John Carter: Thoughts for 2022 and beyond

I’m not sorry to see the back of 2021, though it wasn’t as bad as 2020. 

You probably share my low opinion of the last 24 months – a time when plans and hopes had to be put aside because we were all too busy concentrating on keeping alive and in reasonable health.

If you read these essays regularly, you’ll know I am an optimist, so will not be surprised to learn that I am looking forward to 2022 as the year in which we finally wrestle Covid into submission, and put those postponed plans and hopes back on the agenda.

Travel plans especially. I can’t contemplate foreign travel at the moment, as conditions are still uncertain, and will remain so for a little while. But when mandatory tests and quarantines are no longer on the agenda, the world should open up again.

The only foreign journey pencilled in my diary is a Fred. Olsen cruise into the Baltic in late May. In that regard, I am disappointed that America’s Centres (or, as they insist, Centers) for Disease Control has just issued a dire warning about travelling on cruise ships. It’s a warning that makes no sense to those working in that embattled corner of a devastated industry, much less to those of us observing from the sidelines.   

Before Covid, cruise companies were managing to overcome the problems brought about by Norovirus, so I’d argue they are in a better place than most to protect passengers and crews from health hazards.  

As for Covid’s impact on travel in general – both domestic and foreign – I believe a return to normal will happen sooner than most people expect.

As long as no more dangerous variant emerges, we are rapidly heading for the finishing line.  

(In respect of a potential new variant, incidentally, “pi” and “rho” are likely to be by-passed in favour of “sigma” which, unlike “omicron”, we should be able to pronounce correctly.)

Serious evidence of optimism at the start of this New Year comes from the stock markets, particularly those in New York and London, which is all the more encouraging because dealers, like bookmakers, use hard evidence and experience when calculating the odds. Shares in airlines, shipping companies, hotels and tour operators are rising in anticipation of the abolition of curbs on international travel. Good news, indeed.

When it comes to forecasts, though, a quotation from the Labour politician Aneurin (“Nye”) Bevan is worth bearing in mind. “You don’t have to gaze into a crystal ball when you can read an open book,” he declared.

The open book (or, rather, search engine) in the case of Covid is one that records the Spanish ‘flu epidemic of 1918, gives its origins, traces its course, and details its outcome.

Covid is following the same path, to more or less the same timetable.

So, if you sensibly ignore those who are pleading special cases, or have a vested interest in shroud-waving, it seems clear we shall end up controlling Covid with an annual jab (or, perhaps, a tablet) in the same way we control ‘flu. I can live with that.

(Actually, I hope history does not repeat itself exactly. The end of the Spanish ‘flu saw the start of the “Roaring Twenties”, which culminated in the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. The fact that 2022 is forecast to be a very tough year, economically, doesn’t please me at all.)

Meanwhile, I have much admiration for the domestic holiday industry which is dealing with the yorkers, googlies, and bouncers that Whitehall and Westminster is bowling at them with a passion that borders on the vindictive. 

Hotels, coach firms, and others, are bending over backwards to assure potential clients they can book holidays with confidence, guaranteeing that deposits are protected, and any money paid in advance can be switched to an alternative holiday, should plans be affected at the last-minute.  

There are some very tempting offers out there, too. Especially for those of us in the Silver section of society, able to take our short breaks mid-week, leaving the weekends to the younger generations, who have to navigate the needs of workplace or school.

P.S. Nye Bevan was the minister tasked with implementing the National Health Service Act of 1946.   Inspired by the Medical Aid Society in his home town of Tredegar, it took him two years. When the NHS was launched in the summer of 1948, Bevan declared: “This service must always be changing, growing, and improving. It must always appear to be inadequate”.

Well, he certainly got that right.    

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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