This article is our inaugural post for our Conscious Travel column. This monthly (ish) column will cover various topics to encourage travel through the lens of anti-racism, sustainability, and respect for the communities hosting us. The series will feature topic posts (such as this one) as well as location spotlights that showcase how we can travel consciously all over the world.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues across the globe, we cannot escape the topic of travel without Covid. It is with that in mind that we launch this series discussing what it means to travel consciously within a pandemic.
One thing (of many) that we’ve learned about coronavirus’ global emergence is that travel and our global interconnectivity were a huge cause of the initial spread. Back in winter 2019-2020, this unknown disease that was only reported to the WHO on December 31st was silently spreading across the globe without anyone knowing it.
But now that we do know, the entire world is adjusting accordingly and trying to figure out what that means for our movement and travel.
Meanwhile, we’re also learning a lot more about the disease and who it affects. In particular, it affects the world’s most vulnerable. The World Health Organization notes that older adults and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk of serious illness with coronavirus. But there’s more to it than those simply laid out risks. What we’re learning is that systemic racism and the inequalities created that disparity globally.
Covid-19 and Health Disparities
In the United States, people of color are much more likely to die from coronavirus than white Americans. The APM research lab found from age-adjusted mortality data that Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely, Indigenous Americans are 3.5 times more likely, Pacific Islanders are 2.8 times more likely, Latinx Americans are 2.5 times more likely, and Asian Americans are 1.7 times more likely to die from coronavirus than white Americans.
This isn’t just a U.S. issue. Data also show that Black Britons are twice as likely to die from coronavirus than white Britons and in São Paulo, Brazil, people of color are 62% more likely to die of the disease.
It’s not genetics that make people of color or marginalized populations more vulnerable to coronavirus, it’s racism. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lays out the array of reasons for health disparities in the U.S.: discrimination, lack of access to quality healthcare, the disproportionate representation of people of color in “essential worker” industries exposing them to Covid, lack of safe housing access, and educational, income, and wealth gaps. BBC Future lays out similar examples of how marginalized communities across the world are made vulnerable including food insecurity, persistent environmental injustices, and occupational factors. These persistent challenges among marginalized groups across the globe are due to systemic racism and the structural inequities created by white supremacist culture over centuries that still hold true today.
Take, for instance, the communities in which we live. Many of us may have the ability to work from home safely with little disruption to resources available to us. However, lower income jobs such as delivery work or agricultural work simply cannot be done at home. Workers in these industries, a large proportion of whom are people of color or migrant workers, put themselves at great risk to ensure that society’s basic needs are met. To exacerbate the situation, lack of accessibility to healthcare and inability to afford time off means that these workers are not likely to be able to stay home and get help if they were to get sick.
This link between racism and Covid-19 is why we as travelers—who have a certain level of privilege—must be mindful of these disparities while we travel.
Privilege, Travel, and Covid-19
Travel is a privilege. It’s something we all should be aware of regardless of when we travel, Covid or not.
But coronavirus has laid bare (as you can see in the health disparity data above) the unintended consequences of unchecked privilege. Here are some reasons we need to be conscious of how we travel:
- We could be silent spreaders of Covid-19 putting anyone we meet at risk without knowing it. Recent studies show that “silent spreaders” (or asymptomatic / pre-symptomatic carriers) might be the cause of half the U.S. Covid cases. We must be conscious that even if we’re not feeling sick, we could very well be putting people at risk.
- We could put an additional burden on a community’s healthcare system. If we get sick (with coronavirus or otherwise) or hurt, we’d be taking up needed hospital space.
- Our consumption habits can exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 among migrant workers. The global supply chain and economic vitality of manufacturing, agriculture, and even tourism relies greatly on migrant workers. The pandemic has shone a brighter light on the poor living and working conditions many migrant workers face as coronavirus has taken hold of entire communities of laborers. Examples include Singapore, where many migrants from Bangladesh live in dormitories that saw quick spread of the disease. In North America, migrant farm workers across the U.S. and Canada are contracting coronavirus at alarming rates. Not only does this pose an ethical issue around the state of the agricultural industry in North America, but it also carries with it a risk to the food supply chain.
- We could put local workers at risk. While we highly recommend that when you do travel, you support local businesses, it’s also essential to understand that the workers we encounter are at higher risk of contracting coronavirus. Because of that, we should be careful to interact in the safest way possible.
- We could put greater stress on healthcare systems of lower- to middle-income countries (LMICs). Brazil is a dire warning for LMICs where health systems that are ill-equipped to handle a disease like coronavirus. Pile on the other health challenges that pose serious threats to health in many of those regions including HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, and you have a whole different level of pandemic-related chaos.
We understand that travel in this fragile time is making so many of us more mindful in our daily lives. This could potentially be an opportunity to bring that mindfulness and consciousness into the way we travel even after this pandemic is behind us.
For our tips on how to travel consciously and responsibly within a pandemic, check out our blog post 10 Questions to Guide Responsible Travel During Coronavirus.
Additionally, keep an eye out for our monthly conscious travel posts which will provide insights on how we can travel consciously on every trip.
Brinda Shah, BBV Conscious Travel Editor, provided insights and assistance throughout the writing of this article.
Additional resources to learn more about these health disparities and about travel within a pandemic:
- Our World in Data, Coronavirus Pandemic
- Why is the Pandemic Killing so Many Black Americans? | The Daily from The New York Times
- ‘A Terrible Price’: The Deadly Racial Disparities of Covid-19 in America | by Linda Villarosa, The New York Times
- “No, ‘Racial Genetics’ Aren’t Affecting Covid-19 Deaths” | by Sonja Zakrzewski, Sapiens
- People of Color Disproportionately Affected by Covid-19 | by Frank Lankfitt, NPR
For additional resources on conscious travel and anti-racism, check out these articles on our Bébé Voyage blog: