It’s About Time

At last the US will lift its travel ban on vaccinated EU & UK travelers, from November. A ban on vaccinated people never made much sense. but better late than never.

New 3QD Column

Here’s my latest travel column as it ran at 3 Quarks Daily last week: 

On The Road: Fighting Your Way To Holiday

by Bill Murray

It wasn’t effortless but we managed to mollify, sidestep and defy enough authorities to be legally resident in Finland for the month of July. Never mind shoes and belts off and toothpaste in a plastic bag. No, do mind; do that too. But add PCR test results, Covid vaccination cards and popup, improvised airport queues. And a novel Coronavirus variant: marriage certificates on demand. 

The pandemic shines stark light down into the engine room, onto the unoiled grinding of international gears. A year and a half in, the lack of coordination between countries is everywhere on woeful display.

The Finnish parliament, unambiguously and unanimously, declared that “Anyone who has proof of being fully vaccinated or having recovered from Covid within the previous six months will be able to travel to Finland without having to undergo a Covid test.”

But then a Delta Airlines official peered into her screen and told us, “it says here no one is allowed to go to Finland, period.” Whereupon the haggling began, and it turns out production of a Finnish passport and our marriage license was sufficient qualification for access to our seats, payment for which was happily accepted with no questions long ago.

Claire Bushey writes “There are some things too stupid to humour, and that includes spending time and money hunting down a Covid-19 test while I’m on vacation, even though I am already fully vaccinated.”

Both her complaint and my grousing are problems for the fortunate, it’s true, but she is still right. The TSA has had us putting liquids in clear plastic bags since 2006, though, so I’m afraid we might be in for a long haul on this Covid testing thing.

It has been striking how some governments start out more xenophobic than others, and how detached that is from political ideology. All along, clearly, the British Tory government just hasn’t wanted its citizens to travel abroad. But neither does the center-left Trudeau government in Canada want its citizens mixing with us damned foreigners. The Aussie conservatives, the center-left in New Zealand, ditto.

Barriers to entry and overdone testing regimes are frustrating for those of us who are lucky enough to be fully vaccinated, but they are transitory measures and they will change. I think, though, that this virus has changed the world more deeply than all that and more profoundly than we realize.

You can read economic scholars who argue that the pandemic “spurred businesses in practically every sector to radically rethink their operations, often accelerating plans for technological and organizational innovation that were already in the works. Overwhelmingly, firms adopted new digital technologies….” You can read social scientists who have decided that  promoting positive societal response to pandemics depends on “aligning the message with recipients’ values or highlighting social approval….”

Increased productivity, social approval, economic adjustments, progress over time. It’s all sturdy scholar talk, abstract and incremental and reassuring. But maybe what we have here is less a ripple on a Nordic lake than a rip ‘em up convolution of space-time, a gravitational wave of change.

“Hammerson (a shopping centre operator) said on Tuesday it has submitted plans to convert a former Debenhams store into new homes for rent, amid a steep fall in valuation of properties focused on the retail sector due to the COVID-19 crisis.” 

Suddenly housing prices are very high; office and retail prices are very low. That languishing suburban strip mall surrounded by a square mile of asphalt out on the highway? Maybe it’s soon to be a live/work community with a post office in Spencer’s Gifts and a cluster of Pelotons up on the second floor of Macy’s. What we have here is a 33 trillion dollar perturbation of the commercial real estate field. For one.

Generations hand off their collective knowledge one to the next in a wobbly relay of progress. The World War II fighting generation may not have had it exactly in mind, but received wisdom for would-be hippies was, after all that overseas death and dying, give peace a chance. (Sometimes there are happy side effects, like nationalism being left by the wayside, but only, as it turns out, for a time.)

There hasn’t been a pandemic in living memory. Here, we don’t have a generational passing of the baton. We have Camus’s The Plague and John Barry’s The Great Influenza, but we have no actual, living, breathing people to pass on their visceral knowledge of how the 1918 pandemic changed things. We jump ahead now without the tempering wisdom of living memory. It’s not generational change.

There is the obvious parallel of the uninhibited, roaring 1920s, and many are predicting it, but I don’t buy it. Look around and these 2020s don’t feel like letting their shoulders down about anything anytime soon. More accurate predictions call for bigger thinking.

Adam Tooze has written that after the Great War “It took geostrategic and historical imagination to comprehend the scale and significance of (World War One’s) power transition.”

The radical reordering of land use and the vast capital attached to it, the continuing legacy of the 2008 economic crash, ever increasing inequality and proliferating, widespread displays of climate change. All are conspiring to make untenable the way we’ve lived the 21st century so far, and sooner than we think. The status quo holds, until it doesn’t.

•••••

The Nordic countries have been grappling with a heat wave this summer like in western Canada:

“Extreme heat in the Arctic Finland,” FMI researcher Mika Rantanen tweeted two Mondays ago, “Utsjoki Kevo just recorded 33.5°C (92.3°F), which is not only the station’s new all-time heat record, but also the highest reliably measured temperature ever in the whole Finnish Lapland.”

For two weeks, four latitudinal degrees shy of the Arctic Circle, we’ve enjoyed an astonishing unbroken string of brilliant, dry, 30C/86F or warmer days. Lake Saimaa is warm enough that you can jump off the dock without scrambling right back out. Looking around, it makes sense to wonder when people will begin to migrate north to live among these quiet lakes and boundless spruce, birch and pine forests. It’s perfect up here this summer.

And don’t tell anybody, but even better, this summer’s heat seems to have chased away most of the mosquitoes, the brawny ones, the ones with actual weight, the ones you can feel when they land on your shoulder. The bane of Nordic summer seem to have gone north for the summer.

Praise climate change for its small favors. But pity the Lapps.

You Can Make It if You Try. Maybe.

It wasn’t effortless but we managed to sidestep, defy and satisfy enough bureaucracy to find ourselves stamped into the Schengen zone and legally resident in Finland for the month of July. Forget about taking off your shoes, belts and putting liquids in a zip lock bag. No, do that too. But add to the travel shakedown PCR test results, Covid cards (Whoever cautioned against laminating them, that was an error. They are much more resilient when laminated.) and extra, improvised popup queues at airports. In one case, add the required production of a marriage certificate. 

Now we’re back in the Schengen zone after being barred in 2021. We needn’t quarantine on the strength of our two jabs plus two weeks, so we’re in and we have been granted a one month holiday at our Mökki on Lake Saimaa. We are open for business as usual although subject as always to having to juke around the seven hour time difference. Let me hear from you. 

We’re still in Uusimaa tonight but Finland makes the trains run on time and one of them will deliver us here tomorrow. Where I will await hearing from you.

Bill

What a Mess

Friday morning the UK Guardian reports that  “Germany has removed several countries and regions including the US, Canada, Switzerland, Austria and some regions in Greece from its coronavirus travel risk list, the Robert Koch Institute … for infectious diseases has said. The new classifications apply from Sunday, the RKI said. Earlier this week, the US also eased its warning against travel to a number of the most developed nations including Germany.”

Yet the German government advises “Entry into Germany remains restricted and is possible only in exceptional cases. This applies regardless of whether the traveler is fully vaccinated or not.”

If you are American and want to travel to Germany: the American government says “Germany will currently only allow EU citizens, EU residents, and residents of certain other specific countries to enter. The United States is not one of those countries. U.S. citizens traveling to Germany from the United States will not be permitted to enter unless they meet one of only a few narrow exceptions.”  

The US State Department is easing recommendations for outbound travel, but as of today, if you are German and want to travel to the US: “The U.S. government does not allow entry if a foreign traveler does not have U.S. citizenship and has stayed in one of the following countries within 14 days before its planned entry into the United States: 26 countries of the Schengen Area: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.”

Could the governments of the world maybe do a little bit better job of making themselves clear?

They’re Not Making It Easy. Especially Canada.

It looks like travel-ready Americans’ first trip won’t be to the north, where it looks like all those damn foreigners aren’t welcome.

“Canadians support border closures more than residents of any country in the world. A full 86% of Canadians said they strongly or somewhat support closing the border to anyone from another country, while 76% said they support the idea of closing the border to anyone from another province, state or region.”

They’re Not Making It Easy

The Covid AVDaily newsletter reacts to the UK’s “green list” of countries approved for travel without the requirement for travelers to quarantine on their return. They’re unimpressed.

They note that “it includes a number of remote islands such as South Georgia, as well as countries that are right now not welcoming tourists (e.g. Australia, New Zealand and Singapore).”

Then there is talk of passengers facing immigration queues of up to seven hours. The newsletter opines that “Governments like the UK are sending signals that they’d rather people didn’t travel. One of the most revealing parts of Friday’s announcement was when … Paul Lincoln from the UK Border Force (talked) about significant border delays. Lincoln said that each officer would be taking up to ten minutes to check every passenger … listening to him talk the message seemed to be ‘these are the consequences of you choosing to travel.’

Nobody needs that. So we’ve routed ourselves through Amsterdam Schiphol for our July visit to Finland. 

 

New Travel Column Today at 3QD

My monthly travel column went up this morning on 3 Quarks Daily. Read it there for now, and soon I’ll post it here, too.

Quotes: Macron on Vaccinations

I like that Macron is raising awareness about the need for rich countries to help vaccinate poor ones. It’s the right thing to do. I don’t like that he positions it as a mere matter of optics:

“It won’t change our vaccination campaigns, but each country should set aside a small number of the doses it has to transfer tens of millions of them, but very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening.”

The Difference Between Canadians and Americans

Here’s a photo that says a lot about how Canadians and Americans are treating the virus. Top is a Maid of the Mists ship, one of a fleet of sightseeing ships that set out for Niagara Falls from the New York side. Bottom, the Hornblower, is a Canadian counterpart.

Via the Monocle Minute.

IATA Travel Pass

In order to hurry along the resumption of international air travel the trade group International Air Transport Association (IATA) plans to initiate its Travel Pass in the first quarter of 2021 which, of course, is now only a couple of weeks away. Travel Pass will be “A global and standardized solution to validate and authenticate all country regulations regarding COVID-19 passenger travel requirements,” and will include “accurate information on passengers’ COVID-19 health status.” Essentially, it will tell passengers what’s required of them to reach their destination, and tell airlines whether passengers have been tested and/or vaccinated. IATA says it will soon be downloadable for iOS and Android phones. Here is a pdf fact sheet.

It’s one sign that things are stirring in the world of air travel. Another: Airlines warned about safety of COVID-19-grounded planes leaving storage.