This post has been updated in September 2021.
There’s no doubt that the overwhelming impact of the current Coronavirus pandemic represents something which was previously unimaginable for most of us, at least during our lifetimes. Things happened so fast that it suppressed even the imaginative minds of various conspiracy theorists. Its dominance in the news and later in everyone’s daily lives have been just impossible to ignore. The impact of COVID-19 appears to be affecting everyone around the world on an individual basis as well as collectively, testing the state of our humanity.
Whether it is a grandma, who’s lost her beloved husband; a cleaner that lost his job because the hotel where he worked is closed; the small café owner, who can’t keep up with her loan with a closed shop or it could be a millionaire, such as Richard Branson who’s refusing to pay his staff during the upcoming crisis because he’s only worth about 4bn and his little “space flights tourism” is a more important issue for him to care for.
Then there were travellers from the heavily affected areas stranded in foreign countries, where they were getting more and more looks from some locals as if they were the cause of their upcoming Coronavirus-related problems. The impact of Coronavirus has been basically affecting every part of our society and it may change the way we think and act forever. I personally believe that it will bring the best out of most people and only time will show if my belief in humanity was correct. I certainly hope so.
On the other hand, there are also few people that are eager to gain some profit out of the crisis as well as people spreading lies, fear and hate. One way or another, Coronavirus is presenting everyone with a massive challenge. The way we react to the current crisis as individuals, as well as societies, will tell us a lot about who we really are. It will show us the state of our humanity.
Coronavirus and Backpackers
Instead of talking about the general actions of various opportunists, who are trying to use this unfortunate situation to cash out, regardless of whether they come from the political or business background, I have decided to conclude on research I’ve unintentionally conducted by following numerous backpacker forums from around the globe.
When it comes to morality, I’ve concluded that backpackers’ reactions to Coronavirus are proving to vary from philanthropy and compassion up to pure opportunism equally across societies, interest groups or nations. IMHO, the range of attitudes displayed by individual backpackers only reflects the reactions of everyone in the world to some extend, only on a different scale, when facing slightly different problems, all in relation to the dynamic development of the situation around COVID-19 disease.
Backpackers’ FAQ: Early Stages
Given the rapid development of the situation and the spread of the virus in Latin America as well as South East Asia, things evolved quickly for travellers as well as for locals. Backpackers’ online forums reflected the evolution of the problem adequately. The early enquiries often indicated a certain level of ignorance towards the virus. People have often asked about first restrictions regarding public transport or what national parks are still open.
The questions soon inevitably changed to enquire about what borders are still open, and later they shifted further into the latest “am I allowed to make the transfer in this or that airport?” type of queries because the flights back to Europe or North America became rare and expensive.
General reasons for underestimation of COVID-19
People furthermore discussed the scope of the situation, exchanged tips regarding how things are in various places as well as airports. The numbers of those ignoring the whole situation have begun shrinking rapidly, together with the imposed travel restrictions as well as because of the fact that many have begun to understand that unlike many alleged global outbreaks in the past, COVID-19 is actually a serious global threat.
I therefore personally believe that the reason why many people underestimated the current outbreak in its early stages is the sensational and panic-spreading type of reporting covering SARS-CoV-2 and MERS–CoV outbreaks by the media in 2003, respectively in 2012.
Without trying to downplay the tragic impact those two viruses had, especially for the relatives of those nearly two thousand victims those two outbreaks claimed, the global-threat and alleged estimated scope of SARS-CoV-2 and MERS–CoV reported by media back then proven to be rather incorrect click-bait type of journalism.
Tone-shift in discussions
Like for me, for many others, it was the reports from hospitals in China or Italy, the COVID-19 situation moved out of our TVs and newspapers into real life. The reactions to the posts enquiring about how to move around Patagonia or how to cross the border from Laos to Thailand turned from previously helpful and informative answers to #stayathome
In a matter of days, the numbers of those who proudly say that they don’t fear the virus without even considering the fact that they still spread the virus onto vulnerable people shrunk to a minimum, while the reactions to such posts recorded rising numbers of comments pleading for responsibility. The mood has basically shifted a lot in just under a week.
Some travellers began to feel sorry for themselves, blaming all sorts of things for COVID-19, such as the meat-eaters because it’s believed that the virus was contracted in the market with wild animals in Wuhan. Others became activists to save tourism and the jobs the whole industry keeps alive by calling for everyone to postpone their trips, rather than cancelling them altogether.
Inevitably, there are also some people who behave like they were the centre of the Universe, expecting everyone else to stop and allow them to skip the queue because they were caught by surprise while ignoring all the #stayathome and other numerous warnings of border closures. “Embassy is doing nothing for us, we’ve tried calling 4 times and the line is busy, the border officers do not let us out of the country to catch our flight, we need to search for escape routes illegally and so on.” All that is, of course, blasted all over the travel forums, like some adventurous anti-system set of selfies ):
Locals in distress
Some locals began to show fewer sympathies towards the travellers from the affected countries, fearing to get infected by them as well as showing the growing frustration with some backpackers they often rightly consider arrogant and privileged ungrateful prats who take many things for granted.
Other locals, on the other hand, have shown compassion and offered assistance to the stranded and now also rather stressed-out travellers. All sorts of acts and emotions surface during the days when people are being heavily tested by nearly extreme measures.
Restrictions, options and law: Early Stages
In some countries, police begun visiting hostels, forcing travellers to pay for two weeks upfront in order to stay in self-isolation, elsewhere, hostels were shut down in order to protect the locals. Repatriations are being organised by some countries but many travellers were still stranded in remote areas without any public transport services, often as far as 30+ hours by taxi away from the airports they needed to get to, not being able to reach their embassies due to the overload of the systems.
Fines were imposed if one’s caught moving in quite a few countries now and the official repatriation documentation from one’s embassy was required in order to be on the move legally. In the meantime, with the self-isolation imposed in many countries, the travellers’ discussions became thicker as people spend more time online now.
Many travellers have been also offering helpful inside stories of those who have managed to catch one of the last flights out of the country/continent, others are organising various retreats in isolated places for those who didn’t manage to leave to wait for the problem out in accordance with the authorities’ instructions.
Concerns, principals, privileges and understanding
From the morality point of view, the discussions’ discourse shifted adequately with the spread of the virus. Some of us show large amounts of understanding of the situation, some are more concerned about our own interests and situations. One way or another, it is perfectly natural to enquire about your concerns in the days when borders are closed, flights cancelled, while you’re stuck in a foreign country, while expensive tours people paid for are not refunded due to various reasons.
Everyone has their own story to say and no one should judge others for voicing their problems in a form of a question, even though it might come across as a First World kind of problem. There’s nothing wrong if someone wants to know more details and other people’s experiences when facing the same issues. The moralists however kicked in and some debates have now quickly turned into discussing privileges, principles, economic differences between the travellers and so on.
Coronavirus and the state of humanity
In the meantime, certain politicians are proving to be rather incompetent and others are playing the nationalist card to score few political points. There are also some opportunists doing good business with face masks, hygienic products, inside information at the stock exchange and so on. Furthermore, in spite of all the reports and pleads, there are still people who ignore the risk of infecting others.
Anyway. Many of us have learned a lot about ourselves, our societies and the state of our humanity. Our words and actions reflected who we really are. As far as how we’re doing as a human race, we’ve been witnessing a tight battle between compassionate humanity and opportunistic human nature. In case you were interested in how I believe we’re doing, here’s a minute by minute report from “the match“…
12+ months later: Welcome to 2021
From about November 2020 onwards, some Hotels and hostels are slowly opening for business and travel restrictions are more or less being slowly lifted in some countries. The economic impact on the travel industry will be staggering, especially in SEA and Latin America, where there are whole communities dependent on the income from the tourism industry.
At the same time, several popular attractions have re-opened their gates to visitors, providing them with an unprecedented opportunity of getting to normally super-crowded places, such as Machu Picchu only with very few fellow tourists, because the current numbers are only a fraction of the pre-Corona levels.
Travellers are still divided on the issue of travelling during the pandemic. On one hand, there are those who believe that it’s responsible not to travel during the pandemic to prevent the further spreading of the virus. On the other hand, there are those who believe that it’s OK to travel. This divide is however not so black&white. The whole issue is just very complex, while the travel restrictions are being slowly lifted, but the whole thing is a mess.
On one hand, there are also various reasonable pro-travel arguments that travelling will help the local communities if measures are taken to prevent the spreading. The counter-argument to that often is that some countries have weaker health systems and taking extra people won’t help the problem. Others have quit their jobs to take the long-awaited trip and decided not to go.
And as you can see in the example above, then there are few rather self-righteous ignorant people that loudly proclaim that the virus is not dangerous for young people so it has nothing to do with them or that they are “not pussies” as for not scared of the virus.
The nemesis of that attitude is a new phenomenon called travel-shaming, which has picked up rather fast among backpackers in their forums. As a result, some admins don’t allow the discussion about the ethics of travelling during the pandemic as the debates are heated and often turn into insults fast.
Mark Twain once said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Well, I guess that he was only partially right. But then again: What does open-mindedness really mean?
I personally believe that Coronavirus is here to stay. Yes, the vaccination will ease it but it won’t eradicate the virus completely. IMHO, the restrictions will be loosened to protect the vulnerable only and the rest of us will get on with our daily lives (and not kill the economy entirely) while COVID-19 will be around for a while, the same way as Hep C, Dengue or Malaria and other mortal infections already are. Even though the latter ones are not human-to-human transmittable diseases, they are still deadly and around. And people live in the affected areas.
Altered travel plans are however just the First World kinda problem if we look at the bigger picture. I am personally more afraid of the economic and social impact. One thing is large businesses and the global economic growth numbers, but the other thing is normal people. Receptionists, waiters, bus drivers, tour guides, but also people from the entertainment and other industries lost their jobs together with many smaller enterprises closing down ):
And let’s not ignore the threat of the deeper polarisation of our already divided societies as well as the rise of extremist views that will most likely follow unless humanity and decency both kick in for all of us to show our better side…
In the meantime, tons of misinformation kept being spread all over the Internet. Please do not underestimate the fact that we are currently being carpet-bombed by negative news. Mental Hygiene might have sounded like something you didn’t need to consider paying attention to, but if you’re in lockdown, please take care of your mental health. Here’s some reading on that subject, in case you were interested
Stay safe and healthy wherever you are 🖖🖖🏿
The featured image of the new visualisation of the Covid-19 virus is by Fusion Medical Animation from Unsplash