Does anyone know or have an inkling of when borders will be reopened?
May 5, 2020 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm probably worrying unnecessarily, but there are few answers out there and I don't think the media is accurate when it reports on certain things. I don't feel they are doing it on purpose, but I get the feeling that they do not have an understanding of the big picture as a whole when it comes to reporting scientific findings.

Anyway, I guess I'm worried because I need to travel at the end of next year. I don't think things can possibly stay shut down that long, but I was wondering if anyone knew more about what is going on with international travel.

Also, if travel is restored, how will it be different? I doubt everything is just going to back to how it was. There will surely be restrictions and new regulations as far as this is concerned.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Travel & Transportation around Montréal, QC (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I wrote almost this answer in response to another COVID In the future question last night, but I think it bears repeating: No one knows, or can know, yet. I don’t believe this is a case of scientists or the media intentionally keeping knowledge they have from the public. You’re probably right that media outlets aren’t able to communicate all the nuance of what scientists understand today, but even if you read some of the papers that are being published, it’s not like there’s a firm scientific consensus out there yet. New (and sometimes contradictory) info is consistently being discovered by studies and published and hashed out by researchers, which is how that works, even in non-pandemic times. It’s more a case of “this whole situation is still rapidly evolving, both in terms of what we think we know about the virus, and in terms of how various governments are responding to what they think they know.” At this point so many things could happen between now and next year that any predictions one would try to make are of limited utility.

I think it’s reasonable to expect that international travel will see restrictions for the foreseeable future. Will we have 14-day quarantines on crossing national borders? It’s possible, although the political will of the particular countries to prevent spread, weighed against perceived economic impact, will play. It also depends on how treatable this thing becomes. If effective treatments are identified, then everything becomes less scary. If they aren’t, then maybe things stay scarier. I’d plan for your plans to not go as planned for the time being, at least.

In that other thread, someone said “we get through this one day at a time,” and I feel like that’s about the best advice anyone can give. I wish I had more comforting certainty to offer, both for your sake and mine. This is a really tough time even for people who are not directly impacted yet.
posted by Alterscape at 8:40 AM on May 5, 2020 [19 favorites]

Also I would expect that borders between certain countries that have close relationships and low case rates will open sooner than others. For example, Australia and New Zealand are talking about a travel bubble. So this will be dependent on the countries involved.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:44 AM on May 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

There is no simple answer and no one place to find out - each country with restrictions is monitoring and updating as they go. Even within the Schengen area all countries that have imposed restrictions have come up with their own timetables.

Check the travel advisory guidance issued by your government and the government of the country you’re looking to travel to. Their local embassy or consulate in your home country should also be able to advise you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:44 AM on May 5, 2020

With the caveat that I am just offering my opinion as an anonymous Interneteer: I think its pretty safe to assume that international travel will be possible by the end of next year (December 2021, right?)

I do think its very likely that the cost of international travel will skyrocket, mostly because there will be the required introduction of safety measures, like temperature checks, less people per plane, masks, etc, that will cost money. And airlines, whose budgets are based on an unfortunate combination of government subsidy and razor-thin profit drawn from customers, will be passing on that operating cost directly to individual flyers.

One last caveat! If we enter an elongated period of "hammer and dance" - ie, some months where we physically isolate, then come out and "open the economy", back and forth - I guess there's the chance that your travel time would fall in one of those closed periods.
posted by RajahKing at 8:50 AM on May 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

We have been told in Ireland that there will be no international travel this year. Imagine we'll reopen travel across the EU first and then international travel will open on a country by country basis.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:55 AM on May 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes, everything is speculation at this point and requires guesses about both scientific facts (how infectious is it? is immunity after it robust? will there be a seasonal flare up each winter?) and policy responses (both in the next 3 months and over the next two years). With an extra dose of wondering what the treatment landscape will look like at the end of 2021.

If I were laying odds on one relevant thing it would be that most countries will have vastly improved testing capacity and travel policies could take into account high probabilities of detecting virus at the border.
posted by mark k at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PS: When I meant late next year, I'm talking about August - September.

Not that it matters much, but still worth mentioning it.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 10:01 AM on May 5, 2020

Nthing that no one can know but it’s hard not to assume that restrictions will be long-lasting not just because of Covid but because now we know what it looks like generally when constant high volume international travel intersects with a highly contagious disease. It would be unbelievably short sighted to assume this is the only time something like this is going to happen and go back to the conditions that made it a pandemic in the interest of tourism and in-person business meetings. Of course, people are very short-sighted so maybe I’m wrong.
posted by less of course at 10:16 AM on May 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The answer to your question about when international travel will come back/re-open/be as easy as it was before Covid-19 is “it depends where you are going and how you get there”, for at least the next few years. Many borders are open now and some commercial flights are still indeed operating across borders, sometimes with government help and sometimes not. It’s just that no airline wants to fly empty planes and so many just aren’t flying much at all.

However, I will also say that most of those borders are open now only to citizens and residents of destinations, and only then with certain conditions most non-resident travellers like tourists or businesspeople aren’t willing or able to meet. Here in Hong Kong, we aren’t admitting non-residents at the airport at all right now, and while I can leave easily enough, coming back is a mess that will crush demand for leisure travel for a while and which is only passably tolerable for locals.

For example, I could fly home to the USA today with my US passport on a direct Cathay Pacific flight and then return here as a Hong Kong resident, but I’d be tested for Covid-19 on arrival at Hong Kong airport in a process that takes, currently, between 3 and 24 hours (late arrivals are sent to a single government-contracted hotel to await their test results) and, presuming I test negative, would then be confined to my home for 14 days with a tracking app and wristband, subject to a massive fine if I leave the geofence around my apartment. (If you’re positive, it’s an ambulance straight to the hospital.) And our quarantine is not just that you can’t leave the building - it’s that you can’t leave your room or flat at all, so no pool or gym or mailroom to pick up any package that can’t be brought to your door. A hassle for a local, a nightmare for a tourist.

This would be highly annoying, but local labour law says people quarantined are still paid their normal wages as if they were on sick leave and every grocery store and restaurant delivers. I’d be very bored but ultimately fine, because I have a house and speak the language and have friends here who I can rely on for support.

Furthermore, the story for who is allowed into jurisdictions near us like the Mainland of China, Macau and Taiwan is different; the Mainland is not letting in visa-holding non-citizen residents but we are, for example. This might change in the coming weeks; no one knows.

So I say don’t think about travel as a whole. Instead look at your destination’s official/public media to get a handle on local incremental changes/loosening of arrival procedures. For example, this week in the news, there has been talk that we may let the 20,000 Hong Kong resident children who actually reside on the Mainland in Shenzhen who commute here for school every day come back for half-day lessons starting in June. We may be allowed to travel to Taiwan and Macau without a quarantine period on our return or when we arrive there. We may mutually recognise quarantine documentation from a place where you have just finished 14 days in quarantine as good enough.

Steps like these will come before we just allow in anyone who wants to come here. That’s what to look out for more than media reports in your own country about whether international travel is “back” or whether airlines are flying as much.
posted by mdonley at 11:28 AM on May 5, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: For an idea of what the experience of flying might look like beyond whether or not borders might be open, check out these guidelines Air Canada announced a couple days ago. Mandatory masks, temp screening, spaced seating (no adjacent seats), increased disinfection measures, limited menu items... Nightmarish, but in a boring normal air travel way that I find deeply reassuring.
posted by Freyja at 11:30 AM on May 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: People will be doing their utmost to maintain certain types of travel even if this has not gotten under control and we are not essentially back to normal. If we don't get manufactured goods from Vietnam and China, if there isn't a sizeable import and export of food and fuel and medicine, then you're talking the complete collapse of civilization and we can assume that you will have to attempt your journey by bicycle. I don't think it's the collapse of civilization, not unless we add a big war and some climate change to our drama.

Much will depend on how you travel, why you travel and where you are traveling to. For example there is not much more danger moving potatoes from Idaho to Massachusetts than there is running them over the border to Saskatchewan, and if the pandemic is going hot and heavy in one area and not the other there will be a protocol to allow the truck drivers to cross, leave a full truck and return with an empty, although at the worst it will involve much paperwork and trailers being parked unopened for fourteen days. I don't think that's likely to be the case. I think that if you pass your screening and go into the official kind of quarantine on the other side they will let people cross a high traffic border like the the one between the US and Canada.

I suspect this summer we will have some disastrous crop failures due to blocking the movement of seasonal agricultural workers and by next summer they will be working very hard on finding a solution to the problem of labour. Since it takes about three years training to get an agricultural labourer up to an efficient level, I suspect they will figure out how to allow those workers in and out, after we have lost huge volumes of crops, even where they manage to get huge numbers of untrained newly unemployed local labourers to turn out into the fields. So I believe that there will be the movement of people who will be allowed to cross international borders to work in other countries. But not all borders will be permeable and which borders will be open will depend on the individual circumstances.

There is talk of the US defaulting on their enormous government debt to China, as retaliation for their being the epicenter of the pandemic, holding them at fault for its spread. Very likely this won't happen. Even if it does that could lead to a lot more human traffic as frantic corporations send employees in both directions to try to keep supply and purchasing lines open. It could still turn into a completely closed border if too many ego-driven leaders get into a pissing contest. In that case if you were leaving from the US you'd need to go to another country that was open first to get into China, much the way that everything going from Britain to Germany and back mainly went through Switzerland during the Second World War. If you are Chinese you could probably find a way to leave the US, go to say, Russia and travel from there and they will let you in. If you are American born and want to go visit your wife's homeland to make arrangements for your in-laws seniorcare getting into China could present extreme difficulties. It will really matter who you are and why you are traveling and where from and to.

Also, borders may exist that did not previously exist. For example you might have no trouble whatsoever going from Ohio into Canada if Ohio gets control of its pandemic, but have no chance to get to Ohio from Florida, if Florida is in major trouble at the time you want to travel and the only traffic allowed in and out is food convoys that have jumped through the necessary hoops to bring subsistence supplies through the pandemic barricades. Any border anywhere could be closed even if there are no cases and no risk because once it got closed it hasn't been reopened. But this is unlikely, and would tend to occur only where the people on one side of the border are hostile and scared of the people on the other side.

It is not likely that things will be in that kind of terrible shape by August of next year. My best guess as an amateur armchair epidemiologist and historian is that in some areas of the US things are going to get really bad for a few weeks to maybe three or four months because they are doing nothing whatsoever to contain it, and with the number of deaths in the community and the overloaded refrigerated trucks, people will put themselves into lock down simply because the store managers and the bus drivers and the factory workers are not going to work, even if it means getting fired. You lose your auntie and then two people from your shift are incommunicado in some hospital facility getting oxygen and you kind of get motivated to call in sick yourself. The denialists will still keep stomping around but their hairdresser won't be open, and neither will be the Bass Pro Shop or the Hobby Lobby so they'll end up hanging out at each other's homes drinking. Most of them will survive just fine even if they get the virus, of course, because most people do. Next winter there will likely be another maybe even large peak of infections but by next winter we will have had a whole year to figure out how to keep things running.

Let's say, improbably, that twenty percent of the population is going to die of Covid-19 between now and the date you need to leave. If they all die by January then everything can easily be back up and running in time for you journey. If they die in successive waves you got problems as our societies play whack-a-mole trying to close down every new outbreak. However over a year from now our societies are going to be pretty practiced at their whack-a-mole game, whether their solution is to throw up barbed wire and shoot anyone trying to cross, or if their response is more supportive and they are instead rushing locally manufactured medical supplies and bus convoys of medical workers to the hot spot. By the end of next summer you will know what to expect if there is a flare up that concerns you.

My biggest concern is what happens if the airlines you want to take are pretty much out of business. Say you need to fly from Montreal to Europe, somehow, but Air Canada has been privatized after going highly bankrupt: There may not be very many flights. You may need to fly where Air Canada will take you instead of to your actual destination, as Alitalia may not be landing in Canada and Air Canada may not get any closer to Italy than Schipol, and while there are some flights to Italy from the Netherlands, seats are so limited you can't get one, so you end up having to fly from Schipol to Germany, quarantine there for fourteen days and only then get permitted to take the train down to Lombardi after supplying proof that you have medical insurance of at least $1,000,000 Canadian. Expect travel delays and interruptions as they say.

But you're not going be the first person trying to get from your country to wherever it is you have to go, so the information on how and what you need to know will be available well before your departure date - what is key is making sure you know what you need to know long before you have to travel. All those tourists still stuck in different places got no lead in time because one day all they had to do was go on line and book tickets, and the next day the tickets were sold out at no matter what price, and two days later those sickeningly expensive evacuation flight tickets were useless because all flights had been cancelled.

But by August of next year the information you need to travel will be available. In February of next year you'll be finding out about which airlines are still in business and which are teetering, and be researching how far ahead you have to book tickets and if there is any medical insurance available, and if there are any special visas you need or if you need to get a certain test at a certain point and how you get that test and how you pay for it...

By August of next year all this is going to feel normal.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:15 PM on May 5, 2020 [10 favorites]

If you're worried because you need to travel for visa, residency, or citizenship purposes (for example, your visa in your current location expires by then and you have to leave, or you're awaiting a decision and that decision can only be made when you're physically in that country), contact the local embassy and the Department of Home Affairs/Immigration/Border Control/whichever is relevant for both countries. For example, if you're in the US and you've been approved for Australian permanent residency but you have to be in Australia to finalise it, contact the nearest Australian embassy in the US as well as the Department of Home Affairs in Australia. Or if you're in the US on a temporary visa and need to get out by then, contact US Border Control.

They may not be able to predict that far ahead, but the advice they'd give you if you had to move now could be used as a guide. I'm about to apply for Australian citizenship, which requires that I be here in Australia when they make the decision - they're still taking applications but have postponed all interviews. Some of this information isn't necessarily going to be apparent on their websites - you may need to call to learn more.
posted by divabat at 4:35 PM on May 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

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