This video is sponsored by Raycon. Get 15% off their already affordable wirelessearbuds with the link in the description. February 29th, 2020. The day of the first Coronavirus death inthe United States, reported at the time. The day, for Americans, that this mysterious,highly-infectious disease went from distant news story to actual, alarming reality. From the date of that first reported death,it would take less than one month for the U.S. to become the most infected country inthe world – passing Italy, then China, and eventually ending up in a category of itsown. But although the outbreak was real everywhere,it was felt viscerally in the northeast, one of only a handful of places in the countrywhere headlines of despair seemed to match the daily experience of locals.
There were not only two waves, but, effectively,two, distinct, pandemics. For those in and around New York, the Coronaviruswas all-too-horrifyingly real, creating a more vigilant atmosphere even now as new localcases stabilize. Masks are widely worn, hands, frequently washed,and public spaces, treated with caution. Outside of the northeast corridor, a verydifferent pandemic played out. One where the first casualties were jobs,classes, and the conveniences of modern life. Reactions to government-imposed restrictionswere so geographically divided in part because the Coronavirus was so geographically divided. Now, as infections surge across the country,a once regional crisis is becoming a shared disaster. Everyone, everywhere is, in some way, affectedby the virus. But it would be a mistake to say that everyoneis affected equally. Just as in the early days of the pandemic,there are, broadly speaking, two very different groups of people: Those who’ve lost work,school, and their livelihoods, and those who can treat lockdown as a vacation. Generally speaking, this is an exceptionallygreat time to be rich, and an exceptionally bad time to be poor.
Since March, around 50 million people havefiled for unemployment, setting records not seen since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, the country’s richest have seentheir wealth explode. During that same period, the net worth ofU.S. billionaires has grown by almost 20%, and a dozen, in particular, have doubled theirwealth. When most Americans were stuck in their hometowns,if not their living rooms, the richest among us, now untethered geographically by work,school, and friends, were on the move – to their vacation homes in Jackson Hole, Nantucket,and Sun Valley. There, in these small, remote towns, wealthyfamilies brought from their big cities the risk of infection. Teton County, for example, of which JacksonHole is apart of, is one of the richest counties in the country – home, at least during skiseason, of Bill Gates, Kanye West, Christy Walton, and Dick Cheney, to name just a few. Its one and only hospital, equipped with just24 ventilators, was put to the test as private jets swarmed local airports. Despite being home to just 23,000 full-timeresidents, Teton was Wyoming’s second-hardest-hit county in April, surpassing other areas threeor four times more populous, until the second wave hit. Other wealthy families booked-out entire hotelsor resorts for 20, 30, or $40,000 a week. Finally, some went even further – preferringto leave the country altogether. Private jet companies were inundated withrequests, both from a lack of available scheduled flights, and a concern for health and safety. One study suggests regular passenger air travelinvolves 270 person-to-person interactions, while private flights expose a customer toless than 20. But while demand for a safe place to hideis clearly very high, it’s far harder to find supply. Pandemic tourists, as you might call them,are looking for three things: Someplace Coronavirus is under control,Somewhere that is isolated and likely to avoid further outbreaks,And, of course, somewhere that will let them in.
The trouble is that any country which meetsthe first two criteria likely did so by avoiding the third. In other words, any place where outbreaksare contained likely closed its borders early, and is unwilling to undo its hard work now. This rules out the vast majority of countries. Italy, for instance, denied entry to fiveU.S. citizens who flew from Colorado earlier this month on a private jet. The risk of allowing them in, despite theirriches, is just too high. But not everywhere. There are a few countries where the benefitsof tourism are so, insanely high as to outweigh the risk of further outbreaks. These are mostly small island nations likeFiji, The Bahamas, and The Maldives. For the latter country, travel and tourismcomprise nearly 40% of its GDP. These are places that can’t afford to losevisitors. But with limited healthcare infrastructure,they really can’t afford an outbreak, and therefore had to take the lesser of two verybad evils. Take the case of Fiji. Its borders were first closed on February3rd, weeks before the first confirmed case, to any foreigner who had visited mainlandChina in the past 14 days, in addition to screening the health of passengers duringtheir flights to Fiji. On the 27th, this ban was extended to alltravelers from Italy, Iran, and parts of South Korea. 18 days later, cruise ship stops, internationalevents, and government travel were also canceled.
Three days after that, Fiji confirmed itsfirst case: a Fiji Airways flight attendant who had recently flown to San Francisco andAuckland. After this first person began a chain communitytransmission, infecting four others, locals expected the worst. In early March, it became the first Pacificisland country to open a WHO-certified testing lab, and the fourth Pacific country capableof testing for COVID-19. This enabled instant results, rather thanwaiting for samples to be sent to Australia. By the end of the month, its main internationalairport was closed and a military-enforced curfew announced from 10 pm to 5 am. Then, an amazing 78 days went by between itseighteenth and nineteenth cases. As of early July 2020, despite a populationof 883,000 spread across 300 islands, Fiji has recorded a total of 21 infections, makingit possible to list every past and present case in a single frame. It’s also managed a 100% recovery rate,with the vast majority of recent cases coming from returning locals staying in quarantine. In this way, Fiji perfectly encapsulates thedilemma of countries like it: Having made early and painful sacrifices to prevent anoutbreak, they now have a new kind of vacation amenity: being free of Coronavirus, that they’reeager to reap the benefits from, but at the risk of making things much, much worse. Every country, island, and city depends ontourism to a different degree, and thus, every country, island, and city has responded differently: Cuba, for example, has divided the countrysuch that visitors stay only in designated resort areas and don’t infect the generalpopulation. Hawaii, on the other hand, will allow travelersto skip its mandatory two-week quarantine if they present a negative test result 72hours before arrival.
Fiji, like several other countries, has cometo a different conclusion: It knows that the risk of welcoming visitorsis directly proportional to the number who arrive, but the number of visitors is notnecessarily proportional to the benefits they bring. They can minimize the risk of reopening whilemaximizing the income they generate by inviting only the rich. To quantify this fact, Australia is the largestsource of arrivals in Fiji, accounting for just under half of the total. They spend, on average, $116 US Dollars perperson, per day and $1,039 per trip. A cruise ship passenger, in comparison, spends$44 on average per port of call. And finally, someone arriving by yacht spends$3,615 during their average stay. In total, the yachting industry contributesapproximately 28 million dollars to the Fijian economy every year, not that far behind the44 million brought by the cruise industry. Cruise ships expose the islands to 239,000passengers a year, while yachts expose them to just 4,473. By comparing these numbers, we can very crudelyestimate that yachts bring approximately 2% the risk of infection that cruise ships do,while contributing 63% as much to the local economy. This is the thinking behind Fiji’s new ‘BlueLanes’ program, which allows billionaires to bypass its Coronavirus border restrictions.
Its prime minister announced that yachts andpleasure craft will now be allowed to enter one of its ports. If a ship’s journey there took 14 days orlonger at sea and its passengers show proof of a negative test result, everyone on boardwill be screened for symptoms, and, if deemed healthy enough, allowed to roam the country. If their journey was shorter, they can makeup the remaining time in quarantine. If someone arrives from Sydney after 8 daysat sea, for example, they can pay for six days of quarantine, and then proceed to hideout on a remote private island. And Fiji is not alone, many countries arecompeting for the VIP-crowd. Seychelles is also allowing visitors who arriveon private or chartered flights and then stay on an isolated island resort. Thailand, the Maldives, and other countrieshave similar plans. In all likelihood, only a very small numberof billionaires will arrive – so far Fiji has announced 30, but that, is precisely thegoal – to cash-in on their strong early pandemic response, while inviting very little additionaldanger. If it works, international travel may slowlyrevert to the status it once held decades ago: reserved mostly for the rich, and fairlyinaccessible to everyone else. One thing that is getting much more affordableare wireless earbuds. Raycon sent me a pair of their Everyday modeland I’ve been wearing them every week at the gym since. They start at just about half the price ofother wireless earbuds, help block out the noise around you, and last up to six hourson a charge. I’ve used other wireless earbuds beforeand was pleasantly surprised by how durable Raycons are. Although not exactly recommended, I’ve evenheard of them surviving accidental trips to the washing machine.
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