COVID Travel Restrictions and What Needs to Change

IMPORTANT NOTE: I fully understand and appreciate that this is a delicate topic, but I also think that it is an increasingly important topic. Please note, I am not a virologist or a medical doctor. Nor am I advocating one way or the other on COVID travel restrictions, vaccinations, masking mandates, or anything else.

What I would like to do is start a discussion to explain the issues I am seeing, offer up some suggestions that I have thought of, and see how the travel restrictions are affecting you. I would genuinely love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please leave a reply if you would like to share. There are no right or wrong answers in this discussion as it is just a discussion.

With this in mind, I will not tolerate any attacks on anyone’s opinions and any comments that do so will be swiftly deleted. I want this to be an open discussion where everyone who wants to comment feels comfortable sharing their opinions so that we can all learn how to navigate this difficult time together.

COVID travel restrictions

With all of that said, I would like to discuss the current state of COVID Travel Restrictions around the world, the impact they are having on the travel industry, and the unfortunate side-effects of the world becoming so closed off the past few years. In order to start this discussion, I would like to refer you to a really great article that I recently read in the Atlantic called The International Travel Restrictions Make Little Sense. In this article, author Thomas Wright discusses the significant differences in how governments around the world are choosing to implement travel restrictions, the different motivations for implementing restrictions, and the inherent problems and consequences that come with a world that is becoming increasingly segregated. If you haven’t read the article yet, I would strongly suggest that you do so. For the sake of this discussion, I have outlined some of the key points in the article for you to review below.

The Main Issues with Current COVID Travel Restrictions

  • Many of the travel restrictions implemented around the world have been done in a haphazard and disorganized fashion.
  • Imposing travel restrictions is typically easier to do and is less costly politically than implementing policies at home to address the spread of the virus.
  • There is very little political cost associated with implementing COVID travel restrictions as these restrictions affect a much smaller group of people (such as travel enthusiasts, exchange students, and those traveling for family life events).
  • The process of keeping the patchwork of inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary travel restrictions in place is much easier than putting in the work to fix them or to work with other countries to develop a unified approach.
  • The lack of travel has made the world a much larger and more fractured place. It inhibits the free flow of ideas, prevents a mutual understanding between cultures, and frankly makes the world a less stimulating place to live.
  • Without a unified plan to address travel, we risk the world being segregated on geographic, or worse, socioeconomic lines that would make this world a far worse place. Poorer countries with less infrastructure and resources could become increasingly isolated and its people far worse off than they are now.

Why the Need to Fix the Current Restrictions?

It has been almost two years since the nightmare that is the COVID-19 pandemic began. Over the past few years, the world has seen multiple waves of infection caused by numerous different variants of the virus. In this time, we have seen countries go in and out of lockdown and open and close its borders to travelers. Despite an eternal optimism that the end of the nightmare is just right around the corner, we still have countries like New Zealand going into quarantine after just a single confirmed case of COVID-19.

I am not saying New Zealand is right or wrong for its COVID travel restrictions, or that other countries who have continued to keep their borders closed and lockdowns in place are not acting in good faith when they make their policy decisions. However, it does lead me to believe that we will be feeling the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic for a very long time. This is especially true when it comes to travel.

According to Stat News, most of the past pandemics have typically run their course within a few years. The article goes on to explain that it wasn’t vaccinations or herd immunity that have ended past pandemics, but the human body’s ability to adapt and adjust to the viruses. These adaptations by our body have rendered the viruses that caused past pandemics less lethal to humans. Past flu strains, such as the 1918 H1N1 flu virus that killed hundreds of millions of people worldwide, are now among the many seasonal flu strains that we deal with in stride.

What sets this pandemic a part from many of the past pandemics that we have to compare it to is that the past pandemics have all dealt with strains of the flu virus, where COVID-19 is a Coronavirus. We haven’t had any Coronavirus pandemics in modern history with which to compare to this pandemic to determine how long it may last. With so much uncertainty, it would be wise to start planning how we might adapt to living and traveling during the pandemic instead of just waiting for it to end. This includes creating a unified set of COVID travel restrictions and tracking methods.

Ways We Can Fix the Travel Restrictions

COVID travel restrictions

I am not here to tell you that there is a quick and easy fix for the current issues that exist with the current travel restrictions. After all, we are dealing with a large global pandemic that has become one of the largest health crises the world has seen in a century. I don’t know anyone who would say that the world should just open its borders to all travelers with no restrictions or any regard for the health and wellbeing of its citizens. That would be foolish, no doubt. However, I do think that the world can and should start working together to develop a unified set of protocols that would allow travel to become a reliable possibility again. Here are a few of the suggestions that I have thought of.

Develop a Unified Set of Requirements for Travelers

Right now, there are numerous different requirements for traveling to and from countries, depending on which country you are traveling to and which country you are coming from. To make matters even more confusing, these requirements are constantly changing. It would be wonderful if the World Health Organization could offer some guidance on what it thinks would be the most effective policies moving forward. If this involves being vaccinated or being able to show proof of natural antibody development, then this should be clearly outlined. If people really want to travel, they will learn the requirements and follow them.

Develop a Unified Method for Tracking the Requirements

Almost as frustrating as trying to keep track of the ever-changing set of requirements that countries are imposing for travel is trying to figure out and meet the tracking requirements that are being set. For instance, some countries are requiring test results and vaccination certificates with PCR codes, but not all countries are providing PCR codes on their certificates. It isn’t like proof of vaccination for travel hasn’t been required in the past, so we should be able to clarify the COVID-19 requirements globally moving forward. Many countries in the world already require vaccination for other diseases such as Yellow Fever, so we have the protocols in place to verify compliance.

Allow Verifiable Pre-Travel Quarantine

One of the most frustrating of the COVID travel restrictions that countries are implementing around the world are the mandatory quarantines for visitors. Let’s face it, lengthy quarantines for travelers upon arrival are a deal breaker for most travelers. Few people can afford to spend the vacation time and money traveling to a country, only to spend 7 to 10 days sitting in a hotel room on quarantine. It would actually be better if countries just closed their borders instead of implementing quarantines so that travelers could be reimbursed for cancelled flights.

If these quarantine requirements were consistently in place, that would be one thing. Travelers would be able to plan around quarantines when they book their flights and tours. However, most countries are imposing and removing quarantine requirements as they deal with the different waves of infection. This leaves travelers having to either rebook or cancel their travel plans, often at their own expense. While purchasing travel insurance is always a smart choice, most travel insurance policies out there do not cover you for COVID travel restrictions.

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One suggestion that I thought of would be to allow travelers to go into confirmed quarantine before traveling. If there were a way for travelers to certify that they have remained in quarantine before traveling, in conjunction with taking a COVID-19 PCR test before traveling, this might make it easier for travelers to plan for and comply with quarantine requirements at their destination.

Closing Remarks on COVID Travel Restrictions

COVID travel restrictions

I fully understand that the situation that the world finds itself in is incredibly stressful and fluid. I think that world leaders and medical experts throughout the world are doing their very best to protect the people of the world from serious illness and death. I have no doubt that the COVID travel restrictions we see throughout the world have been put in place to protect people and to try and stop the pandemic.

However, I do agree with journalist Thomas Wright when he says that the COVID travel restrictions that have been put in place seem to have been done in a haphazard and disorganized fashion. The inconsistent and ever-changing nature of these COVID travel restrictions are making it increasingly difficult for travelers to plan trips to see family, study abroad, or travel to broaden their horizons.

While I am in no way suggesting that world leaders and health experts stop implementing travel restrictions or COVID travel requirements, I think it would be in everyone’s best interest if the international community worked together to standardize the COVID travel requirements and limits and created a unified way of tracking them. Not only would this help make the world a safer place, but it would also help keep the world an open and inclusive place.

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  1. I have always love travelling..but now I cannot go as of this pandemi. Our world is not keeping these Restrictions in place.

  2. I agree with you, there’s no easy solution but something needs to be done to organize and streamline the process. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening anytime soon… I feel like countries are so swamped with dealing with their own COVID cases that they don’t have the time, money, or energy to devote to a coordinated travel plan.

    • Thanks for your comment Diana! I agree, it may be a while before they get something organized, which is what worries me. I don’t think the fallout from this is remotely close to being over.

  3. The one handed approach of travel restrictions by the USA has caused a huge issues for families of multiple nationals living and wanting to reconnect! US citizens can now fly just about anywhere but if you have family outside the US who wants to fly to the US and are fully vaccinated you are not allowed in! Arrogant and the policies don’t make sense! Yes, there needs to be a unified international approach to this issue with clear guidelines. But, with so many things stretching governments focus right now I feel that this will be pushed under the carpet. Isolating, these policies show that when things happen we as humans go back to our tribal roots instead of looking out for the greater good of the human race.

  4. This is a great article, Josh with well thought out arguments. Your uniform global approach makes sense to me. I especially like the idea of the “pre-travel” quarantine. That makes a ton of sense and would make travel safer and less costly for everyone right now. Thanks for the ideas. Maybe you should run for office; oh wait that wouldn’t work – you are too sensible.

  5. I like the idea of a uniform approach, but I just can’t see countries around the world adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, even if it’s recommended by the WHO. My biggest frustration is not being able to return to the US if I test positive abroad. I get that putting positive people on a general flight is a bad idea, but I wish we could work out a way to get them home even if they test positive. I don’t think countries should be able to prevent citizens from returning home.

    • Great point!!!! That is also something that I would like to see rectified as well. Finding some way to get people who have tested positive home would be hugely comforting to many travelers.

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