Irish swarms, Aussie blitzes, and Plague Island own goals

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Well that was a good weekend for New Zealand sport wasn’t it? Thumped by the inspired Irish at the rugby, battered by the blazingly brilliant Aussies in the cricket. That will teach me not to watch sport instead of working.

So it’s back to the day and night job and this week has begun as almost all seem to, with news of wildly varying sentiment and approaches surrounding the wretched COVID-19 pandemic. While China continues to treat the latest outbreak with utmost seriousness in keeping with its  ‘dynamic zero-case policy’, the situation elsewhere in terms of both case numbers and regulations varies hugely.

As Chinese state media Global Times reports, that policy is designed to prevent viral transmission in communities and to identify and treat patients as soon as possible. It is being applied right now with utmost rigour in places such as Dalian (where 60 of the 70 nationwide locally transmitted cases were reported Friday) and couldn’t be in starker contrast to the free for all in the UK, where the same day total reached 38,221.

Click on the image to read the Global Times report on how China’s carefully coordinated national strategy towards COVID-19 continues to keep numbers down 

Spot the mask (if you can). A typical Saturday night in London’s busy West End shopping district amid the global pandemic. [Photo: Doug Bagley]
The pictures (right and below) on this page, the first taken last week by William Grant & Sons Regional President Asia Pacific and Global Travel Doug Bagley in London’s busy West End shopping district, the second by Global Times at a Dalian fish market, sum up graphically the difference in both government and social attitudes between the two countries. And those attitudes have direct repercussions for the travel industry.

By prioritising people’s lives instead of political demands, China’s policy has allowed the normal functioning of society and the simultaneous promotion of economic development, Senior National Health Commission official Liang Wannian told Global Times.

“The vaccination rate in China has not yet reached the level of building a universal immune barrier. In such context, hastily reopening the border or relaxing the anti-pandemic measures would put in vain China’s significant achievements so far,” he added.

While British people are now largely free to travel to and from most countries, the number of foreigners wanting to visit the UK is plummeting according to a recent CNN report headed ‘How the UK became the sick man of European tourism’.

Consider these numbers. Visit Britain figures show that visitor numbers to the UK slumped by -73% from 40.9 million in 2019 to 11.1 million in 2020, when restrictions were at their tightest. But 2021, despite a relaxation of the inbound rules, will see an estimated 7.4 million visitors, a -33.3% fall year-on-year and a shocking -82% fewer than 2019, according to CNN.

Masked to a man and a woman. Click on the image to read the Global Times report

In contrast, CNN reports, neighbouring France, has seen a + 34.9% growth in tourists year-on-year while summer hotspots Spain, Turkey and Greece have all recovered significantly. Greece almost reached pre-pandemic levels during the summer, attracting 86% of the arrivals of July and August 2019, according to Forward Keys. The UK managed just 14.3% of 2019 levels, the aviation data analyst said.


Click on the image to read the full CNN report

Photos such as Doug Bagley’s above; of unmasked London Underground travellers (despite a mask mandate being in place for the transport system); and of a maskless (and clueless) Boris Johnson in a hospital ward just add to a widespread external perception that the UK is what the New York Times famously dubbed ‘Plague Island’.

Fabio Bergonzini, from Bologna, Italy, who used to be a regular visitor to the UK, told CNN, “The general perception from here is that in the UK people don’t regard Covid as an issue anymore – as if it’s not even discussed. Some Scottish friends told me that everyone in Scotland is going around with masks, but people in England aren’t. Considering that I don’t leave home without a mask, I’d feel a bit strange being the only one masked in my lovely UK.”

Strange, yes. And vulnerable. Vaccination may have eased hospitalisation and mortality rates but COVID-19 is very often a thoroughly nasty condition to catch. The two members of my team who are currently battling it would bear testament to that.

Freedom is one thing, freedom without responsibility quite another. Plague island or dynamic zero land? I suspect just about every grown Chinese citizen would have the same answer to that question. And the worry for Britain must be whether the Chinese will return in great numbers once restrictions are eased in China. Certainly shopping will not be the incentive it was. The CNN report rightly notes the negative impact of another Tory party bungle (or an ‘own goal’ as the title puts it) – the abolition last January of the VAT Retail Export Scheme, making the UK the only European country not offering tax-free shopping to visitors from outside the EU.

One deterrent added, one incentive removed. That adds up to as convincing a loss for UK tourism as those suffered by my national sporting teams at the weekend. The first two I shall take on the chin, the third I shall complain loudly about to anyone who will listen.

A stirring message from the homepage of the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China
What the British equivalent might look like

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