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News Article

International Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Andrea Villar | Fri, 05/15/2020 - 14:17

After three and a half months in Narita, Japan, Will Ripley, a CNN correspondent covering the pandemic in Asia, decided to travel to Hong Kong on one of the three flights a week currently taking place. Only now, airlines are working at 25 percent capacity. "It is easy to see why airlines are struggling so much right now. Hong Kong’s airport is a bustling regional hub. To see it like this is surreal and sad. It really hits home how unprecedented this situation is for all of us, especially the travel industry," Ripley wrote on his Twitter account.

During 1Q20, arrivals at the main tourist destinations in the world contracted 22 percent. The most affected region so far is Asia with a 33 percent reduction in international arrivals. If stay-in-home orders are not relaxed internationally, global tourism will decrease by between 60 and 80 percent, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

According to Ripley, Hong Kong has imposed a compulsory 14-day quarantine for all tourists arrivals, plus a penalty for violating the quarantine of HKD$25,000 (US$3,225) and six months in jail. After landing, all passengers are tested for COVID-19, Ripley says in a series of videos that he uploaded to his Twitter account. "If we test negative we will begin our compulsory quarantine. If we test positive, we will be taken by ambulance to a hospital." Hong Kong authorities also give tourists an electronic wristband to monitor their movement during their compulsory 14-day quarantine in Hong Kong. "Feels like house arrest. I had to install a tracking app that has access to my phone’s location and camera. And yes, you can shower with the wristband," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed crises never before seen in different industries.  Governments, companies and even tourists are thinking of a safe way to resume activities so companies and small businesses that live off tourism do not go bankrupt in the medium term. New Zealand and Austria, for example, pledged to create a "travel bubble" that would allow visits. China has begun to allow domestic travel, although its borders are still closed to most foreigners. Thailand is considering special tourist centers that function as quarantine zones. In Mexico, the Ministry of Tourism is devising a strategy with the private sector to focus on tourism from Canada and the US, once the contingency passes, as travelers will prefer short flights.

Another option to revive tourism that governments have proposed are 'immunity passports.’ However, WHO has already warned about the risks of this kind of ID. In China, the government released something similar to an immunity passport. Since February 11, citizens have a QR code that changes color depending on their health and people need to show it to get into restaurants and shopping malls.

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Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst