Is It Ethically Acceptable to Travel During a Pandemic?

Auriane Alix
Yes, it is, but under strict conditions.
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When France announced lockdown, round 2, I had just got back in touch with my project to become a digital nomad. It cut me off. I found myself looking on the Internet for ways to fly away and escape the lockdown.

I came across a digital nomad Facebook page where several travelers explained how they managed to cross borders and board planes to various exotic destinations. They were happy to make their often long-planned project a reality.

And in the comments, there was hatred.

Some people found it unacceptable to travel during a pandemic. Among the reasons given were mainly ethical arguments. Some people around me also looked at me with contempt when I announced my project, taking the opportunity to call me unconscious and irresponsible.

This made me wonder about my project. Was it ethically acceptable to travel during a pandemic? So many people said the opposite that I really thought about it. And I found my answer.

Yes, it is ethically acceptable to travel during a pandemic. There are even several positive points to it. But under strict conditions.

3 conditions for a trip in Coronavirus time

Your travel plans will inevitably have to be adapted. As you will have noticed, the days when things were “normal” are long gone. Thinking about it, I found three conditions for a travel project in times of pandemic. Here they are:

#1: Make sure that you are healthy

This is the main and obvious condition. You mustn't contribute to the spread of Covid, especially for the people of the country you are visiting. It is a question of responsibility.

For example, two French tourists in Iceland who tested positive broke the rules to self-isolate, and because of their irresponsible behavior, 100 cases of the virus in Iceland were traced back to them, as reported by Iceland Review.

Take the test. Between the test and your departure, avoid as much contact as possible so that you do not catch it in the meantime. Do not board unless the result is negative. And if you have any symptoms, quarantine yourself. When you arrive and return, quarantine yourself again for a few days so as not to contaminate your loved ones or those around you.

This is essential. Don’t help spread the disease. We don’t need that.

#2: Take out health insurance

Obtaining health insurance that covers Covid is a guarantee that you will be treated or repatriated if you need it. If you don’t have one, the medical costs may be more than you can afford, and you will find yourself far from home, not knowing what to do. You don’t want this to happen.

It may be a little expensive, but it’s part of the package. You need to take care of yourself. You might very well catch the disease there. In any case, more and more countries are requiring one to allow you to cross the border.

#3: Behave responsibly

In exceptional circumstances, exceptional behavior. Respect the rules. Respect social distancing. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. As you would in your home country.

Avoid crowded places, too, it seems obvious, but it’s the best place to catch and spread Covid. Anyway, most of them are still closed. Act wisely. No social gatherings. Adapt the way you travel and be responsible.

What about planes?

Air travel raises more questions.

“If you’re on a big plane now there’s a reasonable chance that someone who’s infected with Covid-19 is going to be on that plane,” said Linsey Marr, a leading expert in aerosol transmission of viruses, to CNN.

Masks are compulsory on board. The problem, however, is the boarding and meal times. During the flight itself, the risk is minimal because the ventilation systems are very sophisticated:

“The air in (many) planes is a 50/50 mix of outdoor air and recirculated air. The outdoor air is bled off the engine, conditioned and delivered into the cabin. The other 50% is recirculated air that goes through HEPA filters.”, explains Joseph Allen, who directs the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, still to CNN.

These ventilation systems remove 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 micron, Covid-19 particles ranging from 0.06 to 1.4 micron.

The problem is at boarding when the ventilation systems are not yet in operation. Passengers queue up with not always enough distance between them, use small, enclosed shuttles, and contact is almost inevitable.

“We’ve done measurements on airplanes when people are boarding, and we see high levels of carbon dioxide, which is an indicator that there’s insufficient ventilation,” Allen said.

If possible, avoid air travel. And if you don’t have a choice, make sure you follow all safety measures to the best of your ability.

What will staying in your home country change?

It’s time to stop shaming travelers. How does maintaining a normal life in your home country make a difference compared to normal life in another country?

I even think that traveling during a pandemic could have some advantages. First of all, for the economy of the countries that need it at the moment. Some places depend almost entirely on tourism. It helps small businesses, families, people. It’s a good time to use your money abroad.

Traveling is also beneficial for mental health. These are dark times. It seems that it will never end. Having a planned trip that you can look forward to is great for bringing a sense of joy and purpose to your days. It gives perspective, something to look forward to. When you are on board and leaving, it changes the routine and brings a sense of normalcy. We need moments of happiness like these.

Final Thoughts

I would be curious to hear the arguments of people who are against travel during a pandemic. Maybe there are things I haven’t thought about that might change my mind. But for now, I firmly believe that traveling during this pandemic is perfectly acceptable, provided that the behavior you adopt is irreproachable.

I intend to maintain my own project. In the end, I didn’t leave because I wasn’t ready and the circumstances were not optimal for me. But it is planned for January 2021. For sure, I will adapt. For sure it won’t be as it could have been, at least for the time being. But things are the way they are, and there are still ways to make each day a little brighter.

Stay cheerful and happy. This will end sooner or later.

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