In the Press: Swede with coronavirus flouts quarantine, goes to Crete
What's Swedish for "seriously"?
In this modern world you can separate the art of travel from the business of tourism, but you cannot divorce either from the broader, unwieldy framework under which both operate. Case in point, the byzantine regulations and safety meaures countries have drawn up in an attempt to control a global pandemic; IATA this, EASA that, this airport, that airport: the variables change so fast that you almost can't blame ostensibly reliable sources from The Daily Beast to the flimsily fact-checked Forbes to the clueless Condé Nast from getting so many details wrong so routinely—it's like every editor in what's left of New York followed Anna Wintour to a diversity-themed luncheon of the boating party and the boat just wobbled and sank in the Hudson.
Why even bother to report on the rotating roster of restrictions when in all probability they will be different by tomorrow? We do however want to illustrate how a well-intentioned bureaucratic solution to an ongoing catastrophe can actually play out, because it's relevant to travel everywhere right now. It may be relevant to walking into your grocery store tomorrow.
A newspaper in Crete, Greece, is reporting that a 20-year-old man from Sweden is being treated in a hospital in Chania (a city in Crete) for coronavirus. The paper notes that the man had previously been admitted to a hospital in Athens on May 5. According to another report, three Swedish nationals were under quarantine in a hotel in Glyfada in early May. But the Nea Kriti newspaper says the man was released from the hospital on May 12 even though he still tested positive. He was apparently told to self-isolate for 15 days, but (ever tried asking a 20-year-old guy from anywhere to do anything?) instead he up and went to...Crete. For, um, work.
Now, it's still unclear whether the young buck flew to Crete or hopped a ferry, but obviously he didn't walk or drive. But it was reported that he came into contact with several people. Given that the Swedish man had a documented coronavirus condition as recently as May, to say nothing of Sweden's categorically disastrous handling of the pandemic there, the little jaunt to Crete could rightly be categorized as reckless.
Highly problematic too, especially as Greece is trying very hard to kickstart summer tourism with assurances that it's a safe destination. We know that travel always comes with a degree of uncertainty, and we wish this guy well. But this comes as Greece's leading newspaper, Kathimerini, reports that ferry companies are reporting problems with compliance with mask-wearing protocols aboard some ferries. Not. Good.
This single, underreported incident underscores how fragile the entire touristic apparatus is right now. This was allowed to happen, while flights from the United States and the UK are still off the books—but it was also allowed to happen on a recent American flight from JFK to LAX...and on at least three international flights into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion. Looking further to the east, but for moment skipping Cyprus which is doing very well, perhaps overconfident Israel thought they had the pandemic licked but actually they did not (focusing on West Bank annexation and Tel Aviv rooftop parties tends to take one's eye off the public health ball), and the tourism season there has been dialed back yet again, this time to August 1. About he only hotel you can check into in Tel Aviv right now is one that doesn't even exist. The national airline, El Al, was not in great shape before all this, but right now it's a shambles.*
It seems like worldwide, despite the imperfections of coronavirus testing, that monitoring mechanisms are seriously falling short. Obviously, you can't enforce social distancing measures to the letter—just ask the "sex workers" of Greece and Holland—but can you make sure a sick young man from Sweden or wherever doesn't board the next packed flight to New York or crowded ferry to, say, Santorini?
Success is never guaranteed, but sometimes you have to try harder. Especially when the whole world is watching, and deciding what to do—or where to go—next.
There's no doubt Israel will manage the pandemic there, it's just that it's going to take a bit longer than they expected: Israelis are good at lots of things but following rules is not one of them. They are exceedingly good, however, at things like airport security. The assiduous, intrusive, time-consuming, anal-retentive but effective manner in which the Israelis weed out would-be terrorists from their airports should be studied and adapted as conditions permit into the existing enforcement mechanisms of the new pandemic hygiene protocols at airports and transport hubs around the world.