Public Health Policies and COVID-related Travel Restrictions Vary Globally

By Malcolm Quattlebaum

The traveling landscape has changed drastically since COVID-19 turned the world upside down a year and a half ago. The pandemic caused 2020 to be the worse statistical year for tourism ever. That was until the numbers for this year’s tourism statistics came out. Today, many people around the world are reluctant to travel due to the surge of new coronavirus variants and related traveling restrictions, making 2021 tourism numbers just as bad, and may end even worse than last year.

In an official report published by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the data shows, “that over the first five months of the year, world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than the pre-pandemic year of 2019. However, the data does point to a relatively small upturn in May, with arrivals declining by 82% (versus May 2019), after falling by 86% in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.”

Although the stats show that most people have suppressed their travel bug, this is not the case for everyone. A large group of people have still been taking advantage of current low airfare rates and exploring the world. Of course, public health restrictions and policies are in place, though they vary from country to country.

Denver Urban Spectrum caught up with two Denver residents who have traveled internationally this past year, to get an insight on international travel during a pandemic.

Dr. Ryan Ross, 40, recently traveled to and from Uganda as well as Rwanda. He visited those countries as a liaison for the Urban Leadership Foundation. His trip was part of the foundation’s new international leadership program that provides African American leaders from the United States an opportunity to connect with leaders from the continent of Africa.

Though Ross is fully vaccinated, he had to go through the same procedures as the unvaccinated most of the time.

“Honestly, I don’t think there was a difference. I still had to take multiple COVID tests and pass within 72 hours. I still had to show proof of those COVID tests to reenter any of the countries that we went to. I think having the vaccine, from my perspective, is about safety and being safe when you embark on travel,” he said.

When visiting Rwanda, Ross was required to take COVID tests and show a negative result. However, in the Congo, just 930 kilometers away, no COVID test was needed upon entry whether you were vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Geoffrey Moussavou, 24, is a Denver resident who is from the Congolese in Africa. Moussavou traveled to three distinctively different countries this past year: Mexico, France, and the Congo. He is not vaccinated and had different experiences in each country he visited. He encountered no issues when traveling to the Congo, as they did not require him to show any proof of vaccination or to take a COVID test. He explained that many African countries don’t necessarily push the vaccine. They also take a much more relaxed approach to traveling policies, rooted in the lack of trust in Western medicine.

Western medicine has a bad reputation with Africans, “so I can never believe them when it comes to healthcare,” Moussavou explained.

Congo’s laissez-faire demeanor about the vaccine allowed him to enjoy his trip with little to no vaccination requirements. As he said, he had a great time. This, however, was not the case when he traveled to France. Pandemic or not, France will always be a tourist hotspot. The Paris Charles de Gaulle airport has one of the more rigorous travel guidelines and policies in the world.

Similar to Ross’s experience on his way to Uganda and Rwanda, Moussavou encountered strict polices in Paris where all travelers were required to take a COVID test and show a negative result regardless of their vaccination status. However, given that he was not vaccinated, he did notice a difference in airport employees’ attitudes.

“When I went to France I saw a bit of unfairness. The workers were rougher and tougher with the unvaccinated, and treated and talked to the vaccinated with more kindness, and airport COVID tests are expensive,” he said.

All in all, Ross told us he had an amazing time in Africa. The biggest obstacle that he had to overcome was the constant rules and regulations that were changing in real time. He would sometimes leave one country, and when he returned, different health clearances were in place. None the less, he was able to overcome all COVID restrictions and policies and had a successful trip.

Moussavou has been traveling internationally his whole life and has been to several countries. He mostly has the time of his life while traveling. Conversely, this time around was less enjoyable.

“I love discovering new cultures, but I didn’t have as much fun as I usually do because things were closed, and people had attitudes. I give it a six out of ten, whereas usually, my trips are nine out of ten or even ten out of ten,” he said.

Both men plan to travel some more before the year is up. Ross will be staying stateside and traveling to Kansas. Moussavou is planning to go to Gabon in a few weeks. If past experience is any indication, traveling policies are likely to have changed since his last trip.

Due to the changing situation, researching the COVID regulations of your destination is useful if you plan on traveling. If traveling internationally and even in some American states, you should also expect to take COVID tests and be prepared to be turned back if your results are positive.