Pandemics and Tourist Travel – Outbound considerations

There is a lot, one might even suggest a concerted, effort being made to deter Irish people from taking foreign holidays this year. The stated reason is that tourist travel might import Covid, which we want to avoid as much as possible of course. Notably the example given on not travellign abroad was related to Iraq, that known tourist hotspot.   Does this advice stack up?

Travel comes from two sources, inbound and outbound. Lets look at the arguments around not going off to the sun because you might reinfect people on return. 

First, from where might these imported infections come, Iraq aside? It is not clear from the CSO where Irish people go on holiday, but the AA conducted a survey in 2019 which gives a set of results that seem to jibe with the lived experience of people in Ireland. 

Based on this we have an outbound tourist destination breakdown of : Spain 19%, France 7% , Portugal and Italy 6% and the UK 4%. The USA takes 6%. Ireland was 18%. So we have a good idea on where over 2/3 tourists go. Lets see how dangerous, as of end June, are these destinations. 

ECDC data on new cases per 100k population over a 14 day period are good normalized sources of comparison. Here we see the latest

So, what does this tell us? It suggests that, in general, you are about at much a risk of seeing a new case in Ireland as in Italy or in France or Spain or Greece. There are hotspots. Thats the nature of this disease – it flares up. Italy is perhaps slightly more concerning, as there the transmission is defined as being mostly communtiy vs clusters or sporadic in most other subnational regional analyses : see https://qap.ecdc.europa.eu/public/extensions/COVID-19/COVID-19.html#tab3

So: at a general level Ireland=Spain=France=Italy, our main outbound tourist destinations. At a transmission level, Italy may be of some concern, and there are flareups in some parts of Spain and Portugal (but not Algarve, Andalucia, Provence etc). Again, you are likely to be infected in the main tourist spots are you are here (and its unlikely in the extreme, unless you are in a care home/refugee hostel/meatplant, none high on most people’s holiday bucket lists).

What about flights? Well three things suggest that again, flights are much less infectious than popular imagination might have one believe. First, most modern medium and longhaul aircraft, including Ryanair, have highly effective filters. Second, a mandatory masking protocol cannot be but helpful ; although a recent Lancet article suggests that the evidence is weak, there is some, and it is pretty costless to implement. Third, the evidence from simulations is that direct infectivity from respiratory diseases is likely to be concentrated one row either side of the person. So, if you are willing to go on a bus or a train you might be as safe on a plane.

Overall – the notion that going abroad per se is dangerous seems not to be sustained for the majority of likely Irish tourist destinations by the epidimiological data.

One has to then wonder why the push to deter people? If it is not supported by medical data then why push? If it is sustained, then we need much more detailed questioning of why it is so. Blanket bans are not good policies – banning inbound travel from certain areas is possible and much more sensible. There should be no scope for pandochiding or pandoparanoia.

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