Saturday, April 24, 2021

This week the State Department posted over 115 new level-4 travel advisories this week due to risks from COVID-19. If you had thought about going to France or Germany last week, the State Department would have told you these countries were at Level 3: Reconsider Travel. Today, the same countries are rated Level 4: Do Not Travel. In other words, don’t even think about it. Except for one country: Bhutan. It’s the only country today that is listed as Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions.

Bhutan ( https://wikitravel.org/en/Bhutan )

Bhutan looks like a lovely place, a lush and green Buddhist kingdom high in the Himalayas bordering both China and India, with a population of 778,452 people living in a land of trees, temples, and mountains at 8,000 feet above sea level. It bears a striking resemblance to James Hilton’s fictional kingdom of Shangri-La, a place of peace and learning where time stands still. But getting there won’t be easy. You will need a tourist visa, for one thing, and Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations with the U.S. or anyone else at the moment. That doesn’t mean they’re not friendly, it’s just the way it is. And there are no direct flights from the U.S., but you might be able to get a connecting flight from Singapore (Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution.)

Bhutan is in the neighborhood of Nepal and Tibet.

But this week much of the world is closing down access in response to the spread of COVID and its variants.

For example:

  • Japan has issued a state of emergency in the major hot spots of Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hyogo. Places that serve alcohol or offer karaoke must close entirely and other businesses are under an 8 PM curfew.
  • The state of Washington has entered a fourth surge with the B.1.1.7 or UK variant now dominant in the state. There is an increase in hospitalizations among children and people between 40-59 (the age of their parents?).
  • Germany has centralized their COVID regulations giving the national government power to impose curfews, close schools, and require lockdowns instead of leaving it up to the individual states. The measures will be taken in response to metrics based on the number of virus cases per 100,000 residents.
  • Authorities in Iran are imposing partial lockdowns under the pressure of highest ever case numbers, full hospitals, and record numbers of burials.
  • In what must be the worst catastrophe of all, India’s hospitals are overwhelmed, with many unable to take in patients and some are out of oxygen. One of India’s leading virologists is quoted as saying that this is beyond an emergency, “it’s a collapse of the goddamn system.” I’m encouraged to see in the news today that China, Australia, France, the UK, the U.S., and a Pakistan-based charity, the the Abdul Sattar Edhi Foundation, are offering help.

There are so many more examples. I haven’t even mentioned Brazil, which currently has the world’s highest mortality with 2,580 deaths per day. The imposition of lockdowns and curfews and restrictions of any kind, which are unpopular everywhere, show the immense amount of pressure governments are under in the face of this pandemic. I keep referring to travel restrictions, not because I miss travel, but because they are a symptom of the world’s separation imposed by this pandemic crisis.

James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon in 1933, envisioning a better world.

“We have reason. It is the entire meaning and purpose of Shangri-La.” James Hilton, Lost Horizon.

Pray for the world and dream of Shangri-la. It’s hard to get there, but it’s the one place we can go.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Japan Declares 3rd State Of Emergency, 3 Months Ahead Of Olympics,” NPR, April 23, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/04/23/990133421/japan-declares-3rd-state-of-emergency-3-months-ahead-of-olympics

“Inslee: Washington has entered its fourth wave of COVID-19,” The Seattle Times, April 22, 2021. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/inslee-washington-has-entered-its-fourth-wave-of-covid-19/

“Germany to impose ’emergency brake’ law across almost entire country to curb Covid infections,” CNN, April 23, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/23/europe/germany-covid-shutdown-grm-intl/index.html

“India Covid crisis: Hospitals buckle under record surge,” BBC News, April 23, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56858403

“Coronavirus | China, Australia, France offer help to India,” The Hindu, April 24, 2021. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-china-australia-france-offer-help-to-india/article34397254.ece

” ‘It is a dire situation’: U.S. will help India deal with surging coronavirus cases, Fauci says,” KTLA 5, April 23, 2021. https://ktla.com/news/nationworld/it-is-a-dire-situation-u-s-will-help-india-deal-with-surging-coronavirus-cases-fauci-says/

“Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave,” ABC News, April 22, 2021. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/sanctions-battered-iran-weary-pandemic-faces-worst-wave-77237844

Other Resources

Bhutan: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/bhutan-population/

“POST COVID BHUTAN WELLNESS TRAVEL,” Sept. 11, 2020. https://www.bookmytour.bt/blog/post-covid-bhutan-wellness-travel

Wikitravel, Bhutan, https://wikitravel.org/en/Bhutan

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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