The Taste by Vir Sanghvi: Why I am not travelling abroad
In this week's The Taste, Vir Sanghvi shares, "I fear being stuck in a strange country with Covid and recent stories from the Maldives are not reassuring."
I write this minutes after I have cancelled two trips scheduled for the next week. The first was a work trip to Bangalore. As of now, things are not so bad in the Karnataka capital but the numbers of Covid cases are rising and my colleagues and I both felt that it would be too risky to plan meetings that required travel.
The second one was to Dubai. By the time I was due to leave for Dubai, I would have had both my Covid jabs and my hosts assured me that something like fifty per cent of the population of Dubai was already vaccinated.
It was not, they said, like the situation that prevailed over Christmas/New Year when lots of people went to Dubai, said they had a great time and then suddenly vanished from view. It was only when you probed a little deeper that you discovered that they had all tested positive for Covid and were quarantining.
Though I was assured that those days were long gone, and that Dubai was quite safe now, I was still too much of a coward and cancelled the trip.
It made a difference to my state of mind, I think, that I had recently read about the Maldives experience. I went to the Maldives a month ago, had a great time and felt totally safe because you can’t enter the Maldives without a Covid test and staff at the top resorts are tested regularly. My trip passed without incident. I took another test before returning and seemed to have avoided any infection.
But after reading horror stories in the papers about less fortunate visitors to the Maldives, I am beginning to wonder if I was too hasty in recommending that Indian tourists take advantage of the cheap deals on offer in the islands.
According to an article in last week’s The Indian Express, a family that went to the expensive (but not deluxe) Dusit Thani resort in the Maldives were well-heeled and careful. They had tested negative for Covid but were told that a passenger who had sat near them on their flight to the Maldives had tested positive.
So they were tested again and found negative again. Even so, they were told they could not leave the resort for several days and were charged (though they did get discounts) for their additional days of enforced stay. The food at Maldivian resorts can be expensive so they paid upto $ 200 per head per day for meals plus the room rate and then, their Covid tests came to another $ 840.
Nobody who saves up for a holiday in the Maldives expects to pay for another 14 days in some of the world’s more expensive resorts. The Indian Express article quotes travellers who had budgeted ₹8 lakh for four or five days in an upmarket resort but ended up spending ₹30 lakh because of continued enforced detention and tests due to quarantine.
How do people test positive for Covid while on holiday in the Maldives when the government asks for negative PCR tests from all visitors? Well it is partly because the tests are usually done 72 hours before you land. The virus can take up to four or five days to show up in a test. So if you have just been infected, the virus will not be detected till you have begun your stay in the Maldives.
Besides, there is nothing to stop you from being infected on the flight to the Maldives (and flights have been jam-packed), at the airport, on the sea-plane to your resort or from picking it up from a staff member at your hotel --- only the top resorts test every staff member very regularly. Others take the line that because the resort is isolated and staff don’t leave, the chances of staff being infected is low.
I guess the reports about the Maldives worried me because, though travel restrictions around Covid have eased, my biggest fear is still of testing positive in a foreign country and ending up stuck there. This usually involves either shelling out lakhs on hotel bills or being carted off to a not-very-nice government facility. Neither prospect is very appealing.
All this is particularly depressing because at some subliminal level, we thought that, after a year of suffering, Covid was behind us. I don’t know what is responsible for the current rise in cases but there is no doubt that Covid is back.
The upsurge has something to do with our lax Covid discipline. We don’t wear masks, we go to crowded places, we participate in large gatherings and we don’t know what social distancing means. (In Delhi where Covid has made a comeback you can gather 200 people in a hall for a wedding and even that limit is regularly flouted.)
But is this enough of an explanation for the upsurge? Most laypeople will wonder if there is a more easily transmissible variant of the virus spreading though our country. A government expert has denied this but given that this same expert had told us last year that Covid would fade away by May 2020, forgive me for not being entirely convinced.
In the UK, where a similar surge occurred, they found a new variant and aggressively vaccinated their population. Their numbers are going down. India wasted too much time getting the vaccine process into full gear, at least partly because the medical bureaucratic establishment was so reluctant to let the private sector get involved. Even now, we are not moving fast enough.
What all of this means, is that for the foreseeable future, I am not going abroad. Even travel within India will be selective and restricted.
Till we understand more about this new wave of the pandemic, home is not such a bad place to be stuck at.
Home, safe, home!
For more stories by Vir Sanghvi read here