December 2, 2020
News Opinion

PAUL HOPKINS: Those faraway places we’ve been dreaming about …

My recurring dream in this time of coronavirus has seen me by the edge of the Little Karoo desert in South Africa (pictured); on a plateau between the Outeniqua Mountains to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south, driving past empty farmhouses whose people had decamped, leaving fronts boarded up, gates locked.

In my dream, driving aimlessly through a seemingly surreal vista, weirdly wearing a large scarf of ostrich feathers, flapping incessantly in the balmy breeze, I am uncertain of where I am going.

Fronts boarded up, gates locked. Is this the pandemic lockdown, and is the uncertainty of where I’m going the uncertainty of where we are all going post-lockdown, in Phase Three as we emerge this week a little more back to a normality of sorts?

Who knows the stuff of dreams (which a lot us, apparently having in these strange days), but I do know we are all looking forward to gaining more in this next phase of freedom; the pub, a meal out, a journey beyond 20km to visit a loved one or old friend. With summer in full swing, still in doubt is whether a holiday abroad will be one of the ‘new freedoms’ to tempt us.

As I write, what’s doable and what’s not in terms of travel abroad is a grey area, what with deviating thoughts on air bridges and quarantines, and some favourite destinations possibly going into a second lockdown because of a second phase of the rogue microbe.

The prevailing advice seems to be if you must holiday —  and, yes, we must after weeks of cabin fever —  then holiday in Ireland.

Tony Holohan has advised against travel abroad over fears it could lead to another coronavirus spike. The Chief Medical Officer says staycations should be the way forward for the foreseeable future. “I think that planning a staycation would be a good thing, it wouldn’t involve the risk of travel to other countries. The process of travel itself is one that would have to be carefully managed to ensure that, as we travel through airplanes and airports and so on, the risk of transmission in those settings is minimised and that there is compliance with public health advice.”

While World Health Organisation (WHO) analysis has shown the seven-day incidence of Covid-19 in Ireland to be among the lowest in the EU, Tony Holohan says there is a considerable risk of resurgence of infection across Europe, in whole countries or regions.

“We are beyond nervous,” he says. “We are concerned about travel as a potential source of infection for this country.”

Paddy Mallon, Professor of Microbial Diseases at UCD,  concurs, saying that any international travel would inevitably lead to imported cases of the virus and the only way to tackle that would be a second lockdown.

Bottom line is we should not travel abroad until possibly 2021.  Anyway —  and I write as one who has travelled extensively down the years, most often free gratis in the guise of travel writer — foreign travel can have its downsides.

You know the scenario: Determined to save time, you print off your boarding pass at home — but then queue for hours at baggage drop. And, naturally, you will be behind the one ommadawn too busy on his phone to notice the line moving.  Then there’s priority boarding; one wonders is it ever worth paying for. Even if ground staff check boarding passes, it all goes out of the window the minute you get on a transfer bus — and it’s a free-for-all.

Can you imagine how all this will be exacerbated in the new scheme of things? Worse still, you’re sunbathing at your villa and the status of that sunny clime changes?

And, besides, those far-away places won’t be the same, what with all the new regulations, dealing with dining and distance. Granted, it will be similar at home if you go for a staycation. But the divil you know and all that, and you will be giving a much-needed revenue boost to Ireland’s hospitality industry.

In my recurring dream, that uncertainty was of South Africa’s future after independence.  In reality, the land has been repossessed, its heirs — to the former Feather Barons who financially fell foul of the innovative automobile that only ruffled a woman’s fashionable ostrich plume — have been quietly and confidently announcing themselves. Washing flaps on the line, smoke rising from the chimneys, there is optimism for, among other things, tourism.

I can’t wait to go back … but wait I must.

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