To travel or not to travel, that is the question

“I think we’re gonna be very good with the coronavirus, I think at some point that’s going to sort of disappear.”

Despite the wishes of certain world leaders, the COVID19 pandemic doesn’t seem likely to disappear any time in the near future.

All aspects of our everyday lives are currently changing, adapting to a new normal that would have seemed unbelievable outside of the pages of a dystopian novel at the beginning of the year.

As the country went into lockdown, scenes from an eerie Dublin Airport haunted our television screens. Early morning pints were a thing of the past, replaced by HSE leaflets outlining the common symptoms of the feared respiratory virus.

Normally,  when walking through arrivals one might see the tearful reunion of family members or old friends. Choirs from local primary schools sing a censored ‘Fairytale of New York’ when emigrants return home for the holiday season.

The spread of the pandemic meant that the airport became a place to be entirely avoided. As the weeks dragged on, the airport became a relic from the days before social distancing and mandatory masks.

A DCU student who would prefer to remain anonymous lost her job in the airport when the dangers of international travel became apparent.

“I stopped working a week before lockdown. 80% of people had stopped showing up to their flights. We stopped getting rostered in for like two weeks until we got the official lay off email.”

The student who worked as a barista has returned to work as lockdown restrictions began to ease. However, the job she loves now makes her feel uneasy. “The airport is really, really busy. Most people are going on holidays. Lots of families. The airport isn’t a nice place to be in right now.”

The official government advice has not changed as the weeks have dragged on. Irish citizens should avoid all but essential journeys and holiday at home.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary believes that the government’s restrictions are “overly conservative” and claims that the fourteen-day quarantine for overseas visitors has “no basis in science or health.”

Veterinary student Gregory Phelan was one of Ryanair’s most recent passengers. Phelan studies at ‘Warsaw University of Life Sciences’ but had returned home at the beginning of lockdown.

The Carlow native reluctantly made the journey back to Warsaw to retrieve his belongings as the lease on his apartment had ended. A regular journey had now become a reason for concern and stress.

“I pretty much had to make the trip. I took as many precautions as possible. I was happy with how Ryanair enforced the face mask rules. However, many people were only covering their mouths with the mask and leaving out their nose… I assume as it’s easier to breathe but it defeats the whole purpose.”

He also went on to say that “some of the air staff’s face masks weren’t fit for purpose either as they were builders’ respirators that just let all their breath out. I wasn’t happy with how the plane couldn’t have been sanitised as they did their usual quick turnaround of aircrafts. The plane was the normal standard of not clean. Bathrooms as per usual weren’t clean.”

Phelan’s flight was quiet so social distancing was possible. He was also reassured by the existence of HEPA filters in the planes.

On arrival back in Dublin, Phelan was shocked by the fact that Passport Control removed his passport from its cover without wearing gloves. He was asked for his address and advised to watch for symptoms during the social isolation period of fourteen days.

“I did [the social isolation period] when I came back in March but not this time to be honest. I did three days to see if anything developed. I know that sounds fairly irresponsible but it’s all been so bad, like I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

While the cancellation of Leaving Cert holidays, hen parties and weekend getaways may be an inconvenience, some young people’s livelihoods require travel.

VESA gives young people the opportunity to volunteer in countries around the world without contributing to the “volontourism” problem.

UCC graduate Shauna Finlan could not believe her luck when she was hired by the company last year after volunteering in 2016. She met the requirements set out by the company: age, full license, not in full time education.

“I started recruiting in America, then went to Canada, the UK and Ireland. I became a tour leader in Ecuador over the Christmas and then recruiting again in Australia and New Zealand” she said.

Finlan’s plans to travel around Australia were brought to an extreme halt as she found herself stranded in Sydney because of Covid 19.

Her plan for the summer was to travel back to Ecuador and work there until July before travelling around South America for six weeks. Ecuador and South America have now been replaced by West Cork and Waterford.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable travelling this summer. I’ve gone on a few little road trips, down to West Cork and to Waterford. I have started hiking a lot which is keeping me sane. I also have a big two-week road trip planned for August starting down in Waterford and doing the whole Atlantic Way up to Donegal” said Finlan.

She encourages others to use this time to discover our own country. “If lockdown has taught me anything it’s to treat Ireland as if you’re a tourist because we really are so lucky to live in such a beautiful country and need to appreciate it more.”

Finlan hopes to return to Ecuador when international travel becomes safer and better regulated. However, the country has been badly affected by the virus.

She explains how “Ecuador has been hit so badly by Covid and had absolutely no information on the virus or how to stop the spread of it. Many indigenous tribes had no idea there was even a virus going around and couldn’t understand why many of their tribe members were getting ill and dying.”

Finlan’s colleague set up a gofundme to raise money for face masks, hand soap, hand sanitiser as well as information cards explaining how to stop the spread of the virus in Spanish and in the indigenous languages.

Countries opening their borders has led to an increase in cases in many instances.

Tourists who have not gone into social isolation upon arrival in Ireland have now been refused entry in some pubs and restaurants amidst fears of a second wave.

Guernsey (a Channel Island off the French coast) has announced that its borders will remain shut until at least September. The island currently has no active Covid 19 cases.

A young resident explains that the fact that the island’s borders remain closed means that everyday life has been able to resume. “We definitely feel safer here because there are no cases at the moment and we can go about our day to day lives as if nothing has really changed.”

An exception has been made for those that have had to travel to Southampton for operations and medical procedures that are not facilitated on the island.

The student fears travelling to the UK when the academic year resumes. Having contracted both bird and swine flu (requiring hospitalisation) in the past, she knows all too well the dangers of a virus.

“I have really severe asthma and it’s affected even when I just get a little cold, let alone a virus that affects the respiratory system. It concerns me going back to the UK because I don’t feel enough people are taking it seriously.”

Róisín Cullen

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