The Pointlessness Of COVID Travel Theatre

Airport travel is a weird hellscape where a mish-mash of government rules are imposed by private companies upon hapless people just trying to exercise their human right to move. The result is mountains of ass-covering paperwork, burying colored and poor people while the rich just fly privately.

And this is on a good day. This was before COVID-19. Now it’s sheer insanity. Let me give you one example.

I’ll discuss India, not because the Indian visa process is especially awful (though it is) but just because this is what I have experienced, and still haven’t cleared. We’re trying again tomorrow.

It’s like this all over the world. Countries are appearing to give a shit, while just dumping shit on anyone trying to move.

India’s COVID rules are:

  1. Fully vaccinated people can fly
  2. Unvaccinated children aged 0–4 can fly
  3. Unvaccinated children over 5 must get a PCR test

This is all buried in fine print, and all complete theatre.

Vaccinated people can transmit, so the vaccine certificates mean nothing. Unvaccinated children can definitely transmit, my son wipes his nose on me, so that exception will also guarantee failure. The only thing this rule is doing is protecting us from people aged 5–18, but that rule is so buried that people only find out at the airport, and they end up with a bunch of children screaming their lungs out.

Like my daughter, who bawled because her brother (aged 4) could go but not her, because of a technicality. I don’t care and these are the breaks, but the fact is that this does little to stop the spread of COVID. It’s just rules executed for the rules sake, a bunch of pointless ritual theatre to fight a disease.

Note that I’m not saying that sensible health regulations aren’t possible or good. Take China (besides its usual visa bullshit), where people have to get tested twice before coming. Onerous, but logical, and they’ve maintained zero COVID.

Most countries, however, are not trying to maintain zero COVID but merely zero accountability. “We did something,” they can say. Did it work? “No, but it was something.”

This is what proponents of this or that nuanced mandate don’t really see. Pandemics don’t care about nuance. They don’t check boxes and cross Ts. It’s a fucking disease. You can’t bargain with it, it won’t fill out forms in triplicate, it won’t read the fine print. We act like COVID is going to not transmit because we’re eating, or because we got a shot months ago, and it just doesn’t give a shit. You’ve either got zero COVID or COVID infinity.

If we had an international agreement that we’re going to work together to stop COVID this one, clear, way, that might do something, but international travel is not internationally regulated at all. It’s a literal no-man’s land, where every country comes up with their own racist rules and some private company executes them.

And who gets executed?

Always the poor, colored people, never actual problems like a disease. Take the fact that billions of people still live under vaccine apartheid, unable to get a dose at all. They are kept out by these systems almost completely. This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature, now countries have a ‘health’ reason to keep Africans out.

Again, I’m not saying that international health regulations would be bad. I think they’d be good. I’m saying that trying to do this through unequal, idiotic systems just reproduces inequality and idiocy.

This is the fundamental point of any travel regulation, to keep the poor and colored down, not preventing terrorism or disease. We keep piling paperwork on top of this core injustice, producing death by a million paper-cuts. This is the pointlessness of COVID travel requirements, which is the ultimate pointlessness of all travel requirements.

Our modern world is full of all these rituals, which we just call rules. But we’re casting magic spells and carrying talismans as much as any ancient Mayan. Like any ritual, our travel rituals are fundamentally about preserving human hierarchy, not actually changing reality. In truth, we might as well tie limes to the plane and smash coconuts. That would at least entertain children instead of making them scream.