I traveled internationally during the pandemic.
Leaving aside the inevitable argument about whether that was right or wrong, moral or immoral, shocking or perfectly normal (you can argue about that endlessly online, but I’m not really into that particular discussion), the truth was that it was interesting. And I’m always into interesting.
I went to Buenos Aires airport without any real expectations except that this one was going to be different from my other trips. It was October, and the first time I’d left the city proper in a motorized vehicle since March (Argentina did the world a huge favor by proving that long lockdowns and strict quarantine are completely useless in dealing with this disease unless you force the public to stay inside by putting armed troops on the streets with orders and authority to shoot to kill).
The airport doors were closed and people for the two flights that were leaving the country that day (think about that for a second… two flights) were all packed around the door.
Eventually, we got onto the airplane, which was fully booked. Every single seat was occupied, including the middles. Social distancing, apparently, is not necessary on airplanes according to international regulations.
Another interesting thing was contrasting Miami airport with JFK in New York. Miami was open to business, and the airport was crowded, happy and alive, even though everyone was wearing a mask. JFK was surreal. I had entire waiting rooms and long, empty corridors to myself at two o’clock on a Saturday.
But the truly interesting thing was being in another country (the US in this case) and listening to cab drivers, hotel employees and other people I could chat with essentially say the same thing: “Now that we understand the pandemic better than we did, it’s time to open things back up.”
I found that educational. In Argentina, people saw that the government had no clue what to do about the pandemic except to take away our normal lives, and most people began ignoring the lockdown about a month into it. Even the people who were saying “you need to stay inside to take care of your neighbors” were outside.
But that’s Argentina. We’re used to the government taking measures that no one will ever comply with… we’ve learned that ignoring such undemocratic noise is pretty much necessary. So, just like when the government says “you can’t have savings in dollars” and everyone saves in dollars, when the government says “you have to stay inside”, we gave them a chance to show us they knew what they were doing… and when it became obvious they didn’t, the population moved onto the next step: ignoring the decree completely.
I thought the US would be different, though. US democracy is much stronger than that of other countries (and yes, I know that the US is in the middle of a very difficult election cycle right now, but in general, this above is true). One thing the US is famed for worldwide is that it defends the rights of people to do what they want.
So to hear every single person spoke to say that the restrictions should be dropped was a shock, mainly because the restrictions haven’t been.
Now I’m sure that there are many people who prefer to leave the restrictions in place, but in light of my very informal polling, it would be truly hard to convince me that they are a majority. It really looks like the population at large is against them.
So another interesting thing I’ve found is that the world’s leading democracy is criminalizing behavior things that a majority is in favor of. Like the 55 Mph speed limit, it’s an antidemocratic law; you can’t be a democracy and be against the public at the same time: you have to choose one. So it will be interesting to see how this evolves as politicians remove heads from asses and see that everyone hates the restrictions and will immediately go back to normal if permitted. I predict another round of fun fights online.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip was that everyone is sure that the next flu season will be interesting. Not because of covid itself, but because of the flu. People seem to believe that no one will have an immune system left at the end of this.
I have no clue if the science backs that up, but it does mesh with the sense that I’ve had of the helicopter-parent society being crappy for the long-term development of children. All this antibacterial soap probably won’t lead to robust, healthy adults with well-developed immune systems. Luckily, I’m not a doctor, so I won’t be advising anyone else on this topic.
It was an interesting trip… and my conclusion is that the world will be fine. Covid won’t destroy our lives. Hell, it won’t even change them that much because, like me, most people are willing to risk it for themselves but also respect other peoples’ requests to take care of themselves. That means that those who want to go back to normal (knowing there’s a risk) will likely be able to do so… and those who want to take extra care will be respected.
That’s the way it should be, and I think humans are, as a species, much better than the twitterverse makes them out to be.
Gustavo Bondoni loves to see places. New or well-known, there is always something to discover. That passion is expressed in its full dimension in his collection Off the Beaten Path. These are fantasy and science fiction stories for readers who want to be transported to places you don’t always read about, outside the usual European or North American settings. You can check it out here.