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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Delta variant has killed any hope that international travel will return to anything like its pre-pandemic trajectory.

Why it matters: In the decade to 2019, the number of international arrivals rose by 42%, to 2.3 billion, in a trend that seemed steady and unstoppable. Now, however, international borders seem set to be most countries' first line of defense against the coronavirus for the foreseeable future.

The big picture: With the original Alpha variant of COVID-19, there was hope that a large-scale vaccination program, especially with the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna, could protect a country against the spread of the virus. With Delta that hope is dashed.

What they're saying: "Although vaccinated individuals are well protected," writes the Atlantic's Ed Yong, "highly vaccinated communities can still be vulnerable."

  • In order to protect a broad community, vaccines are necessary but not sufficient. Other tools are also needed, including masking, testing, contact tracing, and, yes, the first thing that governments around the world turned to: clamping down on travel from abroad.
Data: World Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

The fastest growing country in pre-pandemic international tourism, for instance, was China, which has kept the virus in check by means of strict controls on travel. Now that the Delta variant is the dominant form of the virus globally, there is almost no chance of those controls being lifted any time soon. Other Pacific Rim countries are in a similar situation.

  • Australia, for instance, which used to be a tourist magnet, now has one of the hardest borders in the world. It's extremely hard for non-citizens to enter, and even harder for citizens to leave.
  • New Zealand is considering allowing foreigners in next year, probably in the first instance from other countries with very low infection rates — but even that move would be highly controversial.
  • Vietnam currently isn't allowing inbound tourism; when it starts, it will still insist on at least seven days of centralized quarantine — enough to dissuade all but the most avid travelers.

How it works: In general, countries only want to allow inbound travel — if they allow it at all — from places that have a lower incidence of COVID-19 than they do. That makes sense, from a public-health perspective. But it makes international travel a lot more difficult, and often impossible.

The bottom line: COVID-19 is not going to be defeated. Eventually, it's going to be endemic in every country in the world. Most governments will want to minimize the number of deaths along the way. And that means maintaining strict border controls for many years to come.

Go deeper

Oct 16, 2021 - Health

Pope Francis calls on companies to release COVID vaccine patents

Pope Francis. Photo: Massimo Valicchia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pope Francis called on pharmaceutical companies on Saturday to release patents to make COVID-19 vaccines more accessible to the poor, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: There is a stark divide between countries that have access to COVID-19 shots and those that don't, and the gap has widened as some wealthier countries have begun distributing third doses.

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

Intel CEO sees making own chips as a matter of national security

Pat Gelsinger. Photo: Axios on HBO

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is putting the pressure on the U.S. government to help subsidize chip manufacturing, insisting the current reliance on plants in Taiwan and Korea as "geopolitically unstable."

Why it matters: There is bipartisan support for funding the domestic semiconductor industry, but Congress has yet to sign the check. The Senate has passed the CHIPS Act that includes $52 billion in semiconductor investment, but it has yet to pass the House.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children are among a group of 17 missionaries kidnapped in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, per a statement from Christian Aid Ministries Sunday.

The latest: "The group of 16 U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children," the Ohio-based group said. Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne on Sunday identified the 400 Mawozo gang as the group responsible, in a statement to AP.