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Changing travel dynamics in Covid-19 pandemic area( part 1)

The Corona virus disease (COVID-19) is caused by an emerging strain of corona virus (SARS-Cov-2). As at 11th May 2020, 4,006,257 cases had been documented globally with 88, 891 new cases documented over a 24- hour period while 278,892 deaths had occurred. 

Given the current wide-spread local transmission of COVID 19, there are a lot of infected people without symptoms. When uncertain about your covid-19 status, it is advised to stay home! If you need to go out, ensure that you practice 2 metres distancing in public places; wear a face mask; avoid crowds; hand hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer (ensure it is 70%ethanol); when back home – there is still risk of transmission IN THE HOUSE so ensure proper hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds and disinfection of surfaces. If you have been out and you are suspicious, self-quarantine at home, and be vigilant of the earliest symptom you may develop – dry cough; sore throat; fever; difficulty breathing.

Look out for inability to smell and or inability to taste, these two symptoms are highly indicative of COVID-19! With symptoms call your doctor by phone or NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control). What seems to be working well in Nigeria is EARLY presentation for treatment! COVID-19 is not something to be ashamed of, do not hide it, call for early diagnosis and support!!

As we continue to battle this pandemic, the importance of protecting the health of individual travellers as well as safeguarding the health of the communities to which they return cannot be overstated. Travellers are as unique as their itineraries, covering all age ranges and some having pre-existing health concerns and conditions, especially the elderly. The infectious disease risks that travellers face are dynamic and presently as the world faces the COVID 19 pandemic, it should be noted that some travel destinations have become safer, while in other areas, new diseases have emerged and other diseases have re-emerged.

Considering the huge impact of the COVID 19 pandemic, it is safe to assume that marked changes will be experienced in dynamics of travel involving the travellers, countries, airports/ airlines, and the tourism business. Travel has undergone a marked change following the 9/11 attack and it is believed that the current pandemic which is the new “terrorism” will trigger similar effects. Several changes are already happening and many more are recommended before airports can open safely for commercial flights.

It is predicted that initially there will be less travellers especially within the first few months of travel resumptions. Research done by International Airline Travel Association (IATA) showed that only 14% of travellers are comfortable with resuming air travels once the restrictions are lifted while 40% will wait for at least after 6 months before resuming flights. This might also be due to shortage of funds for non-essential travels.

A large chunk of job losses with businesses closing have been attributed to the pandemic. There might be a reduction in the population of older travellers compared with the younger age groups who are less averse to risk. There may also be an increased demand for direct flights to avoid stop overs to minimise exposure/contact especially at busy airports.

Passengers might also prefer destinations closer home rather than far distances at the beginning of the lifting of the lockdowns. This can be attributed to the fear of another lockdown from possible worsening of the pandemic.

On arrival at the airports, international travellers may be required to show some type of immunity document, and this could include proof of vaccination when such becomes available. They might also be needed to undergo arrival temperature checks at airports or even tests for COVID 19. At destination countries, there might be need for periods of quarantine after arrival until an effective vaccine is found for coronavirus.

Experts believe that the process of checking in at the airports will be longer and more thorough. This is because social distancing, sanitation of passengers and luggage, wider spaces for boarding will be the new norm.

Slower turnaround between flights can also be anticipated due to the need for more thorough cleaning of cabins and sanitary measures at the airport. Among the steps under consideration, there might be no cabin bags, no lounges, compulsory use of face masks, surgical gloves, self- check- in, self-bag-drop-off, immunity passports, on-the spot-test, and sanitation disinfection tunnels (‘travel bubbles’). There might also be demarcations in the waiting areas to ensure social distancing, larger spaces for waiting, protective barriers at customer service counters, thermal scanning for body temperatures and UV disinfection.Digital technology will also play a role in the future of air travel.

The need to reduce “touchpoints” at airports will encourage the use of biometric boarding that allows passengers to use their faces as passports. British Airways, Qantas and EasyJet are already using this technology. According to World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the new normal will be almost exclusive use of online check-ins and contactless payments.

On the planes, there may be blocked seats, personnel in protective gear and masks. While some airlines are considering removing the middle seats in the economy class, one airplane interior company has come up with concepts for adapting the economy class cabins. It is aimed at the middle seating passengers facing the opposite direction from the passengers at the window and aisle seats. This is to ensure maximum distancing between passengers seated next to each other.

In addition, each seat is fixed with transparent material to prevent breath propagation on those in adjacent seats. Although, there are no guarantees that these measures will eventually be adopted, this shows that companies are already coming up with innovative concepts that will change air travel.

According to WTTC, travelling in the ‘new normal’ age requires coordinated actions, including new standards and protocols for a safe and responsible road to recovery for the global Travel and Tourism sector as consumers start planning trips again.

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