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COVID: Best and worst places to live as the world re-opens

  • Where are the most COVID resilient destinations in the world?
  • UK-US travel corridor in jeopardy due to AstraZeneca vaccine
  • Countries introducing tougher restrictions due to surge in Delta variant cases
  • UK and Brussels near deal on COVID passports

It’s been approximately sixteen months since the novel coronavirus pandemic ravaged the globe, and as we begin to emerge from COVID-19, the best and worst places to be are being defined by their recovery and normalisation status.

Although the rapid vaccination drive has allowed some countries to relax restrictions, reopen international travel and give their citizens greater freedoms, some less-developed countries, which don’t have access to COVID vaccine supplies, have not been as fortunate.

While the infection and death rate continue to play a significant role in the reopening of the economy, greater significance is being placed on a country’s ability to return to its pre-pandemic state now that coronavirus vaccines are in circulation.

Best and worst places to be as we emerge from COVID pandemic

According to Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking, which measures the reopening progress of 53 countries using twelve metrics, including mortality rates, flight capacity, vaccine coverage, vaccinated travel routes and quality of life, the US ranks first.

The US has vaccinated 50.3% of the adult population, mask-wearing is not mandatory for vaccinated people in the US, activity in the services sector is booming, and the economy is set to expand by 6.6% in 2021.

US President Joe Biden’s USD 1.9TN infrastructure deal is also boosting hopes for a robust economic rebound in the country. It could reportedly create millions of jobs and generate a net gain of USD 100BN in revenue.

Other key takeaways from Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking were:

  • European countries are some of the best destinations to be as we emerge from the pandemic, courtesy of the solid COVID vaccine drive, which has reduced the number of hospitalisations and deaths. Countries in Europe are also reopening their borders and relaxing lockdown restrictions due to inoculation success.
  • Countries in Asia and South America such as Japan, Mexico and Thailand have fallen down the ranking due to zero-tolerance approaches to spikes in the infection rate, which weighs on economic recovery. Parts of the Asia-Pacific region also have notably slower COVID vaccine programmes, meaning they are more vulnerable to flare-ups.
  • India, the Philippines and parts of Latin America, including Argentina and Colombia, rank lowest due to a combination of variant-driven outbreaks, laggard coronavirus vaccination programmes, and tight curbs on travel.

Although more developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom fare worse in terms of the cumulative total of cases and deaths per capita, they prove to be better at exiting the pandemic, primarily due to greater access to COVID vaccine supplies.

While “COVID havens” such as New Zealand and Australia, which rank second and seventh respectively, remain the envy of most other nations due to the low prevalence of COVID-19 in these countries – they are at risk of becoming globally isolated.

Unlike the UK, Europe and the US, which sought to learn how to live with the virus, New Zealand and Australia adopted an elimination strategy. Although the domestic situation has somewhat returned to normal, a small outbreak of the virus can trigger the sorts of restrictions that most highly vaccinated countries are abandoning.

Given that experts expect COVID-19 to stick around like an endemic disease, like the common cold, these countries are at risk of becoming stuck in a cycle of lockdowns or stop-start restrictions if they don’t alter their strategy.

Some parts of the world face significant shortages in coronavirus vaccine supplies, impacting the governments’ ability to tackle flare-ups and protect the population.

With new variants of COVID-19 continuing to emerge, coronavirus restrictions still in place and COVID vaccines scarce, is the light at the end of the COVID tunnel out of view?

Doubts are being cast, especially as some of the world’s more advanced economies threaten to impose stricter restrictions amid concerns over the Delta variant.

Hopes of a UK-US travel corridor being established are also fading, with reports suggesting that the US could ban Britons that have been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine from entering America.

UK-US travel corridor unlikely to go ahead this summer

UK-US travel corridor unlikely to be established by summer

Hours after several EU countries announced tougher restrictions against British travellers due to the uptick in Delta variant caseloads; newswire reports revealed that chances of the long-awaited US-UK travel corridor to be established this summer is unlikely.

According to the latest news reports, talks between the US and the UK over the introduction of a travel corridor are unlikely to conclude by July-end due to the spike in Britain’s infection rate and concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Although travel firms on both sides of the Atlantic are ramping up pressure on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden to reopen travel between the two nations, talks will likely extend into August and possibly September, the Financial Times reported.

Health officials have warned the US government that the Delta virus will become the dominant strain in the United States in several weeks. With the AstraZeneca vaccine yet to be approved in the US, this complicates matters between the two countries further.

Worst case scenario, Britain will remain on the USA’s “prohibited travel list“; alternatively, all Britons administered the AstraZeneca jab could be barred entry into the US until it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

One UK spokesperson said that the AstraZeneca jab appears to be the main roadblock to progress as the US does not recognise it.

Although the coronavirus infection rate in the UK is surging, deaths in the country have fallen by 40% week-on-week – a clear indication that the vaccines in circulation are effective against severe disease and death.

Still, with 22,868 infections reported in the last 24 hours, that’s an increase of 115% on the previous seven-day spell.

However, there were just three deaths recorded on Monday – significantly lower than levels seen at the start of the year and numbers recorded a week ago.

Still, concerns over the rapidly spreading Delta variant in the UK has urged several EU countries such as Portugal and Spain to impose stricter measures against UK travellers.

Spain introduces tougher restrictions against Britain

Spain and Portugal tighten restrictions against Britain

On Tuesday, Spain said that only fully vaccinated Brits, or those who produce a negative PCR test, would be allowed into the country.

On Monday, Portugal announced that people unable to prove full vaccination status would be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in the country.

Both Spain and Portugal tightened restrictions against travellers after German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the countries for accepting British tourists despite the growing prevalence of the Delta variant in the UK.

Mrs Merkel also called for an EU-wide ban against British travellers but failed to persuade tourism-dependent nations such as Spain, Greece and Portugal to side with her.

While this has raised hopes for EU holidays to go ahead this summer, ongoing uncertainty around international travel and the pick-up in global COVID cases has seen many tour operators cancel holiday bookings.

Although Brussels and London are reportedly nearing a deal on so-called COVID passports, several UK tour operators such as TUi have cancelled flights and holidays for the summer.

For June and July, TUI has cancelled flights to:

  • Bulgaria
  • Cape Verde
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Egypt
  • Italy
  • Mainland Spain
  • Mexico
  • Morocco
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey

Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned against the Delta variant, which is now present in 92 countries, with deadly waves identified in several countries from Russia to South Africa and Indonesia.

The Delta variant – fast becoming the dominant strain in continental Europe and America – has already been labelled a “variant of concern” by the WHO.

Delta variant becoming the dominant strain in many countries

Health experts expect the Delta variant to become the dominant strain in Greece before the end of August and have called for stricter coronavirus restrictions throughout the summer.

Meanwhile, Spain has been given two to four weeks before the highly transmissible B.1.617.2 variant becomes the dominant strain in the country.

Beyond Europe, the Delta variant is wreaking havoc in Indonesia and Russia, with both recording their most significant daily surge in the infection rate since last year.

According to the latest data, 21,000 new coronavirus cases were recorded in Indonesia on Monday, with hospitals across the country overwhelmed by the high influx of patients.

Although India is experiencing a coronavirus crisis, the country’s Serum Institute has made calls for the European Union to approve its Covishield jab, which has also been excluded from the EU’s green pass certification for EU travel.

Covishield, manufactured by the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is similar to AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria jab, authorised in the EU.

While the WHO has approved Covishield, the European Commission has left it to individual member states to decide whether to permit travellers into the country who have received vaccines approved by medical regulators of the WHO.

India is against COVID vaccine certificates, arguing that they could prove highly discriminatory for developing countries facing supply shortages.

The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission also warned that Covid status certificates could create a “two-tier society whereby only certain groups can enjoy their rights fully”.