There was a period during the pandemic, somewhere near the beginning, where some optimism seeped through. Could this, like so many junctures of calamity in modern history, lead to a further interconnected world? One where a new era of transnational collaboration and unity could come to the forefront, placing shared humanity ahead of conflict, isolationism and individual pursuit. For all the utopic ideals that shrouded this optimism, there is historical precedent to consider some moves might have happened towards this. The past has frequently shown that widespread devastation tends to create, at least in name, incrementally progressive united efforts and shared objectives.
You need only look to World War One and the conception of the League of Nations, or the formation of its successor, the UN, just 30 odd years later, after the forces of the world locked horns once again. And past diseases have of course played similar roles, seen by the numerous international NGOs and agencies created in the fallouts of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
However, in times of hyper neoliberal capitalism, hopes of concerted unity were quickly forgotten. Borders tightened, fear of the outsider grew, and countries were eventually pitted against one another in ruthless battles of securing as many vaccinations as possible.
But it wasn’t just the governments of the world who turned inwards. Amongst the numerous stories of communal collaboration, for there were most certainly many, individualism grew. Toilet paper marauders gutted shops, some with hopes of extorting the panic and fear that had taken hold of many, whilst others did the same with PPE and hand sanitiser. Shops got in on the action too, as cases of price-gouging basic necessities saw an uptick. Pre-existing inequalities were laid bare and amplified, witnessed by increased inequity in access to food, healthcare, the growing gulf in exam results between attendees of private education institutions and those run by the state. It is hard to think of when the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ have been more apparent in living memory.
One constant indicator of wealth disparity is freedom of movement, the right to travel, be it for business or pleasure. A right that lately has not only been determined by a traveller’s liquidity or disposable income but by government-imposed restriction. Citizens, depending on the hastily conceived regulations of the first wave, faced travel restrictions, ranging from leaving their countries to their own homes. And, for a while, this levelled the playing field. It didn’t matter if you were on the board of an investment fund or a low-paid public servant – you weren’t going anywhere.
Then after the brief respite of summer 2020 and the rolling out of a new phase of lockdowns, slowly international travel started to become a choice for some again. Disgruntled by the new set of inconveniences imposed upon them, the ‘haves’ of the West looked to warmer climes, beaches accompanied by all-inclusive bars and places where they could ‘forget’ the spectre of Covid-19. Think of the sharing of holidays in Dubai by Western social media ‘influencers,’ seeming to taunt the majority back home with nothing but gloomy winter skies to look at from behind their windows and a few state-sanctioned excursions outside.

Although this wasn’t a trend just reserved for the movers and shakers of Instagram. Well-paid Europeans and North Americans, from a wide range of sectors, found ‘refuge’ in certain countries of the Global South, spurred on by lowered air fares and the promise of little to no restrictions upon arrival. Countries of destination decisively put the interests of tourists over the health and interests of their own citizens and continue to do so. Circumstances which have been capitalised by those ‘in need of a bit of sun’ and with the money and job security and flexibility to go find it.
Take Costa Rica as a prime example. The country opened back up for tourism in November 2020 and, with the added incentive of no negative PCR test required for entry, has seen steady increases in the number of foreigners visiting. In some efforts of curtailing the spread of the virus within the country, domestic travel restrictions have been imposed. Tellingly, rental vehicles are entirely exempt, and exceptions are provided for travel to and from airports and hotels. All with the clear aim of disturbing visiting holidaymakers and ‘remote workers’ as little as possible.
But the inability for Costa Ricans to move around their own country whilst foreigners go about with near freedom is not the only result of the government’s approach. The decision to allow restaurants, bars, hotels and resorts to remain open has put thousands of workers in direct danger of transmission. Case numbers rose dramatically during the second wave, doubling in April, with record infection and death rates witnessed in May. And in July, doctors reported they had begun treating patients for the aggressive Delta variant.
Similar relaxed approaches to Covid-19 have been seen in other Latin American countries, such as Mexico and Brazil, who combined have recorded over 23 million cases. Despite these concerning numbers, both continue to encourage international tourism, domestic travel and keeping life as open as possible.
Policy makers are undoubtedly put in difficult positions. Their countries have acted as holiday destinations for the West for considerable periods of time. Seasonal workers and entire economies are dependent on successive Western travel and, with few alternatives to fill potential deficits in GDP, there would be even more misery if tourists couldn’t visit in some capacity. This, however, does not excuse the lack of public health precautions taken or the outright denial of the dangers of Covid-19 by state officials. Neither does it excuse travelling to these destinations due to minimal restrictions, increasing the risk of transmission and putting strain on already overwhelmed healthcare systems.
Inequalities of the West are also hard to hide when we consider international travel during the pandemic. White-collar positions and higher have been reasonably secure. Under the conditions of ‘remote working,’ workers have been able to set up their offices anywhere, as long as they had a laptop and WIFI connection. The same opportunity was not available for those in traditionally blue-collar jobs, who were either allowed to continue working at limited capacity, took significant pay cuts under furlough schemes or left unemployed.

International travel, made widely accessible to so many in the West over the past 30 years, has reverted to a luxury of the privileged classes. Communities living in holiday destinations, who are restricted in movement at home and abroad, have no option but to face increased health risks in welcoming and ‘serving’ Western holidaymakers.
As the wealthier countries of the world continue their extensive vaccination programmes, poorer nations will only be left further behind. And with the likes of Branson, Musk and Bezos fighting to see who can get space tourism rolling first, handing out ‘golden tickets’ to those who really want to get away from it all and, of course, can meet the $450,000 (USD) price tag, the ability to ‘escape the pandemic’ and other future problems will only increase for the world’s wealthiest.
The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in terms of freedom of movement during the pandemic and for the foreseeable future looks set to widen at an astronomical rate.   

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