Injections of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, as well as Chinese, Indian, and Russian vaccines have started in dozens of countries, giving the world hope for 2021. While clinical trials show the vaccines are very effective at preventing illness, it’s not yet known if they prevent the spread of the virus, a key factor for allowing normal life to resume. Despite the vaccines, health experts warn that COVID protection measures—masks, distancing, and avoiding nonessential travel—will still be needed for most of 2021, if not longer, until herd immunity around the world is achieved through mass immunization.
Infection rates continue to rise, exacerbated by new more contagious strains of the virus, holiday gatherings, travel, and insufficient lockdown measures. Many hospitals, including in the U.S., are overwhelmed with COVID patients. Several countries—particularly in western Europe—are in new or strengthened lockdowns, expected to last at least until the end of January. Due to the new virus strains, flight cancelations to and from the U.K. and South Africa began in December 2020 and continue into 2021.
The handful of countries that have COVID under control—New Zealand and Taiwan, for example—have been able to almost fully restart their economies, showing that prioritizing public health allows social and economic lives to return to almost normal.
Confusion remains about who can travel where, which destinations are considered “safe” and by whom, and the ever-changing requirements of each jurisdiction. Many question whether it’s ethical to travel at all, particularly for tourism.
A New Pathogen: COVID-19
In early January 2020, China and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the identification of a new virus linked to cases of pneumonia first identified in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019. The new illness had the temporary name 2019-nCoV, and on February 11, 2020, the WHO officially named the disease COVID-19 (short for coronavirus disease, with the “19” designating 2019, the year it was first identified). The name of the virus itself is SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.