Travelers may have read that now is the “perfect time” to visit Tahiti, but they will be surprised to find it – and the rest of French Polynesia – suddenly closed to them.
As vaccinations open the borders to some countries, Covid mutations cause others to be closed. The volatility of the current stage of the pandemic is a reminder to travel-hungry vacationers that the risks of travel currently extend beyond the signing of Covid-19.
On January 29, the French government suspended tourism to its overseas territories and collectivities, including French Polynesia in the South Pacific, Saint Martin in the Caribbean, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon in eastern Canada.
According to the country’s government services website, as of February 3, only visitors with “compelling reasons” for work, health, personal or family reasons will be allowed to visit French Polynesia. Those who can attend will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
The sudden restrictions that are part of France’s wider effort to tighten its borders are the result of new variants of Covid emerging around the world.
Variants have a massive impact on the world
The decision to close the borders of French Polynesia was “motivated by a commitment to preventive health in the face of the threat of variants of Covid that are gradually and massively affecting our planet,” according to a press release on Tahiti’s tourism website.
French Polynesia is home to the popular islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora.
M Swiet Productions | Moment | Getty Images
The most important points were summarized in a press release by the French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch. This press release states: “In the face of this new wave of the pandemic, we must once again take our responsibilities. We must protect ourselves to save the lives of the most vulnerable.” “”
Although thousands of variants of Covid have been identified, new strains first identified in South Africa, Brazil and the UK are more transmissible than previous ones.
Concerns that current vaccines may be less effective against them have dampened the excitement surrounding the global vaccine rollout, which began in December 2020. On Sunday, South Africa stopped issuing the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after clinical studies showed it did not protect study participants from getting mild to moderately ill from the contagious variant found there.
“Safe” travel in a pandemic
French Polynesia announced the suspension of tourism the same day a travel article in Men’s Journal said, “Now is the perfect time to visit Tahiti.” History has it that Tahiti, the largest and most developed of the country’s 118 islands and atolls, is “safe” and “empty” of tourists.
We will not achieve a really reduced risk of travel until we have achieved herd immunity.
Duke University School of Medicine
French Polynesia, home to around 280,000 people, has confirmed more than 18,000 cases of Covid-19 to date, including 333 new cases in the past two weeks. While infection rates have declined since last November when 1,384 cases were confirmed in a single day, French Polynesia is still battling active outbreaks that began after quarantine requirements for incoming visitors ended last July.
Travelers also need to avoid infections at airports to get there. In the case of Tahiti, travel can include long-haul flights ranging from 8.5 hours from San Francisco and Sydney to 16.5 hours from New York and almost a full day of flying from London.
“We are not really going to achieve reduced risk of travel until we reach herd immunity,” said Harry Severance, an associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine.
Until then, it would be safest for travelers to travel under a “two-factor system,” which includes vaccination in conjunction with a recent negative Covid antigen test.
“That’s not 100% either, but it will be close,” he said.
Another risk: sudden cancellations
Severance said that due to “Covid fatigue” – or the mental burnout caused by concern about and limitation from Covid-19 – People “are demonstrating that they are ready to take an increased risk and are increasingly traveling for vacations, family reunions and other such ventures.”
Because of this, travelers may have to face the potential for sudden cancellations, which can be done with little to no warning. Tahiti Tourisme announced the suspension of tourists to French Polynesia on February 1st. The restrictions took effect on February 3rd.
“We are still in a pandemic and conditions are unpredictable and can change quickly,” said Karen L. Edwards, chairwoman of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California’s Irvine School of Medicine.
Travelers to French Polynesia scheduled to return last week were able to end their stay as planned. In addition, Tahiti Tourisme advised travelers “to contact your airline”.
French Polynesia said it would ask that the French government not impose the closure for more than two months.
A February 2 letter from Nils DuFau, President of the St. Barts Tourism Authority, was clearer.
“The St. Barts authorities are currently negotiating with the French government to ease entry restrictions and find an alternative solution,” he wrote. “Our goal is to reopen the island’s borders as soon as possible.”
The temptation of “empty” tourist destinations
The pandemic largely resolved an age-old travel complaint – overcrowding. Famous tourist attractions and popular destinations welcome far fewer travelers – a fact that is now cited as a reason to visit.
The shutdown of tourists to French Polynesia and other French territories is expected to take two to three months.
Image source | Image source | Getty Images
This argument was made to support visits to Walt Disney World, New York’s Little Italy neighborhood, and northern California’s famous wine regions at various points in the pandemic.
Last August, at least one blog gave six reasons to go to Disney World and one reason to wait. The only reason? The global pandemic. However, there is no guarantee of how many people will show up on a given date or whether those who do create social distance.
“Current social distancing practices greatly reduce the risk of spread, but they are imperfect,” Severance said. “I regularly see errors and failures in these practices.”