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Travel with my app
How the Covid Tables Have Changed. In the early stages of the pandemic, the English-speaking world welcomed its strong common-sense response. Australia quickly put in place a police quarantine of inbound travelers. Boris Johnson has rolled out the fastest vaccinations in a big economy. During this time, the EU has evolved in an icy fashion, in part due to imperatives such as translating documentation into its 24 official languages (including Irish – 60,000 native speakers).
But, as a miserable winter of containment gave way to spring, Europe has started to pull itself together – 70% of adults have now received a vaccine, 57% two, about the same as the States – United. Hungary, our base in Europe, has been one of the fastest in the EU to roll out vaccinations. As a result, in June, shortly after receiving our second doses of Pfizer, the country abolished all restrictions related to Covid, including the joy of joys, the need to wear a mask (inside and out). ‘outside). Then, on July 1, the EU’s internal national borders were reopened to those armed with its Covid application, issued to those who have been vaccinated, or tested negative or who have recovered from Covid. With the app, crossing the borders of EU member states does not require any quarantine, tests or other bureaucracy.
This allowed us to accept an invitation to join friends over glorious Lake Como in Italy. And so, one day when we woke up to learn that most of Australia’s state borders were closed again – and with the Morrison government still creating every possible obstacle to the return of citizens like us – we headed for the border of Hungary with Austria. It turned out to be the only one of the eight border crossings on the trip where our Covid app was requested. After a quick glance from the Austrian border guard, we sailed.
We were in Austria for the last time in December when it was one of the few places we and our UK based girls could be together for Christmas. We were able to book an Airbnb in Vienna, but unfortunately all restaurants and cafes in the big city were closed; its famous Christmas markets have been canceled, as have most concerts.
What a contrast this time. We stayed at one of our favorite hotels in the Austrian Alps, in Gosausee, one of the most magical mountain lakes in the country. Luckily, it was a throwback to the olden days – the hotel full, the restaurant doing a roaring trade, and lots of friendly walkers striding the trails under the soaring mountain peaks. Austria had also ended the need for all masks and no one was wearing one. Still, there was an intrusive Covid passport regime: our hotel and highway restaurants asked us to confirm that we had them.
The next border in Germany was uninhabited – however, suggesting impressive, if slightly frightening, electronic surveillance, after crossing it we received text messages from the Federal Ministry of Health kindly asking us to observe the rules of Covid. These included the continued requirement to wear masks indoors.
The fastest route to Lake Como was via Switzerland and we wondered if crossing its border amid Covid restrictions might bring out the more unofficial side of the Swiss character. But, as we reached the border between Austrian Tyrol and the Romansh region of Switzerland, a friendly Swiss border guard simply wished us a pleasant journey through this spectacular corner of the Alps. The entry into Italy a few hours later was again not monitored.
For much of the ride, appropriately we listened to the audio version of British writer Laura Dodsworth’s new book, A state of fear: How the UK government militarized fear during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is particularly fascinating about why public health authorities suddenly moved in mid-2020 from advising against face masks to making them mandatory. Stressing that the UK publicly acknowledges the health record for them is “weak,” she concludes that health officials are using them as symbols of compliance with their rules. They have become almost religious signals of the virtue of the wearer.
In Lake Como, as in Austria, after more or less eighteen months of confinement, it was surprising – and of course exciting – to see how normal had returned. With the return of American tourists and European neighbors, securing a table in a cafe or restaurant was not easy. Despite lingering concerns about the return of lockdowns, Italians’ main concern was returning to the perennial question of what to do about too much tourism.
Our last stop was Croatia, one of the few EU countries open to visitors coming directly from Great Britain, where we met our London based daughter. We discovered the architectural and seaside charms of the ancient Venetian port of Rovinj. Croatia has been as successful as Como or the Austrian Alps in quickly attracting tourists.
The management trajectory of the Covid in Europe is not without its problems. Few squabbles with immunity documents required to cross borders, but, as seen in France and Italy, attempts to demand Covid passports more broadly meet fierce resistance. Yet Europe in many ways is more sensitive than us about the pandemic. This comes up against deep Anglo-Saxon prejudices according to which we do better democracy and the police than the mainland. In this case, it may be necessary to rethink them. Since the start of 2020, no European country has taken the following measures: making the return or departure of its citizens practically impossible; order its citizens not to talk to each other in shops or to “browse”; empowering the police to decide what “non-essential” items are (including whether someone should buy a new pair of shoes); deploy the army to enforce confinements; allow his police to ask people, the Stasi, to report others for breaking the lockdown rules; or recruit a senior Communist official to advise on lockdown policy.
Europeans are rightly horrified by such stories. The English-speaking world must ask itself why, unlike most democracies, we become aberrant by continuing to endure such madness.
Mark Higgie is Spectator Australia’s Europe correspondent @ markhiggie1