By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox PhD
As we took off from Frankfurt, Heathrow bound, I marvelled how things had changed, wondering if I shall suffer the hitchhiker’s attack. (I had been tested the day prior to make sure the hitchhiker wasn’t using my nose or throat as stowaway cavities). At Heathrow everything, -save two to-go coffee shops-, was closed as if in solidarity with Frankfurt. Airports aren’t the hive they were before fear of the hitchhiker gripped the globe. There were no long check-in lines; duty-free shops took cover behind shutters, and face mask was “en vogue.” Fear halted consumerism!
The immigration official was of Indian heritage. They personified the protecting shield and sword of British borders, and I am always the intruder. He announced he could charge me 1000 pounds for having not completed a passenger location form on-line. Like hundreds around me, I had never heard of it as it was introduced a day or two earlier. He didn’t ask for my COVID-19 test!
After I had waited over three hours for one of the four tablets provided by the airport for filling the form, a white immigration official came over offering to help. Upon hearing my story, he expressed disgust, saying, “You are a diplomat passing through!” 20 seconds later I was hurrying to catch my plane to Bridgetown. His prophecy was correct, I didn’t make it. My travel expenditure rose 250 pounds to cover taxis, hotel, food, and the like. My diplomatic status rescued me from the airline’s 500 pounds rebooking fee.
Next morning, I was on a flying sardine-tin mode to Grantley Adams International (GAI). Marx is right as to rapaciousness being capitalism’s DNA. We all privately suspected the other of harbouring the hitchhiker yet, were travelling chicken-coup style for profit making is the meaning of existence.
I sat next to an agreeable older Brit who, not overly concerned about the invisible danger, fill my ear with more tales than can be found between Genesis and Revelation. Masks could be lowered only when eating; no standing allowed in the aisle; you had to check that toilets were unoccupied before rising to answer any call of nature; and you followed specific protocols when engaging cabin crew. COVID’s invisibility means that every passenger could be unwittingly aiding and abetting its movement.
By the time I arrived at GAI, my test was no longer valid. My nose and throat were again scouted. Yes, COVID passport is here de facto! Just before my test, I began coughing as if suffering serious consumption. Eyebrows around hit Everest height. Fortunately, I had a bottle of water which doused the cough, but didn’t dim the Barbados official’s alarmed glare. I was tested by a Cuban nurse. Bands were placed on my hand showing my status. The Bajans were courteous, offering free coffee and sandwiches as I awaited a designated taxi to my hotel. The latter two were not free.
Next day I was at GAI very early. Wise move. I was informed I would only be allowed to fly if the SVG authorities assented. Frantically, I contacted SVG and secured the green light. At Argyle, my nostrils were again the target of a search for the invisible enemy before I stated my 14-day hotel arrest. As it dragged on others arrived. I treated them with decent scepticism.
My quarantine completed; I lived the portrait Becket sings of in “I love you St. Vincent.” I roamed ever conscious that the hitchhiker was no lowly scrounger, seeking a short drop, but a global danger that if given a chance, would put me in a casket! The result was extreme cautiousness that threatened to turn me into a walking sanitizer. Hitchhiker didn’t get a ride with me!
Getting a flight out of SVG cost a princely sum, highway robbery blamed on the hitchhiker. Then there was 400 EC for my sixth test. The night before leaving I was frustrated by the web decoration Barbados called its on-line landing form. There was no Bridgetown overnighting, easing the pressure on my pocket.
At Heathrow there was no immigration official of Indian descent. I checked in to Frankfurt. At the gate, breaking news: I need a new COVID test. I pointed out I will get to Germany within the 48 hours as per protocol. I was talking to a marble figure. My bags were taken off, and if I didn’t have a diplomatic passport, I might have needed divine intervention.
Next morning, I returned; fresh COVOD test in hand. The rigmaroles continued. The Germans also has their online form, a mere decoration a la Barbados’. I had tried using it a million times. I presented to the airline screenshots of the tries I had made. They refused to relent. They soon realized however that all other passengers shared my dilemma. They bowed to rapacious capitalism; we boarded and hit the skies for Frankfurt.
“COVID test!” demanded the immigration. “Bitte” I said passing it over. His scrutiny lasted all of five seconds. “Willkommen in Deutschland.” “Danke,” I said, my mind finally able to think of the dust waiting for me at the Lord Byron Castle.
Richard A. Byron-Cox holds a PhD international law and is author of the critical acclaimed work, “Were Mama’s Tears in vain.”