The Italian in town was recounting this almost absurd story.
He has been in Dhaka for quite some time and wanted a break in a South Asian country in February. The Covid-19 pandemic had already started ravaging the world and Italy had turned into a hotspot.
His visa was flatly denied because his country was in the clutches of the pandemic. The Italian argued that he has not been to Italy in the last six months. But that fact did not help his case.
So he went to a South East Asian country instead. They did honour his visa application.
He returned to Dhaka quickly just as the airports started closing and watched the havoc being wrecked by this microscopic thing inhabiting the grey world of the living and the nonliving.
But then Italy had fought back the virus successfully and re-opened its economy. Bored by Dhaka life, the Italian again applied for a visa for the same South East Asian country. This time it was refused because the visa officer said he is in Bangladesh which is going through a sweeping infection.
The story just is a foreshadow of how travel would become difficult in the New Normal of the after-Covid (AC) era. The recent refusal of Japan to let Bangladeshis in because of suspect virus test results is another reminder of what is at stake in the AC future if Bangladesh cannot successfully control the coronavirus. Not only Japan, South Korea has also sounded the alarm at Bangladesh's Covid-19 test reliability.
It is most likely that countries would open their airports in green corridors in the AC era. This means countries that have brought the virus under control will only open their gates to each other in green zones just as China and Korea have re-established air routes. So have Germany and Greece.
Inability to successfully contain the virus will mean being ostracised by the world.
The AC travelling will also be a very different experience from BC (before Covid) just as the 9/11 attack in the US has changed air travel forever. Who had ever thought of suffering the indignities of taking off shoes and belts, passing through scanners that can violate your privacy completely by imaging your naked body, not being able to carry water bottles and any liquid over 100ml for that matter, and not uttering the word Bomb even jokingly just to get on a plane?
So will the AC era change travel norms for sure.
The procedures will be complicated by requiring to file lots of health facts. Biosafety tax will be levied and it will be higher for people travelling from countries with poor record of fighting the pandemic. It will only mean higher ticket prices and even longer travel time for all of us.
Higher ticket price is not the only penalty that will accompany the failure to fight the coronavirus. The scope, size and scale of the disruption will be much higher. The travel restrictions will have deeper ramifications on the economy, education, knowledge and health of all living persons in the world.
Even if the oil recovers and the job market in the Middle East steadies, workers from countries with bad Covid-19 records will find it impossible to get jobs in the region.
Increasing FDI is a major concern of the government. Recent attempts by Bangladesh to woo companies relocating their manufacturing facilities away from China to other countries will not bear any fruits if the country cannot bring the pandemic under control, if not totally eliminate it. Authorities are reported to be working to persuade Japanese companies to consider Bangladesh as their choice if and when they move their investments out of China.
The Japanese are sure to look at many factors before choosing Bangladesh but it is a certainty that the Covid-19 situation in the country will be among the topmost items to be ticked off in their checklist.
Students who have enrolled in foreign universities are already stuck as airlines have grounded their fleet. They will not be able to sit in the classrooms of their chosen universities in the AC era if their countries make a poor show in Covid fighting.
Lost business meetings will hurt enterprises dearly. Thousands of patients looking for better treatment abroad will be denied the scope.
Countries with poor show in this coronavirus theatre will have to become more inward looking. Surely the tide of the pandemic will recede one day, but the detritus left behind by it will be too unpleasant to bear for the countries with less than stellar performance in stemming the virus.