Vaccine passports: Bad idea with terrible timing traumatises tourism industry

Double dose of discrimination against poor countries

Tourism

August 24, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Vaccine passports: Bad idea with terrible timing traumatises tourism industry

Vaccine passports, yet another form of deep divide between the rich and the poor

Not only did the rich nations corner most of the Covid-19 vaccines for themselves and refused to share with the low-income countries, now they have come up with vaccine passports that make travel to and from these countries a near impossibility, all in the name of safety. Vaccine passes or passports are discriminatory, have little bearing on the spread of Covid-19 and its variants and should be kept on hold for now.

For a long while now, international travellers have been used to finding different queues at immigration counters at various airports, especially in developed world, queues that classify arrivals by origin of their country. Most of the rich countries are clubbed together and then the home nationals and finally ‘other’ travellers.

Since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic across the globe, a new sort of discrimination is visible at immigration counters. Those who have travelled to countries in the developed world in the recent weeks must have noticed the new segregations at the immigration counters. Of those who are vaccinated against Covid-19 and those who are not. Almost without any exception, the people in the unvaccinated queues belong to the poorest of the nations in Africa and Asia, nations that have continued to struggle in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic ever since it was wrought on the world almost 20 months ago.

In many ways while the pandemic has brought forth exemplary humane responses from millions of healthcare workers and the ordinary people around the world, it has, unfortunately, also unfurled newer forms of discrimination that have further deepened the already insurmountable gap between the haves and have-nots at a global, regional, national and even local level.

First was the economic impact of the pandemic, which has been felt much harder in the poorer countries than the richer ones mainly due to the fiscal leverage that the rich countries had in doling out assistance to their citizens in face of job losses. However, a large majority of the world did not have that option of generosity in the first place.

The poorer nations have also suffered much greater human cost due to the sheer lack of healthcare infrastructure that was creaking at best and which collapsed under the burden of the pandemic. Even an emerging giant like India had seen millions of its citizens suffer or die for the want of medical oxygen, hospital beds or drugs to counter the virus.

Cornering vaccine supplies

And when it came to vaccine development and deployment, a disproportionate quantity of the total vaccine production for the first couple of years was cornered by the developed world even while the vaccines were being developed. For instance, not only did the United States pre-order enough doses to vaccinate its entire population twice over, it also arm-twisted its drug companies – Pfizer and Moderna – into not supplying to any other country. The approach of Europe and other rich nations was no better in this display of inhumane selfishness. A study carried out by Global Health Institute of Duke University in the United States says that rich nations, with only 16 pc of the world’s population, had cornered 60 pc of global supplies, adequate to cover their entire populations several times over, leaving 84 pc of the people in the world scrambling for options.

This study was published in November 2020, before any vaccines were available and one can safely bet that the gap between the rich and poor has only exacerbated since. Even while billions of people in Africa and Asia wait for their first dose of the vaccine, some developed country leaders are talking of booster doses for their citizens.

The move came in for sharp criticism from the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as several NGOs working with vaccination in the poorer countries. While the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “greed” was the driver behind the world’s vaccine disparity, saying that the rich nations were making conscious choices right now not to protect those in need.

The developed world is also way behind in meeting its commitments towards the Covax programme of the World Health Organisation that aims to provide billions of doses of vaccines to the underprivileged chunks of the world. The WHO and other experts say that instead of booster jabs in rich countries, vaccine makers ought to focus on providing more doses to Covax.

Currently, both Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to supply only very small amounts of their vaccines to Covax and the programme has stalled due to a lack of doses. As a result, vaccinations in about 60 countries have come to a complete halt and this situation is unlikely to improve until 2022 even as there is an explosion in pandemic in Africa.

As of August 1, 2021, while High Income countries had administered 95.11 doses per 100 people, the Low Income countries struggled at 1.42 doses. The disparity becomes even more glaring at a country level. For instance, Germany, with its 89 million people, had administered nearly 110 doses per 100 population by July 30, 2021. In sharp contrast, a similarly sized African nation, Democratic Republic of Congo had managed only 0.09 doses per 100 population by July 24.

Thus, having caused a penury of vaccines in the first place by grabbing all the available stock, the developed nations are now putting restrictions on travellers from poorer countries, adding insult to injury.

Global tourism industry to pay the price

But it is not just the poorer nations that will be hurt by this discrimination. Tourism is an important earner even for the rich country economies and it has been decimated by the pandemic. Now that tourism destinations and sites are reopening, it is crucial for the governments to ensure that it helps its industry in getting every potential traveller to visit. But the rich country leaders need to realise that they are unlikely to be helping their tourism industries by slamming the doors on large chunks of the world from where many of the potential customers come.

For those worried about future waves of the pandemic or the travellers carrying the virus, the current restrictions like RTPCR tests for travellers are good enough to act as a robust barrier to the virus and the rich nations do not need to be go overboard with their drives. The world needs a collective rehabilitation from the pandemic, not in isolation.

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