After we got legally married in 2019, my husband and I plan to celebrate our wedding in California next year.
We were living in Beijing when the COVID-19 outbreak started. Soon after my husband left for a short business trip to Dubai, but he stayed there for nine months.
We were eventually reunited at our new work base in Tokyo, and in the process the wedding was delayed three times before finally settling down on November 19, 2021.
Surrounded by friends and family I hadn’t seen in years, life seemed to be returning to normal.
From Southern California we went to Hawaii for honeymoon. We were amazed by the hordes of tourists, fully booked hotels, packed beaches and busy restaurants.
Japan once again closed its borders to all foreigners in one of the world’s strictest precautionary measures. Initially, the government also asked airlines to stop accepting reservations for inbound flights.
Just a day later, Japan withdrew the ban, following outcry that it would trap Japanese residents and citizens – I am a resident with a work visa – overseas. Daily international arrivals were reduced from 5,000 to 3,500 people per day.
My flight from Hawaii back to Tokyo was canceled at the last minute without warning — I didn’t know it was canceled until I tried to check in online the day before , only to find out that my itinerary didn’t exist. After hours on the phone with airline customer service, it ended up being that our only option was to fly back to California, then back to Japan.
Hawaii confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant on December 2, a day before our flight.
When my husband and I finally arrived in Tokyo on December 5, we went through a long process of filling out health questionnaires, getting tested for COVID, and downloading a contact tracing app. We were stopped for each step through the empty Narita airport until finally directed into the waiting area.
Ten hours later, we finally boarded a bus to a hotel near the airport, which had been converted into a quarantine facility.
Opening the door to the quarantine room – except for a brief period of time grabbing leftover food outside – is prohibited. The loudspeaker announces “squid game” style three times a day when food is available. Every morning we have to submit a health questionnaire online.
On the third day, we will be tested for COVID, then sent back to the airport. From there, passengers have to resort to private transport to quarantine for 11 more days at home. (Depending on the region they came from, some travelers have to quarantine for up to 14 days at a government facility.)
The Japanese government counts the day after the landing as the first day of quarantine. The government pays the costs associated with the quarantine, not the passengers.
The World Health Organization has warned that “blanket travel restrictions will not stop the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
As governments rush to implement a new round of restrictions, travelers have found themselves confused, frustrated and – in some cases – suddenly stranded. The rules are changing by the day, even by the hour, putting the burden on commuters to be prepared for any eventuality.
After more than a year of stringent border controls, many are left feeling isolated, hopeless and stranded. But in combination with other epidemic control measures, these regions have reported low number of COVID cases, with single-digit daily numbers in Hong Kong and nearly a hundred per day in Japan.
Research shows that travel restrictions are more like a Band-Aid than a long-term solution. At the same time, they incur high economic and social costs. Almost two years into the pandemic, the world had begun to breathe a sigh of relief. Events such as weddings, holiday trips, and international family reunions finally resumed.
Instead, new forms keep emerging. The world remains vulnerable due to factors such as the uneven distribution of vaccines around the world and the limited duration of immunity from vaccines.
So expect the new versions to continue to wreak havoc on travel plans everywhere as governments keep playing the game of whac-a-mol.
Photo of the arrivals hall at Tokyo’s Narita Airport via AP Photo/Hiro Komai.
Credit : www.cnn.com