Travel in the time of COVID

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Don’t travel across international borders unless it is absolutely necessary. Staying home is the wisest advice I can give after my experience.

I wasn’t inclined to leave home last July. But after two years being cocooned, my wife was eager to visit our daughters in the US.

My youngest daughter had a baby in the middle of the pandemic. The baby boy was born premature and it was not an easy first few months for the new mother. The lola was eager to be there and help out.

So I reluctantly agreed to go. We planned to stay six months. My son in Singapore said he would join us in December for a family reunion. We missed having a 2020 reunion.

But leisure travel during pandemic times is more expensive. Safety is the major concern and that doesn’t come cheap.

For starters, it meant Business Class tickets to avoid the crowd in Economy. There were only four of us in our compartment in the Tokyo to Los Angeles leg. There were about a dozen in the Manila to Tokyo leg, but more than enough space for personal distancing.

And when you return home, you must make sure your quarantine hotel can be relied upon to take all the precautions to keep you safe. That means getting a five star hotel with a reliable international reputation.

For us, we chose Conrad Manila, a Hilton hotel, and they are worth every extra thousand pesos to keep you worry free. They also make quarantine seem more like a staycation, except you can’t go out of the room.

Then there are the COVID tests. In the US, tests cost anywhere from $150 to $300 if you want a quick turnaround for results. On our trip back, I miscalculated the number of days or hours required prior to travel, so we ended up taking the test twice.

Traveling in the time of COVID can be a nerve wracking experience. You feel you are in a war zone and are constantly trying to avoid an invisible virus. And even if you take the necessary safety protocol, many don’t.

The minimum requirement for mask wearing is controversial in the US. Many Americans see mask wearing as a curtailment of their human rights. This is particularly true as you move out beyond the Metro areas.

Signs calling for mandatory mask wearing are not always observed in supermarkets. They must have been amused that I double mask.

The domestic flights are always full to the last seat. While mask wearing is mandatory, a flight packed like sardines can make you feel so uncomfortable even for short flights.

Of course you have to remove your masks while dining in restaurants. They try to place diners far from each other when possible. It is difficult to enjoy a meal wondering if you are inhaling enough virus to make you sick.

My wife learned her lesson the hard way. Since her relatives and friends are all in Los Angeles, she decided to go there even as I remained in Denver.

She had a family lunch with her siblings and cousins in a Chinese buffet restaurant. A few days later, her cousins fell ill and tested positive for COVID. My wife also came down with a bad cold that turned out to be COVID as well.

When she tested positive, I got really scared and prayed hard for her to recover quickly. At the same time, my grandson was exposed to a seatmate in school who tested positive.

The double dose of Sinovac must have helped. But it has to be the booster shot from the prayers from all our friends that saved my wife and grandson from anything more serious than a bad cold for two days.

One of her cousins and her husband, both unvaccinated, died. That lunch was their last family gathering. Her cousins who were Pfizer vaccinated were hospitalized. But her siblings all tested negative.

After she tested negative, we waited some more days before my wife rejoined me in Denver. We were careful our unvaccinated baby would not catch it.

From then on we just stayed home, took long walks in the suburban neighborhood where my daughter lives. No more family gatherings in Los Angeles.

Medical travel insurance is another big expense. And the usual travel insurance we get is not sufficient. Even if our travel insurance from Prudential Guarantee covered COVID, it does not cover everything in a bad case.

Health is a big worry because healthcare costs in the US are unaffordable for us in peso terms. Praise God we stayed healthy enough to not have to see a doctor for anything… not even when my wife caught COVID.

We also took our booster shots, Pfizer, from Walmart. The government health center wouldn’t give us the booster shots. They had no guidelines for those whose previous shots happened to be Sinovac. No lines, no fuss at Walmart.

The scary stories of red tape and a confused system had me worried about our return home. But I was pleasantly surprised how courteous and orderly everything was.

The One Health Pass is a big success. It was easy to register. Finally, just one pass is needed… we no longer have to fill up several forms asking the same questions.

And when the company that did our final COVID test failed to attach the report, I merely went back to OHP, pressed the button for tracing the test and there it was… the BOQ certification that we tested negative. Congratulations to DOH!

Good thing they accepted our vax cards from Pasig. When I tried to get my vax certificate, VaxCertPh run by DICT said I have no record. But they easily found my wife’s record. Strange because we had our vaccinations at the same time at the same place.

It is good to know that finally, our bureaucrats are learning how to manage the pandemic better for all of us. Hopefully, the gains are institutionalized as we upgrade our health system after the pandemic is over.

It is great to be home… safe. It will be a while before I travel abroad again.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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