Africa: Vaccine passport may inflict more pain on already devastated global tourism industry

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The drive to save the global tourism industry from the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic by the introduction of vaccine passport to encourage travel may inadvertently cause more pain to the already fragile sector.

According to a report by RANVIR S. NAYAR on arabnews.com, most African and Asian countries , are still struggling to secure vaccines for their citizens compared to most developed nations that have vaccinated almost their citizens and gunning for buster jabs.

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Visitors to countries in the developed world in recent weeks will have seen a new sign of segregation and discrimination at immigration counters: Those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who have not.

READ: Aviation: African Ministers of Air Transport Urges countries to exercise restraint on vaccine passport
Almost without exception, the people in the queues for the unvaccinated are from some of the poorest nations in Africa and Asia, who continue to struggle most in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The health crisis has encouraged, in many ways, exemplary humane responses from healthcare workers and ordinary people around the world. But it has also exposed modern forms of discrimination that are widening existing gaps between the haves and have-nots at global, regional, national and even local levels.

First, this was evident in the economic effects of the pandemic, which were felt much more keenly in less-wealthy countries than rich ones, mainly due to the fiscal leverage the latter could wield by handing out financial assistance to their citizens in face of job losses. However, a majority of the world did not have that option.

Poorer nations also suffered a much greater human cost as a result of inadequate healthcare infrastructures that often struggled before the pandemic and totally collapsed under the burden of COVID-19 infections. Even in an emerging global power such as India, millions of people suffered or died for the want of medical oxygen, hospital beds or drugs to counter the virus.

As for the development and deployment of vaccines, a disproportionate quantity of total production was appropriated by the developed world before the vaccines were even developed.

READ: Africa: Vaccine passport will be mandatory for Kenyans to travel from 2022 says Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala
A study by Duke University’s Global Health Institute in North Carolina found that while rich nations account for only 16 percent of the world’s population, they grabbed 60 percent of global vaccine supplies, enough to protect their populations several times over. The remaining 84 percent of people were left scrambling for limited options.

This study was published in November 2020, before vaccines were widely available but one can safely assume that the gap between rich and poor has only grown. Even while billions of people in Africa and Asia await their first dose of the vaccine, some leaders in the developed world are already talking about the possibility of booster shots for their own citizens.

This selfishness has come in for sharp criticism from the World Health Organization (WHO) and non-governmental organizations involved with vaccination efforts in less-wealthy countries. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “greed” is the driving force behind vaccine disparity, and that rich nations are making conscious choices not to help protect people in need.

The developed world is also way behind in meeting its commitments to the WHO’s UN-backed COVAX program, which aims to deliver billions of vaccine doses to underprivileged areas of the world. The WHO and other experts say that instead of booster jabs for rich countries, vaccine makers ought to prioritize the provision of more doses for COVAX.

Currently, both Pfizer and Moderna have donated only very small amounts of their vaccines to COVAX and the program has faltered due to a lack of doses. As a result, vaccination efforts in about 60 countries have stalled and this situation is unlikely to improve until at least next year, even as the pandemic explodes in Africa.

As of Aug. 1, high-income countries have administered 95.11 doses of vaccine per 100 people, compared with just 1.42 doses in low-income countries. The disparity becomes even more glaring when comparing individual countries. For example, Germany, with a population of 89 million, had administered nearly 110 doses per 100 people by July 30, 2021. In sharp contrast, similarly sized African nation the Democratic Republic of Congo had managed only 0.09 doses per 100 people by July 24.

Now, having created this penury of vaccines in less wealthy countries by buying up all the available supplies, developed nations are adding insult to injury by slapping restrictions on travelers from those countries.

Yet it is not only the poorest nations that will be harmed by such discrimination. Tourism is an important contributor to economies worldwide, even those of rich countries, but the global industry has been decimated by the pandemic. Now that international travel is starting to resume and destinations are reopening, it is crucial for governments to help their local tourism sectors recover by ensuring that as many people as possible are able to visit.

The leaders of rich countries need to realize they are not helping their tourism industries to bounce back by slamming the door on a large section of the global population.

For those worried about the emergence of additional waves of the pandemic, or foreign visitors carrying the virus to their countries, current precautions such as RT-PCR tests for travelers are good enough to act as a robust barrier to the virus, so rich nations do not need to go overboard with preventive measures. The world needs collective rehabilitation from the effects of the pandemic, not isolation.

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