Many governments around the world from Europe to Asia and Australia have begun to relax the lockdowns and reopen their economies. In the first days of the ease of the lockdowns, people trooped out en masse to get their first taste of the outdoors in what seemed like an eternity. As governments globally prepare to open their borders again, people have begun to think about traveling. For ESTA travelers with the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) seeking a grand American adventure, the question is: "what will the new normal be for travel to the United States?"
In March, Australia banned all non-essential travel and public gatherings. The measure worked and currently, the government is well into a phased reopening of the economy and has even opened its borders again to international students.
Moreover, European countries like Portugal, Croatia, and Greece have begun advertising their tourism potential to travelers again. Germany and The UK have also allowed businesses to reopen. Japan has since eased the state of emergency it had earlier imposed to curb the spread of the virus and in Singapore, schools have resumed.
In all, measures for curbing the spread —such as hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing— remain in place and these measures and others like contact tracing and testing have been effective against the spread of the virus. In his opening remarks at a media briefing on COVID-19 on 1 July 2020, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated this, also saying that “countries that have adopted this comprehensive approach have suppressed transmission and saved lives.”
The US has adopted a more flexible approach to easing the lockdowns. Many states have rolled back the lockdown measures but several localities like Texas, Los Angeles, and Florida chose to reinstitute some restrictions for the 4th of July holiday (Independence Day), such as closing places where people might gather in large crowds —like beaches and parks— to prevent a spike in infection rates.
How cruise travel will change to increase safety during the pandemic
It is generally expected that cruise companies will begin sailing again as early as 15 September. Although dates have tentatively been set, cruise companies are already planning their return to sailing. For one, Carnival Cruise Line (Carnival Corp.) has announced that they will take a phased approach to their return to sailing. In other words, it will have its vessels and brands return to service over time as opposed to all at once.
Spokesman for Carnival Corp., Roger Frizzell, in an interview with USA TODAY on June 18 said, "(W)e are going to be patient in our approach and learn from best available information we are going to have before we sail." Adding, he also said, "there is no formal schedule for return at this point." Although eight Carnival Cruise Line ships are set to sail in August, Frizzell stated that "there has been no formal decision that those eight will sail, but they are not canceled at this point.” Others are cruise lines including the boutique American Cruise Lines and giant Norwegian will be sailing in September. Norwegian Cruise lines is talking of plans for medical grade air filtration systems and onboard medical teams as demonstrable steps that cruising can be safe even with coronavirus still circulating.
As to changes that the cruise industry will adopt to make voyages safer, it is expected that the first cruises would likely be shorter voyages with more limited itineraries. Also, the entire cruise travel experience will be changed in several other ways. For one, cruise vessels will possibly carry fewer passengers than normal. There will be pre-boarding health declarations and mandatory temperature screenings for all guests. Infrared fever scanning systems would be deployed at ship gangways. All passengers and crew will be subjected to stringent checks. Guests will be required to check-in online to receive a designated arrival time so that crowds can be reduced at the cruise terminals. It is expected that guests aged 70 years and above will be required to provide a doctor’s certificate of fitness for travel. Stringent hygiene standards would be adopted and strictly adhered to.
Another area to expect dramatic changes is onboard dining. Seating will be pre-assigned so that passengers always sit at the same table with the same people every time. Of course, social distancing will still be maintained. Items that would normally be shared like bread and butter would be made available in single servings to prevent secondary contact. And some cruises might scrap the buffet altogether, or at least modify it so that passengers do not have to touch the utensils.
In all, the goal is to reduce passengers’ exposure to potential carriers of the disease, improve social distancing, and to limit contact with shared surfaces as much as possible.
How air travel will change to meet demand for increased safety measures
The changes to air travel will be geared towards achieving the same goal as the changes to cruising: to reduce passengers’ exposure to potential carriers of the disease, improve social distancing, and to limit contact with shared surfaces as much as possible.
There will be pre-flight health checks —including a blood test or nasal swab— and temperature screenings would become the norm. As expected, face masks are now mandatory throughout the flight, and some vending machines at airports might even start to carry protective equipment. Researchers hope that at some point dogs could be trained to sniff out travelers carrying the coronavirus, well before they exhibit symptoms.
There would be measures to reduce crowded lines; texting passengers when it is time to board has even been considered. Because aircraft would carry fewer passengers to allow for better social distancing, airfares may increase. Or, not. Some airlines may attempt holding rates steady in order to compete. The interior design of commercial aircraft could change, with measures introduced to better isolate passengers; middle seats might be removed, or removable shields might be used to separate each seat from the next.
Bags may be sanitized separately, possibly through a specialized Far UV disinfection process. And flight attendants might even start wearing some or full-body protective gear, among several other possible changes. Airlines will strive to minimize interaction between flight attendants and passengers and this would involve suspending all or part of their alcoholic drinks service onboard flights —some airlines like KLM and EasyJet in Europe, Delta Airlines and American Airlines in the US, and Virgin Australia have already adopted this measure.
Traveling may not be entirely risk-free but there are many things travelers can do to keep themselves safe wherever they go:
• People should always wear face-coverings in public when they may not be able to maintain a 2 meter physical distance from others.
• Passengers and crew should wash their hands with soap under running water as often as possible. This cannot be overemphasized.
• Everyone must avoid touching their faces as much as possible. This is a corollary to wearing a face mask; a face mask preempts any direct contact between the hands and face.
• Travelers may wish to bring their own bamboo cutlery along when they leave home. This ensures that they do not have to share with anyone else.
• Holday makers can plan holidays to more rural or outdoor-focused areas such as National Parks and small cities. This way, they can more easily stay away from crowded areas.
• Travelers can also plan more outdoor activities into their trips.
• Travelers should endeavor to avoid large crowds and practice good social distancing.
Although the travel industry has been deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, industry experts agree that it will rebound —it is only a question of when and how. As for our ESTA authorized sojourners longing to explore the United States, your great American adventure just might be possible in early 2021.
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