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First Covid-19 immobilized travel, now governments do

One of the great concerns about the pandemic was that it would hinder the global mobility of people and labour, perhaps permanently. Unfortunately, and these fears are being realized. As Covid-19 mutates, it is affecting not only tourism and business travel but migration more generally. 

Consider that after the end of the Vietnam War, the US took in more than 1-million Vietnamese migrants over a 20-year period. After the Soviet Union withdrew its troops in Afghanistan, it took in many Afghan refugees, and as with the Vietnamese migrants the results were very positive.

Fast forward to the present day. The US is not on track to take in many Afghan refugees at all. The political climate on immigration has turned much more negative, but there is also what is now being called the “the Covid talking point”. If a critic of refugee resettlement wants to freeze a risk-averse but otherwise sympathetic bureaucracy, he need only ask one simple question: “But how many of them are vaccinated?”

One can also be struck by the recent decisions of Croatia and Austria to place “expiration dates” on the vaccinations of visiting tourists. Until this decision, it sufficed to be vaccinated to visit either country, though there were possible other restrictions. Now, if it is 270 days since your last vaccine dose, your vaccinated status will no longer get you into the country.

This is especially discouraging because Croatia had been one of the most open countries to visitors. It also heralds a broader policy of continually shifting standards and uncertainty about travel restrictions. It just got more difficult to organize a group trip to Croatia for the spring of 2022, because who knows what the entry standards will look like by then.

In the US, President Joe Biden’s administration is now pushing third booster shots for people who already have been vaccinated. That might be a good idea, but it too creates additional uncertainty for travel and migration, and for social interaction more broadly. If three doses are so important, should people be allowed to travel (or for that matter interact indoors) with only two doses? The bar is raised yet again.

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