Shift in attitudes towards living with COVID is good news for travel

After two years of lockdowns and travel restrictions aimed at curbing COVID-19, there is a growing shift in attitude towards finding ways to live with the virus, but are we being too premature in changing our approach?

When Canadians were polled by Angus Reid recently, 54 per cent agreed with ending all COVID health restrictions. That’s an increase of 15 per cent from just a month earlier when the Omicron wave was at its peak.

“I think that Omicron is signaling a change toward more normalcy. The time for cowering in fear is really over,” said Jacquelyn Wehtje, a New England woman who was quoted by the Boston Globe in an article exploring anecdotal evidence of a similar shift in attitude in the United States.

In Europe,  Denmark announced it is dropping all health restrictions, effectively declaring victory against the virus, while the United Kingdom is ending all testing requirements on travellers.

That’s great news for the global travel industry which has been battered these past two years by ever-changing restrictions aimed at reducing travel to curb the spread of the virus.

“There is huge pent-up demand and an eagerness to return to leisure travel as soon as we emerge from this, so we are very optimistic about the future,” said Chris Heywood, the executive vice president of global communications for New York City’s tourism agency, NYC & Company in an interview with the New York Times.

There’s been plenty of other encouraging news on the travel front as two nations that had sealed themselves off from the world during the pandemic, New Zealand and Australia have announced they are re-opening to vaccinated travellers.

They aren’t alone as everal other Asian and Pacific nations reliant on tourism have also announced they are easing restrictions on travellers, including Fiji, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam plus you can add countries like Singapore and Morocco to the list.

But in a stark reminder that the pandemic remains unpredictable, two days after Indonesia re-opened tourist-dependent Bali, it announced that it is restricting entry again as infections surge.

The change in attitudes towards COVID comes as it seems more evident that the virus will become endemic, which means it will always be with us. 

As Michael Ryan, the emergencies director for the World Health Organization addressed the World Economic Forum last month he reminded attendees that “endemic in itself does not mean good — endemic just means it’s here forever.”

“If you’re waiting for COVID to be ‘quote-unquote’ over, that is never happening,” Dr. Shira Doron, hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center told the Boston Globe. “You need to ask what is your risk tolerance, and what are the conditions that you are comfortable with.”

The larger issue is that as long there remains a sizeable pool of unvaccinated people, COVID will continue to spread and have more opportunities to mutate which means Omicron won’t be the last variant we see.

“People have wondered whether the virus will evolve to mildness. But there’s no particular reason for it to do so,” Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University told CBC News. “I don’t think we can be confident that the virus will become less lethal over time.”

“We need to take advantage of the upcoming lull precisely because we don’t know what’s around the corner,” added Doron.

In case you were wondering, the next Greek letter after Omicron is Pi.

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