Traveling in Times of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we think about traveling. Most countries in the world have adopted some measure of lockdown or restriction to movement to reduce transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and ease the burden of admissions in struggling health systems.

However, with the relaxation of lockdown measures in some countries in light of reductions in the number of COVID-19 cases, many people are facing the dilemma of choosing to travel after months of restrictions or to remain at home. Considerations include where it is safe to go, what is the risk of traveling, and what new measures are in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for those who decide to travel.

Unbelievably clean view of the Ganga river witnessed on the way to Delhi from Bhubaneswar (Picture Credit- Sahana Afreen).

I traveled thrice during this time and every time the situation and behavior of people were very different, which explains how the fear graph moved around us. My first travel period was at the end of May when the cases were somewhat controlled, but the fear graph was high because people were very careful about even touching the handles of the train door and everyone could be seen with two masks and hand gloves on. I also traveled with all the precautions and was in a very alert mood. Also, the railway station security was on high alert and taking every possible measure. The second time, I traveled via flight around July end when the cases were in the outbreak phase and it was the time when we as a country were about to cross the highest number of cases. The third time, people were very casual about things and this casualness included the basic measure like a mask. This is how any other thing becomes normalized in our society, like we can take the example of smartphone culture, likewise other different social norms which take place slowly and become very common in our daily lives.

Sunset view from my flight to Kolkata. (Picture Credit – Sahana Afreen)

What does the future hold for travelers? The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine will be instrumental in reinstating confidence in travelers. However, it is expected that many airlines will cut services such as meals, drinks, and free magazines, not so much for economic reasons but as a way to limit so-called touchpoints, which are opportunities for SARS-CoV-2 transmission via close physical proximity between flyers and crew. Rapid testing for COVID-19 for both crew members and passengers could become a regular feature. Enhanced cleanliness and sanitation will become the norm. The use of masks or other protective equipment will become more common. Touchless technology will reduce human interaction and facilitate payments and processes linked to traveling.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, travelers adapted to enhanced security controls in airports and strict rules regarding their luggage. The COVID-19 pandemic may similarly redefine what is normal for travelers, with a potentially positive outcome of reducing the risk of transmission of many other infections besides COVID-19.

Sahana is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Voluntary Integration for Education and Welfare of Society (VIEWS) in Gopalpur, Odisha. For her Fellowship project, she is supporting women self-help groups in launching social enterprises focused on organic farming practices to popularize the use of organic versus chemical fertilizers in the region. Sahana is a 23-year-old woman passionate to work towards gender equality. She has completed her Master’s degree in the discipline of social work with a specialization in rural development, mental health, disability, and counselling. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science. She has interned with Roshini, working with government school adolescent girls on life skills and creating a module on cyber security. She has also worked for the community in a slum in Delhi called Seelampur on different issues including gender, livelihood, education, and disability as part of her social work degree course. She was a part of the Youth Accountability Advocate (YAA), working towards understanding the needs of young people on sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a YAA member, she has been selected by the ‘Women Delivers’ in 2019 to share her experience and learnings in their international conference in Vancouver, Canada, with more than 8000 participants from all over the world. Sahana has been actively volunteering for an organisation called Pehchan for girls education in the peripheries of New Delhi. With AIF Clinton Fellowship, Sahana aspires to gain in-depth knowledge of the diversity in socio-economic, cultural, and educational fabric of India. She aims to hone her skills and build perspectives of working and solution generation in development sector.

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