I traveled to Europe twice last month, and my nose has not yet forgiven me. PCR tests before departure and return to the U.S. A PCR test to go from mainland Portugal to the Azores. Antigen tests to board (and reboard) a ship.
That gentle term "nasal swab" is so misleading -- some techs, it seemed, viewed my nose simply as the passageway to somewhere much nearer my stomach.
My vax card is getting frayed, my phone is filling with QR codes. I now travel with two masks: On a recent trip, Lufthansa required a surgical-style mask to board, but its lounge in Munich, where I was connecting, required a KN95-style mask. ("Regional requirement," the lounge attendant explained.)
To travel in Europe during Covid, it seems necessary to wear a belt and suspenders.
Some destinations require that visitors complete online forms seeking contact information and proof of vaccination and/or a negative test.
This seems reasonable in a pandemic, but what follows sometimes has a sense of theater. Upon landing in the Azores, I got in a long, slow line. As I inched forward, I filled out the online form on my phone. But I had difficulty uploading the QR code from my test results.
I asked a person next to me how he did it. He found a folder on my phone that displayed several QR codes. It was impossible to know which was my test result, but he just tapped one at random. It attached.
I wasn't sure that was wise but had paper backup if there were trouble.
Moments later, an email from MySafeAzores.com appeared in my inbox, stating that my submission was successful. It also contained a new QR code to allow entry. I later looked at the random code that had been submitted; it was for a negative test taken two months earlier in Mexico. Perhaps it didn't matter -- Azores officials also collected the paper version of my negative test results.
Belts-and-suspenders lesson No. 2: Even though you have a QR code on your phone, always carry paper proof of test results, as well. I have yet to have any of my QR codes actually scanned by a QR reader. In two instances, officials just waved in everyone who had a QR code displayed on their phones as they walked past; in two other instances, gate agents ignored the codes and insisted on paper.
Some countries in Europe -- Greece, for instance -- require only proof of vaccination and not a negative test. But before heading there, I got a PCR test anyway. The delta variant was a growing concern, and I was transiting through another country with different rules than Greece. And even if it were a direct flight, I would have done it; entry requirements could change even while I was in the air.
I was heading to Greece to sail on Silverseas' Silver Moon for its naming ceremony. An antigen test was needed before I could board, and masks were required indoors except in bars and restaurants. No test was needed to reboard after shore excursions, but one was required when I returned to the ship for its naming ceremony after having checked into my hotel in Athens (this, despite the negative test completed the day before for my return to the U.S.).
In an onboard interview, I asked Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Silversea parent Royal Caribbean Group, how concerned he was about the delta variant.
"It's worrisome because it's so easily communicable," he said. "In the end, it's reassuring that the vaccines seem to be so effective against it. It reinforces the importance of people getting vaccinated, not only for their sake but for the sake of society. It's something we should be concerned about, as we should be concerned about the inevitability of other variants.
"But we also need to understand that the idea of continuing isolation indefinitely is simply not a viable option," he added. "At some point, people simply accept a certain level of risk. In the early days of automobiles, in some states you had to have a person running ahead of a car, waving a red flag. No doubt it was safer than driving without the red flag, but society simply made a decision that some risks were worth taking.
"In fact, we do that every day in a thousand ways. We have to find a way to, on one hand, bring the risk of Covid-19 down to an acceptable level -- which it's not at today -- and on the other hand, accept that, at an acceptable level, life will carry on."
We all look forward to that day. But until then, pack the belt, pack the suspenders, carry the paper, upload the QR codes.
And, to hasten that day: If you haven't already done so, please get the vaccine.