Estonia has joined Iceland and Romania in the trend for ‘immunotourism’, waiving otherwise mandatory quarantine requirements for Covid-recovered travellers and vaccinated persons. Olivia Palamountain reports
Estonia is the latest destination to hop on the “immunotourism” train, joining Iceland and Romania in delivering an option to cancel quarantine for a lucky few. Poland, Cyprus and the Seychelles have also recently announced restriction-free policies for “immunotourists” (find Globetrender’s full list here).
Who makes the cut? Only Covid-recovered travellers and vaccinated persons are exempt from Estonia’s mandatory quarantine requirements, however, as of February 8 exceptions have also existed for those from these low-risk European countries: Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Iceland and Norway.
While holidays from the UK are not an option for the foreseeable future, anybody eligible to travel during or after the travel ban will still have hoops to jump through – even with “immunotourist” status.
In order to take advantage of quarantine exemption, visitors to Estonia will need to provide a doctor’s certificate stating they have recovered from Covid-19. This should include personal details, test methodology (for instance, PCR), test result, testing time and location, and the name and details of the testing institution.
Additionally they’ll need to hold a recent negative Covid test result, taken at a World Health Organization-approved facility.
If you’ve been immunised against Covid, the good news is that Estonia accepts vaccinations from nine global suppliers, and not just from the three that have been approved by the European Union.
The Eastern European country’s head of control and epidemics, Hanna Sepp, has said that this tactic is to show “mutual solidarity” – it is hoped that other countries will treat vaccinated Estonians with similar generosity going forward.
As predicted by Globetrender in its 2021 Travel Trend Forecast, we are now living in the age of the Vaccine VIP (a term coined by Globetrender) which sees travel privileges afforded to those who have access to immunisation, either through their citizenship (age, country of origin etc) or through spending power (luxury ‘vaccine package holidays’ are available to buy – at an elite price tag).
The Telegraph reports that the concept of “immunotourism” has sparked huge levels of debate, however this has been largely centred around the idea of vaccine passports, which would see those who have been vaccinated able to to travel freely to a widening list of countries. The other side of the immunotourism coin, however, involves those who have antibodies not from vaccines but from their own brush with the virus.
Experts largely agree that antibodies gathered post a Covid infection provide comparable rates of protection to the vaccine.
This January, Public Health England released the largest study in the world so far of those who have previously caught Covid, surveying circa 20,000 UK healthcare workers. Two matched groups of volunteers were regularly tested between June and November 2020: 6,000 health workers who had previously been infected with coronavirus and 14,000 who had not.
Preliminary results found that prior infection gave at least 83 per cent protection against reinfection, and gave better than 94 per cent protection against symptomatic Covid-19, for at least five months. These figures match the protection given by vaccines.
“Natural infection looks as good as a vaccine, which is very good news for the population,” said Susan Hopkins, PHE senior medical adviser, at the time. She was optimistic that this natural protection lasted “much longer than the few months people were speculating about” during the early stages of the pandemic last year,” and potentially even longer than the study’s five-month limit.
Globetrender predicts that as the weeks go on and the vaccine roll-out continues, more countries will relax travel restrictions to Vaccine VIPs, however, this does raise questions about the fairness of continuing to keep those with natural protection out.