As Covid-19 cases are on the rise around the world, hopes that life can return to something close to normal by the summer are fading. What are our chances of going to a festival, flying on vacation or attending a big sporting event?
Doubts are growing about the desirability of moving forward with major international sporting events, including the postponed Tokyo Olympics and the Euro 2020 soccer tournament, this summer, as much of the world’s population is likely to remain unvaccinated and Highly infectious Covid variants will continue to circulate.
At least officially, spectators and Olympians from more than 200 nations are expected to arrive in the Japanese capital, which is currently battling a third wave of the virus, in July. And footballers from 24 countries, including some with the highest death rates from Covid such as Italy, Spain and England, will play 51 games in 12 stadiums in 12 countries in June.
However, concern is growing in public health circles that these could end up being dangerous super spreader events, even as vaccination programs are receiving millions of injections administered in wealthy countries. Professor Gabriel Scally, chairman of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine, said it would be impossible to host the Olympics safely because the response to the pandemic varied from country to country. “The global health response is very heterogeneous. There are many countries with high levels of the virus and the vaccine portfolio is not likely to deliver products to many low- and middle-income countries until well into the year, ”he said. “The possibilities of having populations, or even sports populations, free from the virus are very limited.”
Today, nine out of 10 people in the poorest countries, including Kenya and Pakistan, will miss the vaccine this year because rich nations have reserved more than they need, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, whose members include Oxfam and International Amnesty.
Scally said the practical issues would ultimately prove insurmountable for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which still insists the event will go ahead. “It is going to be enormously difficult to have a gathering of people from hundreds of different countries. If someone proposed to take people from all over the world to a place during a pandemic, they would think they were crazy. “
Lord Coe, President of World Athletics and a member of the IOC, said he had to be sure that the Games would go ahead, but admitted that it might be necessary to place restrictions on spectators. “There will be Games, but in adapted circumstances,” he said. “We probably accept that there will be less diversity in the stadiums, and when I say that I mean the reach of global fans. We probably accept that there will be a higher proportion of national crowds than before.
“I don’t want to remotely minimize the importance of having the spirit of passionate fans in the stadiums. [but] 99% see this on TV. “
This comes after Dick Pound, a high-ranking member of the IOC, admitted that he “cannot be sure” that the Games will take place, and polls showed that most Japanese wanted to postpone or cancel them.
However, the British Olympic Association noted that its athletes were still preparing. “The Games are still seven months away and everything that we are hearing from Tokyo and the IOC tells us very clearly that they are going to move on and that the Japanese government is absolutely committed to them,” said Andy Anson, executive director of the association. .
UEFA said it was working with all 12 Euro 2020 host cities, including London, which just declared a Covid emergency, on operational scenarios, including full stadiums, half-full stadiums and playing behind closed doors. He added that plans for each city would be made in early March.
Other summer events, such as Wimbledon and the five-game test series against India, may also have to be held without spectators. The All England Club is drawing up plans for tennis matches with a limited or no audience, while the Cricket Board of England and Wales has promised to reimburse people if fans are unable to attend.
Music festivals are a major British business and a key draw for tourists. When the burgeoning calendar of annual events was erased last year, some optimism remained in a young and resilient industry. Tickets to larger festivals, like Glastonbury, were pushed back to 2021 and there was faith that an industry offering a flexible roster of outdoor entertainment had a better chance of recovery than most.
Consequently, Stormzy, Liam Gallagher and Queens of the Stone Age had been secured for this year’s Reading and Leeds festival, while retro stars Duran Duran, Pixies and Grace Jones were lined up for BST Hyde Park.
But last week the siren sounded. Festival management is urgently calling for state-backed insurance, based on an appeal from Glastonbury organizer Emily Eavis.
Speaking to the selection committee for Commons Digital, Media Culture and Sport last week, Sacha Lord, co-founder of the Parklife festival, raised questions about the feasibility of moving forward, saying, “Social distancing doesn’t work at any of these events. If it’s a festival, you just can’t establish social distancing, so we anticipate operating 100%. “
Paul Reed, who heads the Association of Independent Festivals, said organizers of the biggest events would need to make decisions by the end of this month. Others, he thought, might wait longer. The concerns led the committee to appeal to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to support a cancellation insurance plan. The committee chairman, Julian Knight, called for the creation of a plan “as a matter of urgency.”
“The government is telling us that life should return to normal by the summer, but unless it can provide a safety net, it will be a summer without festivals,” Knight wrote, adding: “The government already offers a level of Coverage for the Film and Television Industries: Now is the time to extend support to other creative industries or risk missing out on some of our most beloved and world-renowned festivals.
This weekend, the organizers of the Edinburgh fringe festival, the Brighton festival and the London International Theater Festival joined calls for financial safeguards and warned that livelihoods were in jeopardy.
For the past few days, Jess Crownhill has been browsing the low-cost airline sites, wondering whether to book a flight in the sun this summer. There are many tempting offers, but Covid could spoil any plan you make.
“I think I’m going to take a chance,” he said. “I’m desperate to have something to look forward to, and surely we can go on vacation in the summer?”
That is the fervent hope of millions of people, and of the tourism industry, both in the UK and abroad, but so far few are making concrete plans. Under current lockdown rules, all but essential trips are prohibited. The restrictions could ease in the spring if enough people have been vaccinated, but many people are wary of booking vacations after facing last-minute cancellations and quarantine rules last summer.
“I still don’t have anything booked for this year, I’m still looking for last year’s refunds,” said travel expert Simon Calder. “I really want to travel again, but I have no idea where or when.”
January is usually the peak season for summer vacation reservations. Sean Tipton of the British Travel Agents Association (Abta) said members reported an increase in inquiries and a small increase in bookings.
“There is quite a significant pent-up demand. Most people see a break as essential, not a luxury, especially after the year we’ve had, “he said. The industry had seen a 90% drop in business during 2020, he said.
Some airlines offer cheap deals for early spring, but Calder advised people to wait before booking and to book a vacation package through a travel agent to ensure they receive a refund.
Airlines and countries could insist on proof of having received a Covid vaccine as a condition for flying or entering. Qantas signaled such a move in November, with Alan Joyce, the chief executive of the airline, saying, “I think it will be a common thing to talk to my colleagues from other airlines around the world.”
But, Calder said, “this is complicated while there is no internationally recognized vaccination certificate. In five years, absolutely, I’m sure it will be routine. “
For now, “nobody wants British tourists from a public health point of view. But they’ll need us as soon as things start to relax. Spain and Portugal in particular desperately need a decent summer ”.
A significant proportion of people could choose to stay this year, given the uncertainties surrounding travel. “That may be fine. A combination of Covid and Brexit is likely to be disastrous for tourists arriving in the UK, ”Calder said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism