We are beginning to see what a medium-term Covid world might look like. The ‘suppression’ strategy is winning out across the western and Asian world — country after country is opting to keep the virus completely at bay indefinitely, or until a vaccine.
The other side of this, of course, is that once you have almost no virus you have to shut your borders to preserve the purity of your virus-free kingdom: New Zealand is now completely closed to visitors; Hong Kong tests everyone on arrival.
One step further on from this will be pacts between neighbouring countries that share a common approach and similar levels of infection. In what has caused some understandable unease at a EU level, the young Chancellor of Austria has proposed a ‘travel corridor’ between Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, that could even stretch as far as Greece, allowing the uninfected peoples of those countries to access the Mediterranean without fear of contamination. Are antibody-carrying persons with immunity passports going to be allowed into these special zones, I wonder? Britain is in discussions with France about a travel pact; the Baltic states have already agreed one.
One interesting aspect of this worrisome way of thinking is that the Swedes are suddenly bottom of the pile — with their more laissez-faire strategy they are considered unsafe. Politicians in Denmark are now considering re-opening their border with Germany but keeping the Swedish border closed.
In the US you can see a similar sort of fragmentation taking place between, mainly, Democrat-leaning Blue states that are being ultra-cautious and extending lockdowns, and Republican-voting Red states that are pushing for more rapid opening up. The state governments of California, Washington and Oregon have already signed up to a ‘Western States Pact’ in agreeing a Covid-19 rules, most recently joined by Colorado and Nevada.
Freedom of movement between states of the US is enshrined under constitutional law, but it remains up to the states to enforce this, rather than the federal government. If the divergence in approach between states continues, how long before we start seeing quarantine requirements for out-of-zone visitors, and subsequent legal challenges to them? An ‘infected zone’ along the southern and midwestern states, with minimal restrictions, and ‘pure zones’ along the seaboards.
Playing this out, you could start to see a very different sort of world, divided between the Covid-free world and those parts of the world that have decided to live alongside it. Will we start seeing direct flights from Stockholm-Arlanda to Dallas Texas, and straight down to Rio di Janeiro? Will the economy of this more freely connected world start behaving differently? Will the capitals of this new ‘free world’, with more lax quarantine restrictions, start acting as the new global travel hubs, replacing London and New York? It is too early to tell.
Meanwhile there is a sharp irony in the fact that those places most committed to an open, multilateral, progressive world (blue states in America, the EU, New Zealand, Scotland) look set to become the most closed and border-patrolled, while the ‘America First’ states and places like Brazil have the chance to look outwards like never before.