In the early stages of the response to COVID-19, officials acted quickly to curtail contagion by decreasing human movement and interaction. By May 2020, PEW Research Center reported that 91 percent of the global population lived in countries with travel restrictions, many closing their borders to international travelers. Now, as some countries seemingly move past their infection peak and develop plans to reopen borders, we witness glimmers of what travel may look like in a post-COVID-19 future.
Iceland acts as a pioneer of reopening, with plans to open borders to international travelers on June 15, through widespread testing and detailed tracking of travelers and citizens. I am left to speculate how Iceland’s clever strategies will influence the United States’ approach to opening borders for travelers:
Mandatory Testing Before Entry
Iceland plans to require every traveler to complete a COVID-19 quick-test upon entry. Since international travel initiated global spread of COVID-19, acquiring accurate virus case data will improve the safety of travelers and citizens. Thus, I expect the United States will implement a similar comprehensive testing strategy once borders reopen.
Tracking Travel Through Apps
In addition to testing, Iceland developed the Rakning C-19 tracing app to track the movements and proximity of individuals within the country. A user may report a positive test result to the app, which will then notify users who were in dangerous proximity to the confirmed case. So far, nearly 40 percent of Iceland’s population has downloaded the app.
I think tracing will be an important tactic for safely reopening borders in the United States. The app addresses the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 by decreasing the ambiguity of infection risk. The certainty offered through proximity monitoring may alleviate anxieties individuals face while readapting to public spaces. In addition, the tracing app will allow careful monitoring of viral spread.
Requiring Travel Health Insurance
I expect we will also see an increase in travel insurance requirements for international travelers. While testing and tracing help to reduce and pinpoint COVID-19 cases as borders open, health insurance coverage is necessary for travelers who do end up contracting the virus. I expect the U.S. will require proof of travel health insurance to cover travelers’ potential health care needs.
Opportunities and Threats of Reopening
We certainly face unprecedented circumstances for international travel, but I anticipate a quick recovery in consumers’ travel interests.
Many travelers received credits for flights canceled due to the travel restrictions, which I suspect they will eagerly use after living through months of restrictions. I also think free COVID-19 tests at airports may appeal to travelers since the COVID-19 experience included distinct test shortages and an associated heightened sense of uncertainty.
However, despite a recovering interest in travel, fear of potentially being quarantined in an airport persists. I hope this emerging anxiety inspires governments to develop initiatives that ensure safe and speedy return of their citizens. In addition, I hope airlines permanently maintain flexibility for rescheduled travel and canceled flights. Once travelers receive assurances that they can travel and return home safely, I believe travel will quickly resume.
I am watching hopefully as Iceland ramps up to welcome international travelers. We will see in the coming weeks if their combination of testing and tracking proves effective, and if other travel destinations choose to follow suit.