The international travel industry is dead. After two years of being effectively shut down, then made illegal, and then have rays of hope in the form of ridiculously limited traffic light systems cruelly ripped away, international travel from the UK is once again effectively impossible. A travel industry that was already on its knees is now fighting for its last breath, with absolutely zero clinical evidence, data or justification for it. But it is not too late to revive it. Enough is enough. It is time we stopped listening to the fearmongering zealots, it is time we demand real data, it is time we stopped pandering to Covid derangement syndrome and make a real, genuine risk assessment for ourselves, and it is time we revived travel for good. It is time international travel reopened, fully and without restrictions. Now, before it really is too late.
Almost two years ago now the world was effectively shut down after the sarscov2 pandemic hit. Entire countries went into lockdown, borders were closed, planes grounded, and the world was subjected to some of the worst restrictions it has seen in 80 years. At first I would agree a certain degree of caution was warranted. But we had that caution, we had systems for dealing with health emergencies like this in place and there were established pandemic response and clinical procedures that could have been followed. They weren’t. The worst part of the last year for many is not the growing realisation that many of these punitive restrictions and ridiculous ‘rules’ were not necessary or that much of the ‘data’ used to justify them was vastly overblown, it is the fact that now we are at a time when we should be coming out of this nightmare the UK government are increasing their campaign of psychological terror and are still refusing to open up international travel against all evidence.
To the frustration of the entire travel industry, not to mention passengers themselves, the mess that was the corridor system, the sheer lack of transparency on the traffic light system, constant flip flopping on decisions, changing FCO travel advice on a seconds notice and refusing to open travel up against all logical evidence is causing untold confusion, loss of consumer confidence and causing irreparable harm. The continued policy of lockdowns and travel bans is pushing the industry close to collapse.
And the worst part is none of this has any practical or clinical justification.
Previous pandemic response best practice was thrown out of the window and completely ignored by the government in favour of the precautionary principle, a need to ‘look as if they are doing something’ next to their neighbouring counterparts and lockdown policies more suited to communist dictatorships. Lockdowns, restrictions and travel bans were justified not with clinical data, but inaccurate and unscientific models, and were enforced with an effective campaign of psychological terror that was waged on the general public to keep us cowed and obedient. And boy, did that work well!
Now that the UK is on a so called ‘roadmap to recovery’ and all national restrictions are due to end on the 21st June, the usual suspects Vallance and Whitty are still calling for further lockdowns, we are getting the same tired fearmongering at a time that hospitalisations and deaths are dropping rapidly and yet again the travel industry has been effectively forced to close down.
It may no longer be technically illegal to travel, but the reality is it may as well be for the majority. At a time when borders should be reopening and flights resuming, the UK government has slammed the portcullis down and told the industry it must once again stay grounded. It has threatened travellers with jail sentences of up to ten years and fines of tens of thousands of pounds if they don’t jump through the nonsensical hoops that they can’t even be clear on themselves, and it has done this with zero justification and against all clinical evidence.For well over a year now we have put up with authoritarian measures more at home in the Chinese Communist Party or in a North Korean dictatorship in an effort to ‘keep us safe’, but why? Extreme measures would be more reasonable if we were dealing with an actual world ending pandemic, one with the fatality rates of Ebola and the dead were literally piling high in the streets, as some of the media reported it would be like at the start of this, but we are not. We never have been. So why the extreme response? More importantly why is the response getting even more extreme at a time things are improving?
The truth is we are dealing with a new disease, a serious disease yes, but not one that is anywhere near the scale that was initially feared. Now that we know more about covid19 it has become increasingly clear the seriousness of the disease required a response that was commensurate with established best practice, not an entirely new and authoritarian precedent.
The big problem, or at least part of it, was that the initial fears of what could happen were so out of proportion it skewed everything. The fact remains that SAGE has never got a single prediction right throughout this crisis. Ferguson – an academic with an abysmal record of modelling even before this (remember this is the man who predicted over 200 million deaths from Bird Flu in 2005 when the real number was closer to 100) – and his team at Imperial College as well as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine created models that were so pessimistic and so out of proportion, more realistic and optimistic models were ignored out of sheer fear and lack of leadership. The fact is that without fail, almost every single prediction, doomsday call and SAGE model has been proven time and time again to be disastrously wrong and in many cases unscientific.
The initial model assumption that 100% of the population was susceptible with no natural immunity runs counter to all known virology science. All of Ferguson’s initial predictions were so far off base they have been roundly debunked and laughed at. All of his models, based on programmes that he refused to open source to academic scrutiny were openly ridiculed by the academic and scientific communities. Initial predictions of infection rates, deaths on a biblical scale and hospital capacity rates were never reached, they never even came close. The NHS was never overrun and despite the fearmongering, capacity rates were never pushed any more than they always are every time we have a severe flu season. The Nightingale hospitals were never even needed, even though they could have very easily been used to take all covid19 cases, freeing up hospital capacity for routine cases if they had the staff to do so. Initial fears on the prevalence of asymptomatic spread were proven wrong. Initial predictions on the prevalence of spread outside or in large group gatherings were proven wrong. Assumptions that hospitality settings would be the primary cause of infection rates increasing were proven wrong. The list of errors is endless.
And for this we have been subjected to endless lockdowns, civil liberties rode roughshod and police forces reprimanded for being too overzealous and authoritarian. We have put up with airline CEOs who think discrimination is now okay, ridiculous nonsensical ‘rules’ where unqualified shop managers were given free reign to enact whatever performative theatre they wanted in the name of IPC and the pitchfork wielding mobs went after anyone who dared to step out of line. Mask wearing became an absolute cult and it suddenly became acceptable to abandon little things like medical privacy, consent, dignity and human rights.
Travel became the big bad bogeyman in the eyes of the worlds media and many travellers themselves twisted their own anger, fear and frustration into a virtue signalling pitchfork at which they could travel shame others who did so in the few windows of opportunity they had.
The world has gone collectively mad, and I can only hope that in years to come some people reflect on their behaviour with shame and realise what they were raging against are the freedoms, rights and basic dignity that citizens of free countries have fought hard for out of nothing more than fear and ignorance.
The fact is the risk of Covid19 was never as high as predicted, and an abundance of caution, reasonable at first, has turned into fear driven authoritarianism.
SAGE has been negligent in the extreme, the UK and other world governments even more so, and the decision to run with the precautionary principle based on the models and so called evidence of SAGE is borderline criminal. Because this is the thing most people are forgetting, none of the decisions over the last two years have been clinical or based on medical evidence, they have been political. They have been based on the largely unscientific precautionary principle. A principle designed to guide the political class to take the most extreme worst case scenario and enact the most extreme measures to combat it, even when there is no justification for doing so. This was wrong, it was never proportional or appropriate, and yet it has been justified under a question of what else could we have done?
Well this is the big question. Luckily, I have a bigger answer.
What we have always done. It really is that simple.
People forget, or may never have known, that we have travelled during many pandemics in our lifetime. This is not the first pandemic we have dealt with and it certainly will not be the last either. We actually did have protocol in place for dealing with pandemics of this magnitude and have in fact used them very effectively with many pandemics in the past, including SarsCOV1. This pandemic, which has been one of the fastest spreading virus’ we have ever seen I grant you, is still in many ways no different from any other in terms of how it should have been dealt with.
Following The Science?
The WHO has had an established preparedness plan for Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (the technical term used for pandemics) for decades. That plan was based largely on individual preparedness programmes of countries all over the western world as well as a vast weight of established, proven clinical evidence, and designed with a range of best practice protocols from infection prevention control to critical care. This plan was based largely around an influenza outbreak but was applicable for any pandemic response, especially a respiratory pandemic including a coronavirus disease. We even had ‘war games’ to practice for it and Exercise Cygnus – which took place in the UK in 2016 – tested these principles and the NHS’ response on the assumption of higher death rates than even Ferguson could have imagined in his most feverish doomsday nightmares.
And what exactly does this pandemic response look like from a clinical best practice point of view? Well it certainly doesn’t recommend shutting down international travel for starters. It has always been the CDCs and WHOs position, based on established scientific evidence, that it just does not work, violates international law and can even make things worse by delaying vital response times among other problems.
Let me make this very clear, the absolute weight of established evidence shows that blanket, long term border closures and the shutdown of international travel do not and cannot work to contain spread of a disease. There is limited evidence, with poor data and low quality studies, that lockdowns can be effective if used with surgical precision to specific regions and for an extremely limited period of time, but even that evidence concludes that the benefits are very short lived.
Established pandemic response does not in any way recommend the mass quarantining of asymptomatic individuals or mass contact tracing, entry and exit screening and border closures. It only recommends internal travel restrictions on a limited, conditional basis and only for an extremely limited period of time. In fact where travel restrictions have occurred in the past such as when President Obama placed restrictions on certain countries in west Africa during an Ebola outbreak in 2014 it was criticised as ineffective but accepted because it was surgical in its scope and for an extremely limited time period, it was not widespread and endless as these current travel restrictions are. Public hygiene measures such as hand washing promotion has always been recommended even outside of a pandemic and something I always promote myself (most people really are filthy animals), but there is no evidence for any of the ridiculous policies and rules that most public venues, airlines and airports are implementing on a mass scale for the vast majority of an asymptomatic public (I’m looking at you Manchester airport trying to make everyone wear disposable gloves everywhere before you were embarrassed over the policy). Untrained security guards with digital monitors and enforced mask mandates, walking around the supermarket with little directional arrows, being forced to form orderly queues 3 miles long and doing a performative dance in front of an unqualified shop assistant before entering any public building are just not recommended. There is even no evidence for face masks for asymptomatic travellers, even though they are conditionally recommended in the most severe circumstances (certainly not for everyone at all times as has become the norm and it can be argued that this pandemic is now nowhere near the most extreme circumstances anyway), that conditional recommendation does not translate into an enforced mass mandate for everyone. In fact the evidence shows that flying is perfectly safe without them and the best form of infection control you can practice is hand washing and surface decontamination. These mandates even go against established infection prevention control best practice which has never recommended them for the general public in the first place!
And yet all of these things, with zero or extremely limited clinical evidence and no real data have been enshrined into world wide response with the zealotry of a religious witch hunt. So for all the zero Covid zealots who claim they are ‘following the science’, no, you are not. Most of you don’t even know what the science is.
Was this previously established response perfect? No. It just wasn’t. Recommendations from reports such as Exercise Cygnus on staffing levels for example, which were always borderline dangerous in the NHS and something I was a very vocal critic of during my time in there, were roundly ignored and no extra staff were procured at a time of extremely low workforce retention. Necessary resources weren’t allocated. Critical care beds were always running at a bare minimum. But we did have a biological security strategy. Even despite the fact the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee (THRCC) was disbanded by former Prime Minister Theresa May to concentrate on Brexit, we did have an NHS ready and trained for a pandemic of this magnitude. What would have been more appropriate was the immediate allocation of extra staff – backed up by the military where necessary – and extra resources necessary to do the job. What would have been appropriate was allowing us to do the job we trained to do with the resources to do it. What would have been appropriate was circling the wagons and protecting the most extremely vulnerable in hospitals and nursing homes, with measures such as extra IPC procedures, hygiene and even masks concentrated there, but allowing the rest of society to carry on as normal with extra messaging around reasonable and sensible personal hygiene and self care as we raced for a vaccine. This was what almost every western country had agreed on was the best response, this was what the WHO and international health organisations had ratified into best practice. This is what we were initially set to do, before fearmongering and the precautionary principle took over.
The problem is that people demanded a response based on an erroneous and impossible paradigm. They wanted to cut sarscov2 transmission rates down to absolute zero which is an absolute impossibility. Previous infection prevention control policies that reduced and managed risk were suddenly not good enough. The public wanted performance theatre to make them feel safe. Politicians saw other countries enacting the most severe responses as a result and simply copied them just to show they were actually doing something. Anything. The public wanted performance theatre and that is what they got. Now we have a response that is not based on science but based on fear and ignorance. Why rely on decades of clinical evidence, established best practice and qualified training when we can simply threaten to abolish travel and keep people locked up indefinitely based on a ‘just in case’ mentality? It is cruel, it is wrong and it is borderline insane. It has caused unimaginable harm which we have only just begun to see the consequences of, and we are long past the point where the measures are causing far more harm than good.
The Exponential Harm Of Constant Restrictions.
For the better part of the past two years we have lived with restrictions and travel bans that have not only ignored the European Convention on Human Rights, but have become ever more punitive, cheered on by the baying mob of lockdown fanatics who never want a return to normal. I mean did anyone think that in our lifetime, in a free and supposedly democratic society that travel would ever be made illegal? Let me say that again just in case it hasn’t sunk in. Travel was actually made illegal. As in against the law. I know we have all learnt to accept the worst like the victims of a mass, collective trauma, but in what messed up world should this ever be accepted as normal?
The fact of the matter is article 13 states that everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state, and more importantly everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country. This is the reason the WHO has declared travel bans, border closures and restrictions as unworkable against international law. Not only that, the forced (and punitively expensive) quarantines under less than ideal conditions or the refusal to allow citizens back into their own country – as in the case of Australia’s insane policies for example – can also be seen to go against article 9 which states that no one can be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Along with the decimation of what we should all expect to be our natural and inalienable human rights as individuals, the creeping normalisation of discrimination with talks of unethical vaccination passports are seeing ignorant baying mobs thinking it is okay to punish or discriminate against anyone who does not make the ‘right’ choice. The problem with that being of course that their ignorant and often unqualified righteous indignation does not determine what is right, the fundamental and absolute medical principles of informed consent and medical choice does. Even former Prime Minister Tony Blair made no attempt to disguise the acceptance of medical apartheid in his fervour for biometric IDs. Since when was this acceptable in a supposedly free society?
It is extremely unlikely the courts will argue against the government for policies made under emergency legislation, but the breaking point of what can and should be tolerated has already been reached and the proportional justification for these measures is increasingly pure fantasy.
The fact is people don’t just travel for a two week jolly by the pool. Travel is far more nuanced and important than that. These restrictions have literally ripped entire families apart, they have kept sons and daughters from their parents, kept partners, husbands, wives and lovers apart and kept friends from reuniting for far too long, and that will have an unimaginable mental toll that will come due very soon. It is simply inhumane to keep people apart like this for so long and indefinitely, especially when the travel ban is not comprehensive and allows those with the money or the right business contacts to fly.
And this is just one small facet of the looming mental health crisis that is just waiting to hit us all. Constant lockdowns and social separation, school closures and lifestyle changes, the loss of work, income and even businesses, financial troubles, a constant diet of media fearmongering and covert psychological fear tactics from the government are all leading to a global mental health crisis that will have far more long term impact than Covid19 ever will.
NHS mental health services are already struggling to cope with the vast increase in demand. Loneliness, depression, anxiety, self harm, suicidal thoughts and attempts have all seen a rise in a relatively short period of time, all of which can be directly attributed to lockdowns and restrictions.
The fact is travel is an important part of mental health and wellbeing, for some more than others of course, but denying that opportunity to anyone in what is supposedly a free country will have far reaching negative affects.
These affects are already being seen in the hospitality and travel industries, both of which have been almost completely decimated because of lockdowns and travel bans and much of which will simply never return. Travel industry firms such as the coach operator Shearings, Cruise and Maritime Voyages, Thomas Cook, Flybe, Virgin Australia and of course STA travel, the company I bought my first RTW tickets from, all went bust due to lockdowns, hundreds of smaller independent firms have gone, thousands more travel and hospitality businesses have not been able to trade or earn money for over a year leaving them on the brink of closure too, countless tertiary jobs and industries reliant on tourism have gone and countless more individuals face unemployment and severe impacts on their ability to earn a living. The travel industry in the UK alone is worth over £250 billion, around 10% of GDP, and supports almost 4 million jobs. All of that is being decimated for no clear or good reason.
It is one thing to discuss how these ongoing travel restrictions will have an impact on restraining a pandemic, a discussion that I will remind you is bereft of any real evidence, but no one is discussing the effect they are having on the quality of life of millions of people. Living in an authoritarian, dictatorial state with punitive policies affecting our mental, physical, financial and social wellbeing is no way to live, and in many ways is far worse a fate than the threats of what may potentially happen if we all get sick. To put it in more simple terms, the medicine is causing far more harm than the disease.
No Longer Proportional.
And this is the real issue. What are we being locked down for? Where is the justification for these continued travel bans? There simply isn’t any.
The fact is Covid19 is a serious disease, but it is not as deadly as many others out there and certainly nowhere near as deadly as originally predicted. It’s death rate is even lower than SARS and MERS with a rough infection fatality rate of 0.5%. Covid 19, to put it in as simple terms as I can, is closer to common influenza in terms of fatality than it is to say Ebola or Yellow Fever. It was declassified as a High Consequence Infectious Disease over a year ago now, and of all current active cases, the risk of developing severe symptoms is just 0.4%. For those under 50 and with no specific health risks the risk is even lower than that, almost negligible in fact, with even the risk to those over 75 (and over the average age of death in the UK) with severe comorbidities still less than 1%.
And on top of this low risk we have had in the UK one of the most successful vaccine rollouts in the world and in living memory! As of May 2021 over 39 million people have had their first vaccine dose, that is 75% of the adult population, and more than half at over 27 million have had their second dose. That is the absolute majority of people, and almost all who were clinically vulnerable have been vaccinated!
And for this we are causing irreparable damage to our mental health, our livelihoods and our society? Where is the proportionality in this? Are we going to stop travel indefinitely now for any and every communicable disease? Because there are a hell of a lot out there, Hepatitis, Typhoid, Tuberculosis, SARS, hell why stop there? Why not put all of them on the list! Dengue, Malaria, Rabies, Chagas Disease, Cholera, where the hell does it end? What about future pandemics? Because believe me there will absolutely be future pandemics it is just a matter of time. What about the next flu season? Have we set a precedent for that too? Where exactly does this end? Let’s just shut the world down and never travel again!
The response to Covid19 is completely out of proportion.
We were told that once the vulnerable were vaccinated we could once again cry freedom and ‘get back to normal’. That was cruelly taken away from us as ‘the most vulnerable’ simply became ‘most people’, ‘most people’ became ‘the majority’ and then ‘the majority’ quickly became ‘everyone’, as the goalposts were shifted time and time again. Apparently now that the majority of people are vaccinated and even those who aren’t yet are still at relatively low risk, that isn’t enough according to some people. Just recently SAGE piped up again and called for yet another delay in opening up as the same doom mongering, disproven models were once again wheeled out. Based on no clear evidence and seemingly on a whim, the so called green list of countries we are supposedly ‘allowed’ to travel to is non existent again as an ego driven tantrum from our health secretary removed some of the limited destinations that were on there based on nothing more than his unqualified belief that we should not be travelling anywhere this year.
Under what justification? What are the criteria for a country being placed on green, amber or red? Why isn’t this data being published in a transparent way?
Now that people are starting to see through the initial lies and scaremongering and asking why aren’t we allowed to travel and why borders are not opening up as we were promised, the fear just keeps rolling out in the form of new mutations and variants! There’s a new variant, first from Kent, then South Africa, then Brazil and India, the Timbuktu and Bognor Regis variants are coming next! Then it’s the Alpha, Mike, Foxtrot variants! Lock up your children! Panic, panic, panic!
The fact of the matter is this virus’ will mutate, all virus’ mutate, it is what they do. The damn flu mutates all the time, that is why we have a flu shot every single year!
Mutations are expected and normal with all virus’, especially RNA virus’ like SarsCOV2. Virus evolution tends to favour mutations that spread more efficiently but are less lethal, this is why – alongside a populations herd immunity growth – virus’ tend to become less prolific and less of a threat over time.
This will happen whether we are locked down or not, whether we travel or not, and they will mutate independently of any travel ban, so why exactly are we still hiding away? If domestic variants are as likely as imported variants, border closures will not stop imported variants because we simply cannot stop all movement across borders with trade and so on, and these variants aren’t really a big a concern as the media are portraying, then what is the point in all of this panic?
The truth is the latest Delta variant (the one from India, in case you aren’t up on the new terminology) may spread more voraciously than variants before it, but again it does not appear to be deadly and by all accounts the vaccine works extremely well against it. And yet we are still banned from travelling anywhere.
Instead of unlocking the country and reopening travel, the government is once again reneging on its word and refusing to return our freedoms to us. Freedoms that were never theirs to take in the first place.
This is wrong. It is evil. It needs to end. It is time we ended this collective hysteria and got on with our lives.
Living With The Disease And Carrying On.
The fact is we have always travelled with the threat of disease, and like all those other diseases we will be living with covid19 for a very long time. We simply cannot shut ourselves away forever and we are already long past the point were justifiable caution can be used as an excuse. Given that the virus will continue to spread and evolve and mutate long past the point that it is a danger to anyone, the logical endgame of shutting down international travel – again, despite all evidence that it does not work – to combat it means that we will never travel again. That is just not acceptable.
I get that many people are nervous about travelling again, I really do. Covid anxiety syndrome is a very real thing. After more than a year of intense fear driven psychological warfare and endless lockdowns, people are legitimately traumatised. Many people are struggling to reintegrate into society and suffering from a form of PTSD that is fuelling even more fear and paranoia. I can have a lot of sympathy with that, up to a point, but it does come to a point when we cannot be held hostage to that fear. Locking down even more, restricting travel even more and imposing even more punitive rules is not the way to help in this situation. We can help and understand Covid anxiety syndrome, but we must no longer pander to fear and paranoia. We must stand up to the inflammatory incognizance and shut down the ignorant mob mentality when Covid anxiety shifts to full on Covid derangement. I get people are scared, but the facts don’t support that fear and it is time to dust ourselves off and move on.
The clinically vulnerable have been protected as well as they can be. Vaccination programmes are still rolling out but are doing very well. The fact of the matter is that as the vast majority of the clinically vulnerable have been fully vaccinated, and a solid number of those who aren’t vulnerable have been too. The circulation of a virus and its mutations in a low risk population will boost natural antibodies, shore up the protection given by the vaccine and widen immunity before we start entering the annual winter flu season again. Opening up fully – right now, in the height of summer when both vaccinated and natural antibodies are at their highest – will benefit people in the long run, not put them at more risk. This is why the precautionary principle isn’t just unworkable, it is actively working against biological and medical science!
It is time to drop all restrictions, all ridiculous mandates and get on with our lives with a full and complete return to travel. Now. No more border restrictions, no more expensive pre and post flight testing, no more allowing the Covid industry of expensive PCR tests to fleece passengers, no more allowing pharmaceutical companies to profiteer of this crisis, no more forced imprisonment in quarantine hotels, no more mask mandates on planes with overzealous sturmbannführer’s throwing everyone on no fly lists for non compliance regardless of discrimination law, and certainly no more talk of God damn vaccine passports.
It is over. Done. Time to return to normal.
The fact is the risk of covid19 to the majority is low. International health authorities are more than capable of monitoring how the virus spreads and issuing individual health warnings to those countries with poorer health care systems or slower vaccine rollout programmes, just like they have always done with any local outbreak of dozens of other diseases, but it is time for the blanket no travel advisories to end.
It is time for blanket mandates to disappear as people take up individual responsibility for their own health and make their own risk assessments again. Young fit and healthy? No advisory in the country you want to visit? Have all your advised travel vaccinations? Taking reasonable hygiene precautions like hand washing? Great! Go for it! Travel! Hell, it’s good enough for travel to countries with far more deadly diseases, right? But maybe you want to travel to a country that doesn’t have the best health care infrastructure and is still lagging in vaccine uptake. Maybe you are more clinically vulnerable than the average person, maybe you have your own health issues that make covid19, or any other disease for that matter, more of a risk for you personally, that’s okay, you can talk with a medical professional to make a risk assessment for you as an individual and make a choice that is right for you and the destination you are heading to! It is called individual health responsibility. It is taking an individual, nuanced approach to a complex health situation, not trying to hit everything with a one size fits all mallet.
It is time to draw the line under this collective insanity caused by an extreme precautionary principle and take back our freedom. There is a vast pent up demand – and physical, emotional and psychological need – for travel, and a lot of countries desperate to welcome travellers back to their shores, with no clinical evidence to suggest they cannot do so safely.
The endless lockdowns and restrictions on hospitality and everyday life need to end on the promised date of 21st June now that the data can no longer justify them, and restrictions on international travel need to end then too. No more delays, no more excuses, no more fearmongering. It’s time to get back to a real normality. It is time we got back on those planes and it is time we opened up international travel completely.
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