Josh Martin is a London-based Kiwi journalist.
OPINION: In less than a month New Zealanders will be able to travel to and from the UK without the need to hole up in a hotel upon return. For many, the end of the necessary evil of the MIQ lottery can’t come soon enough.
A long-haul flight back to Heathrow might be a 24-hour-plus slog, but you may find it’s fast-becoming a time warp back to a pre-Covid era. It’ll fog your brain worse than jet-lag.
This week UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a “Living With Covid” plan that all but ends mask mandates, contact tracing, self-isolation and free Covid tests. It continues a strange quirk of the pandemic I’ve witnessed as an expat, where the UK and New Zealand seem to experience the exact opposite stage at the same time.
* Boris Johnson scraps remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England
* Report concludes UK waited too long for Covid-19 lockdown
* How will travel insurance look in a Covid-19 world?
For arrivals touching down, this new Covid indifference may throw you (although it may prove alluring for certain campsite squatters in Wellington).
The number of my fellow bus or Tube passengers wearing face coverings has been dwindling since the end of January. A straw poll of those returning to work from my office just off Oxford Street reveals more of them have had Covid in the last year than are still using the National Health Service’s tracing app. I can’t remember the last time I saw somebody scan or sign in to a venue.
There are some exceptions to the rule (flights, healthcare settings) but the direction of travel is obvious: fan-filled stadiums sell out. Queues form outside West End theatres.The summer line-up of festivals is a drip, drip, drip of bank balance threats.
Call it Covid fatigue, faith in vaccines, or perhaps a certain numbness to outrage that could only come from repeated wrong calls in a pandemic that killed more than 160,000. And now, when the message from the top is that collective responsibility for public health can be shunned, the population – desperate for it to be over – begins to act like it is over.
So, failing some new menacing coronavirus variant, don’t be alarmed if your high Covid rule compliance is met with no appreciation from your host city, or even guilt.
Of course, it’s blindingly obvious to anybody following the data here that the virus is still very much present, even if it is receding. New cases were above 40,000 daily earlier this week and daily deaths still measure in the hundreds.
This laissez-faire approach to unwinding rules in the UK was seized upon by epidemiologists and some of Johnson’s own advisers as perhaps too optimistic should there be new variants.
Professor Anthony Costello, a professor of global health at University College London perhaps best summed it up by suggesting the UK’s ripping up of Covid rules “tells not only our population, but the world, that there really is nothing to worry about – that it’s over – when it isn’t”.
Unfortunately, the opening up of travel again between the two countries (albeit in a limited capacity at first) could coincide with Omicron’s peak in New Zealand in mid-to-late March.
I usually take a ‘when in Rome’ attitude to travel, but those of you visiting London or elsewhere in the UK from March would be wise to stick to the cautious Kiwi approach during these next months, hopefully out of consideration, but even if only to ensure you’re allowed to board your flight back home.