I’m writing this post to start a discussion with others who have travelled internationally during the pandemic. I’ll start by noting my observations. This report is anecdotal, and I acknowledge that many developing countries did lock down extremely hard and in a more authoritarian way than America did.
Background: I left the US for a few weeks to go the Caribbean and South America. I tested negative for covid-19 before entering both countries, once at home and again at the airports after arrival.
Since March, I have had a sneaking suspicion that developing countries were not “locking down” the way America was, despite what their governments or CNN have been saying. I recall CNN promoting videos and images of places like Mumbai locking down, with crowds of masked people and socially distanced markets. And they insisted that India’s low fatality rate was just due to undercounting.
I didn’t buy that lockdowns were actually happening on a large scale in developing countries, or that mass casualties were happening where lockdowns were not. People familiar with the data know that the virus is not even a mild threat to the vast majority of people, and locking down a developing country = famine. Those who have actually spent time in a developing country should know this. Recent travel videos of places like Afghanistan show nothing similar to what you’d find in NYC right now.
Even in the US, it was obvious that the people most strongly promoting lockdowns were those who live in wealthy areas, the people who can actually enjoy staying home for weeks on end and have the ability to work remotely. I drove across America last summer, and as soon as I was in the rural midwest, mask mandates were being flagrantly ignored and people were carrying on life as usual. This wasn’t due to low case numbers, either, they just have bigger shit to worry about, or don’t have country estates they can retreat to, or value civic life more than mild threats to public health. I’m from the Boston area, and people on the East Coast are more antisocial and detached from their communities, in my opinion, making the idea of a lockdown somewhat attractive for its own sake. You don’t see that as much in small/poor/religious towns, where being a member of a community, not money or status, is what keeps people happy (or, in many cases, alive and healthy).
And, yeah, I saw the same thing in these two countries I visited. People without the time or resources to worry about the virus weren’t worrying about the virus — and nothing that bad appeared to be happening. The airports were extremely strict with their mask policies, but after that, there was little evidence that a pandemic was even happening. I’d go out into the streets, and life is bustling along as usual. Kids were in school and not wearing masks, for the most part. People were dancing in bars at night and everyone seemed happy to be around strangers in public. They were welcoming to me and my girlfriend (obvious American tourists). There were posters in restaurant windows demanding social distancing and masks, but there was little enforcement and even less compliance.
Were they having more deaths than NYC, or even a similar amount? Nobody I met thought so, and the available data appears to agree. Was their country falling apart? No, not from what I could tell, although interruptions to international trade and the lack of tourism caused by fear of the virus was causing people a lot of hardship. Nobody I met knew anyone who was ill with or who had died from covid-19 (I probably floated this question to two dozen people).
Anyone else have experiences in foreign countries like this? After this trip, it’s a lot harder for me to take the dire public health warnings in America seriously. Now that I have been where nobody really changed anything and saw how life goes on as usual, my lockdown skepticism is kicked into overdrive. The only problems were being caused by the panic over the virus, a problem that’s continuing largely due to the outsized cultural influence of people like democratic American politicians. And those same elites will never acknowledge the massively destabilizing effects lockdowns are nonetheless causing on the third world, even though we now have UN officials predicting famines “of biblical proportion,” fueled by our myopic response to the pandemic.
I am happy to hear alternative perspectives here — I am only offering my anecdotal thoughts & observations, and there’s a chance that I totally missed the mark, that these countries are actually paying the price for not locking down. Obviously, as a tourist, there’s a lot that I didn’t see.
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