End international travel now

"The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils."

About a year ago, the world realized about three months too late that travel is a luxury. Since we have learned nothing about how to govern ourselves, we are doing it again.

Humanity is still in a race with SARS-CoV-2. We are teaching our immune systems what Covid looks like—by getting either the vaccine, or the disease. And it is teaching itself to look like something different—while still doing its same little spiky thing.

At present, since our 1950s decision-making processes have not changed, taking a full year to teach the human immune system a new lesson is “warp speed.” Also, the summer of 2020, with only one major strain of virus spreading worldwide, was the perfect environment for vaccine testing. The next round might even be harder. So… how long does it take the virus to evolve a new escape variant?

But as more people get vaccinated, the advantage of escape variants increases. As the number of active cases decreases, the evolutionary power of the system decreases. To beat the disease, we need to get on the right side of this curve and ride it down to zero.

We could still win in this round. It does not seem obvious that we will. And while the outcome is in doubt, there is no reason for the whole world to share viruses. Treating the planet as a single evolutionary gene pool gives SARS-CoV-2 a leg up it doesn’t need—in a race we feel like we’re winning right now. We felt that way last June, too.

The norm of international travel restriction in 1Q2021 makes tourism impossible and reduces travel to persons with real bureaucratic clout and/or energy. This is terrible: its impact is only economic, not biological. It reminds us of Trump’s initial “China virus” quarantine, which didn’t apply to US persons and could be circumvented by just flying via Taiwan. As if the virus cared what papers any of its hosts were carrying.

Even New Zealand, which got lucky by being a backwater in a few different ways—the NZ approach of “treat every case like a murder” has anyone who lives in, say, Chicago, laughing deep down where it counts—it would be great to see Prime Minister Ardern as Mayor of Chicago—it’s great the way she talks, like Mother Teresa—after about six months in City Hall she’d look like Mother Teresa, too—has not ended all travel.

If you have the right papers, you can fly to NZ, and they keep you in a secure hotel for 14 days. This number, like our lovely 6-foot radius, is right there in the Bible—a pest shall not fly more than 4 cubits, and must in a fortnight rise or vanish from the flesh. Or something like that. NZ keeps dealing with sporadic community cases that slip through this science-based barrier—but fortunately, test-and-trace seems to work one cluster at a time, at least in a tiny volcanic island peopled exclusively by hobbits.

This last was “a 56-year-old woman, who had traveled to Spain and the Netherlands for work late last year.” For work? What is she—the world’s leading tulip whisperer? Without her gentle touch, the great flower-fields of Haarlem will never bloom… and from there, following the fabled footsteps of the Duke of Alva, she passes to timeless Spain, home of the great fighting bulls…

When even New Zealand’s famous firewall is porous, everyone else’s is all the more so. So in England, the voice of science sings exactly the same tune as it sang a year ago:

Jonathan Stoye from the Francis Crick Institute said, “Under conditions of very high levels of virus replication even the most stringent of border controls, although they may delay spread, are unlikely to prevent the appearance of new variants.”

After all, “wogs begin at Calais.” The mutant viruses, replicating at “high levels” in the Calais Jungle, will generate a mutant coronavirus fog that, drifting across the Channel, infects Dover…

But this fellow is not lying—he is making a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Most stringent” simply does not include “no travel.” Since he feels the public would not accept this, it is not an option; so he is telling the truth. The actual British public would do anything he said—they would give themselves Chinese anal swabs every morning—but knowing that is not his department; so he is telling the truth.

With this tricky and unpredictable virus, the only way to keep the “Brazil variant” or the “South Africa variant” (using these geographical labels is halfway to hate crime—I mean P.1 and B.351) from the banks of the Thames would be to prevent all travel from South America, or Africa, or anywhere you can travel to from South America or Africa—or, basically, anywhere. In all seriousness: why is anyone traveling anywhere, now? C’mon, man. Let’s just beat this thing first.

But since we’ve established that while we care about Covid, we don’t care that much—best to just lie back and think of England. Isn’t Brexit grand, old chap?

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for her self
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands…

Of course, while a “silver sea” (really cold, gray and stinking of fish) does make a great wall, and not just against plagues, all it’s doing is saving the English taxpayer money. Unless the germ is spread by animals or the wind, a literal wall works just as well.

And we know the US taxpayer is equal to the challenge:

Some may fault me for making a serious point, but not seriously. When in Rome, do as the Romans: observe the seriousness with which the world takes this serious problem. Hopefully I’m just wrong this time; the vaccines will stop the variants; and the Lord will return to His usual pattern of “looking after fools, drunks, and the United States.”

But anyway: end international travel now. It is not worth it. It is orders of magnitude away from worth it. Zero is the only number that works.