Home / Opinion / Views /  We must not ignore the ease of going elsewhere

While easing how business is done is important, no doubt, easing the cabin fever that covid restraints have given most of us qualifies for attention too. In this spirit, we could create an ‘ease of going elsewhere’ index. If we want it to show cheery readings, by and large, its starting base can be set on 1 April 2020, right after the pandemic first placed us under house arrest. Almost 18 months since then, most of us are free to move around locally, but the radius of our freedom does not extend all that far. Going out of town can be an exercise in confusion that swiftly turns into exasperation, given the chaotic patchwork of conditions that prevail over efforts to travel across a border. In this context, Indian states and Union territories that still demand negative covid-test results even of the fully-vaccinated for entry would do us a favour by taking the Centre’s advice, issued on Wednesday, asking them to do away with the practice. Some states like West Bengal still insist on test proof, while others accept the vaxxed status of arrivals as assurance that they are unlikely spreaders of the dreaded virus. A uniform protocol on this across India, as urged by the tourism ministry, would surely give our imaginary index a jump.

If that spot of relief on inter-state travel does not ease vacations to the extent we would have liked, with only modest gains on our chart, it’s because flying overseas is still held back by a jumble of cordon-tape measures imposed not just by various countries—some of them aimed at keeping out tourists from places deemed high-risk, like India—but by international air carriers as well. Visa issuance has only just begun to recover, and that too in dribs and drabs, with wide variations from one issuer to the next. The US remains off the map for most Indians, with pre-covid 10-year visas for visitors still suspended, even as students are allowed in, with airlines typically insistent on covid tests to board flights and many US college campuses asking for vax certificates (of vaccines approved by the World Health Organization or US Food and Drug Administration). Popular holiday picks in the east such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia have retained strict entry and quarantine requirements. As for European favourites, the scenario is highly uneven. India recently had a spat with the EU over its refusal to recognize Covishield as a version of a vaccine already approved for its vax passport scheme, but a few EU members like Germany and Spain relented on their own. Barriers are slowly being lowered, though, it seems, with Switzerland in competition with the UK for those raring to go abroad for a break. This rush was set off by London’s change in rules over the weekend, allowing fully-jabbed arrivals from here on the pain of just staying indoors for a bit instead of a stiff 10-day hotel quarantine. This was a switch that would have given our index an even bigger leap. The frenzy it stirred was evident in air-fares, as Delhi-London seats skyrocketed.

Call it ‘revenge travel’ or natural therapy for an affliction that’s observed to result from a prolonged sense of siege, it is amply clear that demand for holidays is raring to explode. What we need right away are global talks on a globally-acceptable framework of norms. There has been much to worry about, and this won’t change for some time. But the ease of getting away must not be ignored.

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