, but hospital emergency rooms are not overflowing and hardly anyone is now dying from the pathogen that apparently emerged from bats in China late last year. Calling it a “second wave”, following months of lockdown that was meant to halt transmissions, seems over the top as people have been mixing in large numbers since restrictions were lifted, and further infections were expected.
The majority of those contracting coronavirus are young people out enjoying the summer, epidemiologists say, and one of the main reasons for a surge in infections is because a lot more testing is being done. And we know that if you’re young and healthy — and even much older and in good shape — you stand an excellent chance of getting over a novel coronavirus infection. My own bout with the bug, back in early March, was tough but nothing more than a bad flu.
That hasn’t stopped certain countries from going into overdrive in introducing new measures to try and keep their populations safe. Britain leads the pack, and just days ago slapped a new quarantine on arrivals from neighbouring France, which along with Spain is where most Brits go on holiday and have second homes and family, like retired parents.
Cue a mad dash across the English channel, by land, sea, under sea (Le Tunnel) and air, as many among the reported 160,000 raced home to beat the 14-day quarantine requirement that came into force on Saturday. Some wouldn’t be allowed to take another two weeks off work, after having gone on holiday, while for others, such as teachers and students, school will be starting shortly. “Merci Mission”, blared The Sun as travel fares soared due to the avalanche of demand and France saw its vital tourism season dry up, after only having started.
Just as Spain’s has. Boris brought in the self-isolation rule in late July for anyone arriving in the UK from any part of Spain, even though only the northwest of the country is seeing localised corona eruptions while other areas, such as the Balearic islands and far-flung Canaries, off the west coast of Africa, have hardly any cases.
Wise countries like Switzerland imposed quarantine for arrivals from mainland Spain and not areas that are not corona-affected, allowing their citizens to freely travel and enjoy themselves without having to worry about infection — or absurd government diktats.
Meanwhile, it turns out that people’s fears about having to self-isolate for a fortnight — not going out shopping or for exercise, and not seeing anyone, including family members — may be largely unfounded. Reports from the UK say many people who have returned to Britain from non-travel corridor countries are going about their daily business as usual and not locking themselves up. One woman commented on a newspaper site this week that everyone she knows who has come back from Spain “is out shopping” and not worrying about it.
They may have good reason not to fret about being snared by the cops and being fined £1,000 — because the overstretched bobbies are apparently not checking and don’t have the resources to anyway. The BBC reported last weekend that their reporters had contacted police forces around England and asked how many people out of tens of thousands of arrivals in recent weeks had been issued with fines for breaching quarantine rules? Nine.
An English colleague who recently travelled from Spain to England to relocate with her wife told me the police never came calling to see if they were self-isolating.
“We quarantined properly for the full two weeks when we came back to the UK. We filled out those (Passenger Locator) forms but didn’t have any sort of check-up or anything. No one bothered at all,” she said.
Another English colleague, who is frequently in Spain, told me: “I arrived back from Spain yesterday. Not a word from anybody about anything: on the plane, off the plane — walked straight through the auto passport control and hopped on a train back to Brighton.”
Yet another English colleague (we were having a group Slack chat) wondered how police would check up on Brits returning from non-corridor countries given that many, like she, no longer have land lines, and if police called your mobile phone and asked if you are where you should be, how would they know?
“Yes,” I told a different colleague, “down the pub”.
Boris’ Machiavellian sidekick, the unelected Dominic Cummings, infamously broke lockdown to drive hundreds of miles to his parents’ home yet barely received a slap on the wrist. The de facto policy maker of the British government who devised the four-nation country’s departure from the European Union now wants to further isolate the UK at a time when Brexit talks are reaching their peak.
As someone said to me this week, why would Britain, which has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, at 46,791 as of writing — and fifth-highest in the world — be banning people from countries that have lower fatalities from entering the UK?
Blustering Boris, fixated on Brexit, ignored corona in the early days, a tragic case of keeping calm and carrying on as thousands died and the prime minister himself nearly lost his life to the contagion. And now the economy is in intensive care, suffering its biggest decline on record as businesses shutter for good and many thousands lose their jobs.
With the expanding quarantine measures, the vital travel industry is again reeling, having thought it was about to get back to some semblance of normality. Enormous numbers of travel agents and airline staff have been fired in recent months and there’s no end in sight, as the short-sighted British government appears incapable of knowing what to do that’s best for the country.
The head of London’s Heathrow airport, which normally sees over 80 million people passing through the mammoth facility annually but is now largely a ghost town, said Boris’ growing quarantine list that also includes the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos and Aruba was “strangling the UK economy”.
“Tens of thousands of jobs are being lost because Britain remains cut off from critical markets such as the US, Canada and Singapore,” chief executive John Holland-Kaye said in a statement. “The government can save jobs by introducing testing to cut quarantine from higher risk countries, while keeping the public safe from a second wave of COVID.”
The World Travel & Tourism Council, whose members are comprised of travel firms and is based in London, hit out at the UK’s ballooning quarantine list.
“The UK clearly lags behind other countries which have shunned quarantines in favour of comprehensive programmes of testing for everyone departing and arriving back into their respective countries,” its president, Gloria Guevara, said this week.
“International coordination and programme of testing for anyone who wants to go on holiday to help stop COVID-19 in its tracks are crucial in order to rescue three million jobs in the UK alone.”
Other nations, including New Zealand and Ireland, have recorded a small number of cases in recent days but have nonetheless gone into full-on panic mode.
Whatever happened to herd immunity?
- Title photograph by William J. Furney