Travel in the time of COVID-19

In­cheon Air­port was nearly empty so dis­tanc­ing was vis­i­ble, and I trusted that the Korean virus preven­tion guide­lines would be strictly im­posed

Daily Tribune (Philippines) - - BUSINESS - Dear read­ers, I give way to my daugh­ter who shares with you her fam­ily’s re­cent trav­els in the time of COVID-19. Bing Ma­toto An­nyeong­haseyo, For com­ments, email bing_ ma­toto@ya­hoo.com

Travel in the time of COVID-19

By Priscilla Anne Ma­toto-Sz­naper While most peo­ple prob­a­bly pru­dently opted to stay put for the sum­mer, my fam­ily and I took a leap in the dark and did the op­po­site. We used the home leave to re­turn to the south of France and spent two weeks feel­ing that life was back to nor­mal de­spite need­ing pro­tec­tive masks and proper hand hy­giene. How could we have em­braced this re­turn to nor­mal so­cial life in a coun­try whose daily con­firmed cases was es­ti­mated at 1,500 in early Au­gust, as com­pared to the 20 cases of South Korea, our coun­try of res­i­dence?

The big­gest hur­dle was the voy­age in­volv­ing air­ports and the ex­po­sure to fel­low trav­el­ers com­ing from all parts of the world. As you might ex­pect, we were com­plete with pro­tec­tive gear: ex­tra masks, an­tibac­te­rial wipes, al­co­hol spray, face shields, gog­gles and im­per­me­able jack­ets. Did we use every­thing? Yes and no. In­cheon Air­port was nearly empty so dis­tanc­ing was vis­i­ble, and I trusted that the Korean virus preven­tion guide­lines would be strictly im­posed. Our fears were on hold for the time be­ing as we saved the face shields for CDG Paris air­port, where a whole new ball­game awaited.

On­board Korean Air, this 11-hour jour­ney only had 90 pas­sen­gers, giv­ing each of us ac­cess to a row of seats — for me, the only up­side of trav­el­ing at the time of a pan­demic. When my giddy 5-year-old caught sight of the Eif­fel Tower from her win­dow, I was on vig­i­lant mode know­ing that CDG air­port would be un­like In­cheon.

The ter­mi­nal where we were di­rected had no ther­mal cam­eras, tra­di­tional tem­per­a­ture check­ing nor med­i­cal ques­tion­naires, sim­ply mask-wear­ers (many of whom had their noses ex­posed), mak­ing it a per­fect scene from a dystopian night­mare of the KCDC (Korea Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol). Since July, much to our re­lief, the French gov­ern­ment had just made mask-wear­ing com­pul­sory in all en­closed pub­lic spa­ces, but how se­ri­ous was this man­date be­ing fol­lowed? Sev­eral pas­sen­gers on­board our do­mes­tic flight to Cannes had non-mask wear­ers or masks worn in­cor­rectly, lead­ing to sev­eral air­plane an­nounce­ments and re­proaches from the flight at­ten­dants. Thank­fully, the flight ended on a good note with the exit of pas­sen­gers be­ing done in batches to avoid over­crowd­ing. Re­lieved that we were a step away from our des­ti­na­tion, our last mode of trans­port was the taxi. The driver was maybe too con­sid­er­ate, invit­ing us to re­move our masks in­side his air-con­di­tioned ve­hi­cle. While tak­ing off his own mask, he said re­as­sur­ingly that there was dis­tance be­tween us any­how. Again, an­other no-no in South Korea.

Elle est belle la France (France is beau­ti­ful), and in­deed she still was even amid COVID. The re­laxed vibe in the south of France was the es­cape that I did not know I needed af­ter months of in­ef­fa­ble pain and anx­i­ety caused by the pan­demic. From the out­side, this re­sort town along the French Riviera looked as if life had re­turned to nor­mal with the ex­cep­tion of masks and hand san­i­tiz­ers show­ing the only traces of change. Cannes is driven by tourism and an­nual in­ter­na­tional events, such as the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. And with a pan­demic like COVID leav­ing world economies at a ma­jor loss — France fore­casts a $40 bil­lion de­cline in rev­enues in the tourism sec­tor for 2020 — it is no won­der that cities like Cannes are ac­tively try­ing to re­verse the cri­sis with boosted on-the-ground mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives and events.

This rapid re­turn to “nor­mal­iza­tion” was ev­i­dent. The beaches were packed with un­masked sun­bathers and fam­i­lies. (Side note: We at­tracted many stares with our masks dur­ing our first visit to the beach) Sev­eral events were held at beach­front ho­tels like the Ma­jes­tic. The pop­u­lar chil­dren’s sail­ing classes — which we were too fright­ened to pur­sue this year — were vis­i­bly on­go­ing. Park­ing lots were reach­ing full ca­pac­ity. There were the ubiq­ui­tous daily out­door mar­kets show­cas­ing Provençal del­i­ca­cies to antique treasures teem­ing with crowds. Rue d’An­tibes, a shop­ping street, was con­gested all through­out the day. The queues in bak­eries were long and the out­door evening din­ing scene was bustling. With a na­tion­wide es­ti­mate as of Au­gust of 1,500 daily cases, mask-wear­ing was only com­pul­sory in en­closed spa­ces, al­low­ing peo­ple to step out­side un­masked, whereas in South Korea, it is un­ac­cept­able. How­ever, as of this writ­ing, the spike of cases reach­ing 13,500 is sud­denly paint­ing a dif­fer­ent pic­ture in France. Cur­rently, in Mar­seille, pub­lic gath­er­ings ex­ceed­ing 10 peo­ple in parks and beaches are re­stricted, and an al­co­hol ban has been im­posed start­ing 8 p.m. France 24 TV chan­nel re­ported that even with a na­tion­wide rise in cases, the French Prime Min­is­ter’s goal is to “avoid a gen­eral lock­down and suc­ceed in liv­ing with the virus through so­cial dis­tanc­ing, mask-wear­ing and ramped-up test­ing.” Sadly, this road to nor­mal­iza­tion, “in liv­ing with the virus,” comes at the ex­pense of risk­ing thou­sands of lives on a daily ba­sis, and it brings me to ve­he­mently ques­tion if this non-rigid ap­proach is and (has been) re­ally worth em­brac­ing.

With a na­tion­wide es­ti­mate as of Au­gust of 1,500 daily cases, mask-wear­ing was only com­pul­sory in en­closed spa­ces, al­low­ing peo­ple to step out­side un­masked, whereas in South Korea, it is un­ac­cept­able.

Speak­ing of rigid, our flight to Seoul was empty, giv­ing us some down time be­fore a four-hour rig­or­ous COVID con­trol at the air­port — health forms to fill up, in­ter­views with quar­an­tine of­fi­cers, tem­per­a­ture checks, down­load­ing of a mo­bile trac­ing ap­pli­ca­tion — in­clud­ing des­ig­nated taxis for trav­el­ers un­der quar­an­tine. We each got tested, quar­an­tined for 14 days, re­ported our daily self-di­ag­no­sis checks, and had a sur­prise in­spec­tion from a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cer. Be­lieve it or not, even our trash re­mained quar­an­tined (and frozen) with us. With ut­most grat­i­tude, South Korea!

Un­til next week… One big fight!

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