The renewed wave of coronavirus in Britain is said to be still more severe than the deadly disease in April last year. Yet the relapse, dire as it is, is both the same and different in Europe on the wider canvas.
The striking feature of the response of the respective heads of state and government is the closure of borders, which prima facie is a perfectly logical stance. People and travel are the casualties in the truest sense of the term even as governments contend with the virus variants that were first detected in Britain and South Africa.
Whereas Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce an extension and tightening of lockdown rules, President Joe Biden, across the Atlantic, intends to bar travel to the United States by “noncitizens” from South Africa. Almost echoing the stand, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that his government will be closing Tel Aviv international airport to all flights not the least because “the government races to bring a raging outbreak under control”.
America’s ban on visitors from South Africa will come into force on 30 January. A ban will also be extended to “non-citizen” travellers from Europe and Brazil. Though this entails a sharp distinction between two categories of travellers ~ citizens and non-citizens ~ Donald Trump had once proposed to eliminate a similar ban.
The variants are just two of several emerging in large swathes of the world. Going by the prognosis advanced by Britain’s Prime Minister, the variant in the United Kingdom is not only more contagious, but may even be deadlier. Mr Johnson is expected to announce that schools may be closed till Easter (4 April). Travellers to Britain might be required to quarantine for 10 days in hotels.
Scientists in the UK are agreed that the evidence of the variant’s “greater lethality” is preliminary, is inconclusive, and is based on limited data. Nonetheless, it has served the government’s purpose in the debate over lockdowns. Johnson seems to be striving for a halfway house. Hospitals in Britain are reported to be overflowing. Figures advanced last Sunday speak of 100,000 deaths in the country.
The US has warned that the UK variant runs the risk of becoming the “dominant source of infection” by March. The Biden government has announced a new policy to the effect that all “arriving international passengers” regardless of their vaccination status, to be tested for Covid within three days of their departure for the United States.
They will also have to provide written documents of their test results. For all his intent to “quickly re-engage with the world”, President Biden has chosen the rational option at this juncture ~ to seal the United States of America from large parts of the world. The unsplendid isolation can arguably be justified on the ground that the Covid situation today is as daunting as it was one year ago. Wuhan in China has recovered, but not the world.