There’s something that’s goin’ round, that’s shutting our borders down
It’s a bad time for our sick and our old
CNN’s nightly lullaby, tells of hundreds more that’ve died
I shut off the TV and think all alone, how long can this go on?
– Jeff Orson, Pray
Many times every day as I work away inside the Moodie Davitt Asia Bureau here in Hong Kong, I swivel around in my chair and gaze at the giant world map that covers a whole wall alongside my desk. To me, it’s every bit as wonderful as the collective works of any art gallery. Each and every viewing offers up another nuance, another place of fascination that in my travel-starved imagination, I conjure up dreams of visiting after the world bursts back into life after the long and bleak COVID winter.
As mentioned in my last Blog, alas, I won’t be visiting any of them for a little while yet, my Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine batch 210102 being the one that caused the Hong Kong government to suspend the roll-out last Wednesday after reports of widespread packaging defects, including cracks, leakages and stains outside the glass containers.
Like everyone (around 150,000 people out of 585,000 who had received the vaccine by the time of the suspension), I have been in limbo since, wanting to know whether I have to start the whole process again once it restarts, just have the second shot, or take China’s Sinovac vaccine instead.
Things became a little clearer yesterday after the government issued a statement saying an investigation by BioNTech and its mainland Chinese distributor Fosun Pharma had found no systemic errors that might have caused the problems. A prompt resumption is now on the cards if no major systemic problems with the vaccine are uncovered.
Reassurance? Some, yes. But the whole episode has further tainted consumer confidence here among a population, which has so far been surprisingly slow to get vaccinated – just 5.8% have had their first dose, and only 0.2% have received both.
The follow-up BioNTech shot should be administered anywhere between 19 and 42 days after the first, the authorities say. So 29 April is my deadline and the clock is ticking. That planned trip back to the UK might need to wait.
Nothing is straightforward when it comes to this damn virus. Can you believe that it’s a year since the travel retail troubador, Canadian Jeff Orson (below), wrote and released his great song Pray that we commissioned? And still there’s something that’s goin’ round, that’s shutting our borders down. Truly a travel retail anthem for our times.
Every day I scour the COVID-19 and travel headlines (CNN’s nightly lullaby) – often interrelated – across leading mainstream media titles around the world. For every bit of encouraging news, it seems, there is a balancing negative. The rapid roll-out of vaccines in countries such as Israel, the UAE, UK and US. But surging case numbers in numerous countries including Austria, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, India and the Netherlands; rows over vaccine distribution; and clear inequities between rich and poor countries.
Travel retail industry-wise, too, the news is mixed. Hainan keeps us all upbeat, Qatar Duty Free just keeps on investing, and the cruise sector – so stricken by the pandemic – is showing remarkable signs of an early recovery.
MSC Cruises Head of Retail Adrian Pittaway, who has never lost his faith in the sector despite it sometimes seeming impossible not to, said this week, “An optimistic few days for cruising with a stream of announcements from MSC, P&O, Crystal, Star, RCCL, Princess and Celebrity on innovative and exciting restarts. Step by step, cruising shows that it is a resilient, adaptive and safe vacation prospect for people to return to. We have seen this with new adapted itineraries being created, local market sourcing and the number one priority in delivering consistent safe protocols onboard.
“I remain confident as I said at the Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo last year that cruising will be the fastest rebounding part of the travel retail industry, back to growth again. Let’s be a little optimistic!”
Indeed. And in fact despite ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira calling the COVID-19 impact an “existential crisis” this week, I took encouragement from his description of the global vaccination roll-out. “The world is embarking on the biggest vaccination campaign in history, and we see positive indications in countries with high rates of vaccination and ACI World has discerned an escalation of these encouraging signs and prospects for recovery with a surge in travel in the second half of 2021 expected,” he said.
“We hope an upsurge in confidence in air travel provided by vaccination and safety measures should result in the number of people traveling outside of their countries will start this Spring and significantly increase by mid-year.”
De Oliveira balanced that optimism, as he had to, however, adding: “Aviation recovery will not take off, however, without a coordinated and globally-consistent approach to vaccination and testing, coupled with a safe and interoperable methods of sharing testing and vaccination information.”
That may be a while yet, but step by step it will happen. For a while then, I’ll have to make do with gazing at my map. Today, my eye has alighted on Mauritius, all 2,040 sq kilometres of its loveliness perched out there alone in the Indian Ocean. I reckon I could be there in around 9 hours and 45 minutes. I just might need to wait for batch 210103 first.