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Opinion

David Appleton: it's time to scrap Covid-19 travel restrictions for good

14 January 2022

On 15 December 2021 the UK government announced it was once again scrapping the 'red list' of travel ban countries, having reintroduced it a mere 15 days earlier in response to fears over the new omicron variant. Nautilus head of professional and technical David Appleton discusses its implications

The government said that omicron had already spread so widely around the world that a ban on travelling to the UK from particular countries was now less effective in slowing the incursion of the variant.

This reasoning does make you wonder what exactly the point is of the global travel restrictions that have blighted the lives of the world's seafarers for almost two years.

The World Health Organization says: 'Disease outbreaks are contained at their source, not at the borders', and that 'travel bans, though they may be easily accessible in terms of political decision making, are not effective in preventing spread of disease'.

Politicians, afraid of being accused of acting too late, would disagree. They would argue that it is better to overreact than to underreact, and that you can't be too careful in matters of public health. But I suspect these arguments would ring hollow with the 400,000 seafarers trapped onboard beyond the end of their contracts at the peak of the crew change crisis; with those seafarers who have spent weeks in mandatory quarantine at the beginning and end of their contracts; and with the cadets who have received little or no seatime.

You can be too careful, and there are consequences to overreaction. After two years, seafarers are sick and tired of having to deal with these restrictions, with many giving up on the career altogether (see the Nautilus Social Conditions Survey reports. In addition, the career is surely looking less appealing to potential new recruits.

Any supply chain difficulties experienced now will be dwarfed by those that will be faced if seafarers are forced to leave the industry en masse.

It was perhaps understandable for governments to act with excessive caution when little was known about the disease, but that time has long since passed. If we are ever going to learn to live with this virus, then we will need to start calling out Covid-19 travel restrictions for the pointless and destructive gestures that they are.


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