Vaccine tourism

Source: By Divya A: The Indian Express

Recently, reports emerged of a Dubai-based tour operator offering a 24-day package tour from Delhi to Moscow, which included two shots of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine.

The Rs 1.3 lakh tour package promised 20 days of sightseeing across Russia between the two jabs. But soon after, the package disappeared from the Arabian Nights Tours website.

Even as several constraints need to be worked out first – including visa and flights from India to Russia – a Delhi-based travel agency has also jumped in the fray, saying they are considering vaccination tour packages to Russia. Delhi-based Subhash Goyal, a senior member of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), says, “Currently, this is not possible since most countries have banned travellers from India in the wake of the COVID-19 second wave.” However, he adds that whenever restrictions on travel ease, the tour operators can definitely consider this among other travel offerings.

The tiny central European republic of San Marino welcomed its first vaccine tourists – a group of four from Latvia, who drove 26 hours in a camper van to reach San Marino, where they became the first visitors to take advantage of the microstate’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine holiday package. It is said that Russia and the Maldives are already working on programmes to offer people abroad the chance to get vaccinated during a visit; similar offerings are sprouting in the US as well.

In India, the term “vaccine tourism” became popular late last year when reports emerged of several tour operators offering packages to the US with the additional benefit of a vaccine shot. Meanwhile, South Africans are said to be flying to Zimbabwe, Canadians and South Americans are travelling to the US for jabs, while tour operators in Europe are offering trips to Russia for Sputnik V shots.

Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel said, “There may be no need for anyone from India to go abroad for vaccination since all eligible Indians will be vaccinated in the country by the end of this year – that too, at the most reasonable rates possible.”

However, the idea of vaccine tourism is gaining momentum in India. Many Indians, who fled to Dubai just before international flight ban came into effect last month, are said to be availing the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm’s shots in the UAE.

In fact, vaccine tourism is an emerging trend in countries where vaccines are in short supply, or where certain groups are still restricted from being inoculated. Still, there are only a few countries in the world (parts of the US, Russia, Slovakia, Zimbabwe etc) that don’t restrict their vaccination policy to local residents.

Currently, it is not illegal to travel to a foreign country to get vaccinated if air travel is allowed. In January, Florida made it mandatory for those seeking a vaccine to produce a proof of local residency. On the other hand, New York City recently announced a plan to use “vaccine tourism” to increase footfalls in the city, offering one shot jabs to all outsiders who are from the US.

Vaccine Passport

Sometimes, vaccine tourism is confused with vaccine passports, which is a more regulated practice gaining currency around the world. Recently, Seychelles announced that only vaccinated visitors from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who have completed two weeks after their second dose are permitted to travel to and enter the island nation, with proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Seychelles had opened its borders for tourists around the world from 25 March 2021, in light of the aggressive vaccination campaign that the country embarked on earlier in the year. The economy of the small island nation off the east coast of Africa is based primarily on tourism. But earlier this week, it re-imposed several restrictions after a sharp spike in cases.

The 27-member European Union (EU) has also decided to allow entry to fully vaccinated travellers from countries with low infection rates. The EU allows non-essential travel only from seven countriesAustralia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Israel, Rwanda and China.