Travel bubbles are currently a viable solution to revive economies around the world disrupted by COVID-19. It’s understandably been a hot topic lately seeing that Malaysians have been cooped in for over a year now.
The concept is basically a partnership between 2 or more countries that will allow people to travel freely within certain zones without having to undergo a quarantine period upon arrival.
Of course, it’s not as reckless as simply opening up borders. Countries employing travel bubbles have either successfully vaccinated a large population, contained the infection, or have stringent qualifications for those looking to cross borders for business purposes.
Despite the benefits travel bubbles could pose to revamp the tourism industry both locally and globally, it’s still unwise to do so in the interest of public health and safety. I’ll explain why below.
Discrimination against those who can’t be vaccinated
Talks about the travel bubble bring along the scheme of a vaccine passport, otherwise known as the vaccine bubble. It’s essentially a travel bubble with the added requirement of vaccination against COVID-19 effectively, granting free movement to travellers.
A vaccine bubble can also mean a place where all the individuals present have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. In the case of Hong Kong, places that are officially designated as vaccine bubbles include restaurants, bars, karaoke lounges, and other public venues.
For participating sites, social distancing measures can be relaxed. Businesses will also be allowed extended operating hours.
In fact, 69% of Malaysians were highly supportive of having a vaccine passport for entering shops and offices, while 82% of them want it present to enter large public venues.
But this brings up the possible issue of discrimination against those who can’t be vaccinated. I’m not defending anti-vaxxers who refuse to be inoculated due to misinformation or personal beliefs, but those who cannot be vaccinated due to having health issues.
Some of these groups include those who are immunocompromised, have blood issues, or have severe allergies from vaccinations or medications. Having physical ailments is not a choice, nor is it a person’s own fault (in certain cases such as inherited diseases or accidents).
Yes, they are also part of the high-risk group who pose a risk of becoming severely ill if infected with COVID-19. But if a vaccine passport is required to enter shops, imagine an unfortunate situation where someone is disallowed from entering to get necessities just because they couldn’t get the shot.
If these patients are determined by a health professional that they are not fit for COVID-19 vaccines, they should at least be provided with a slip that proves their exemption for it. In turn, this official letter should give them permission to enter places that require a vaccine passport.
Increases the spread of COVID-19 & its variants
A travel bubble may sound safe if everything goes according to plan, but COVID-19 poses other issues: silent (asymptomatic) carriers, and the mutating virus. Even if an unvaccinated individual tested negative before and after their flight abroad, they may still be a silent carrier.
Without a quarantine period, they could unknowingly be spreading the virus around every site they visit, to every person they meet. It can result in once again bringing that country’s cases up if not handled carefully.
And, geographic separation is what usually causes genetically distinct variants. It’s the reason why doctors recommend getting a flu shot every year, as viruses change often. These mutations can be more severe and transmissible, and may not be prevented by some vaccines.
Hong Kong and Singapore have already delayed their travel bubble at least twice now, with the cases across the causeway now rising once again. Singaporean authorities have also detected a few variants in both local and imported infections, such as the B.1.617 strain that was first identified in India and is thought to be more transmissible.
If people start travelling back and forth, more could easily be exposed to the disease and its variants, regardless of the country they’re visiting.
Malaysians aren’t disciplined enough
It’s understandable that people want to get out of their homes at any chance they get for various reasons: being sick of WFH, the lack of a social life, boredom, and the list goes on.
That’s why we’re still seeing fines being imposed, because we’ve seen people challenge restrictions. (Now, the facts that our government can’t properly make up its mind about clear SOPs and enjoys implementing them out of the blue are a whole different argument we can get into another time.)
Businesses were allowed to operate during 2021’s second and third MCO, but citizens are still encouraged to stay home, unless required to go out for the necessary essentials. That being said though, digital technology has already made it possible for us to access many necessities from our couch, be it getting groceries, delivering items somewhere, and even having a healthcare check-up, to name a few.
I’m of the perspective that the MCO may be the only way to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our country. It’s also worth nothing that 80% of infections are actually from coming sporadic cases within the community, not clusters, according to Dr. Noor Hisham, which is a worrying trend.
We were once a united nation against the pandemic and appeared to comply well when the MCO was first introduced. But ever since restrictions were eased with domestic travel allowed for a short period of time late last year, we’ve been flaunting the very basic SOPs our country has set.
If we can’t even stay compliant when going out and about domestically, who’s to say that our behaviour and attitudes towards it will improve while traveling abroad? For Malaysia to prove that we can be part of any country’s travel bubble, we’d first have to prove that we can do so domestically without triggering another spike in cases.
But travel bubble or not, one thing’s for sure: it’s extremely crucial that those of us who are able to get vaccinated do so when the opportunity arises, as it’s the only way to achieve herd immunity.
Work is being done to speed up our nation’s immunisation programme, and the most recent initiative is for companies to register to buy the Sinovac vaccine for their employees via SELangkah.
We shouldn’t be hesitating due to preferences for a specific vaccine, as there is no certainty that you’ll be able to acquire it ASAP anyway. Currently, the best vaccine you can get is the one you can get first, and being vaccinated is better than being unprotected at all costs.
- You can read more COVID-19 related articles we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Malaysia Airports