SINGAPORE, 13 January 2021: We are coming to terms with travel discomfort as we pass the first annual milestone of the Covid-19 blight.
My daughter calls to tell me she is boarding one of Singapore’s “cruises to nowhere” this week. It’s a family outing, but it comes with pain that starts with a nurse poking a swab up your nose that brings tears to your eyes. We may even ponder over how far you can poke a stick up your nose without inducing a fatal outcome. For most of us, it is not a welcome discovery.
But to escape Singapore’s confines after a year of zero travel opportunities, there is no gain without pain. Or so we all think as the travel bug begins to itch intolerably. We put it all down to just one of the hurdles or hoops thrown up by governments to slow Covid-19 spread and save lives. But are some hoops redundant?
It looks like the fit-to-fly certificate is not fit for purpose. A copy of a fit-to-fly letter dropped into my email box sent by an angry traveller who called it nothing but a bureaucratic con.
Travelling from the UK to Thailand they happily jumped through all the hoops, but the fit-to-fly hoop was one too many.
The fit-to-fly letters, not to be confused with the PCR swab test certificate, are issued by doctors, who freelance for online clinics recommended by Facebook groups.
You have to pay around UKP25 to register and a few days later the clinic calls to say it has set up an interview with a doctor, but please pay instalment two — UKP50.
Once the online payment goes through, a “registered medical practitioner” phones to ask how are you feeling today? Any Covid-19 symptoms? Any coughing, loss of taste or smell? Do you have a fever? Have you met any friends who have Covid-19? The telephone Q&A continues for around five minutes, and the doctor signs off job done and dusted. You can proceed to the next hoop once the fit-to fly letter, arrives by email. It usually drops in your inbox minutes after the telephone chat concludes confirming you are good to go having been “assessed… there are no reported symptoms of Covid-19.”
The keywords in the doctor’s letter are: “I have, from the conversation we have had, no reason to believe this patient has Covid-19. I deem them fit to fly from this perspective.”
So why is a fit-to fly-certificate unfit for purpose. For starters it’s easy to lie on the phone; no eye-contact and who is going to admit they have a cough when they have just spent UKP1,000 on an airline ticket to Thailand and booked a UKP1,000 quarantine stay in a Bangkok hotel? If you really need to get to Thailand, you will find it easy to fudge the answers over the phone.
You have to also have to wonder why the doctor ambiguously describes the traveller as a “patient,” clearly a gross exaggeration after a five-minute phone chat.
The fit-to-fly certificate appears to be redundant other than to spin a few extra pounds per hour for impoverished doctors and clinics.
We accept that the protracted battle with Covid-19 will throw up a string of errors in judgement and procedures along the way, but governments should review measures to ensure they follow science and common sense. Introduce more reliable testing and speed up vaccination programmes. Whatever it takes, but cut measures that just don’t fly.