Vaccine tourism is here

By Maithreyi Soorej| Express News Service | Published: 25th April 2021 05:00 AM
For representational purposes

Vijayan Menon’s travel agent in Bengaluru got a surprising request from the IT specialist. Menon wanted to know whether he could pack his bags to take a flight to Russia. India and Russia have created an air bubble arrangement that allows travel between the two countries. Menon wants to spend 22 days soaking it up in a luxury spa in Russia, far away from the fast-mutating coronavirus. And not just to enjoy the steam and caviar, but also get a Sputnik V shot at the spa. Yes, you heard that right.

Vaccine tourism is the new travel trend, where a tourist can combine a luxury holiday and get a jab at the same time. Countries like India and Thailand are common destinations for medical or cosmetic surgery, but the pandemic is responsible for the emergence of a new kind of tourism. European tour operators are offering vaccine trips to Russia.

The travel agent is not sure whether it is legal to travel to another country to get vaccinated and whether he is allowed to offer such trips. But Europe has no such worries. Norwegian travel agency World Visitor is reportedly offering a wide range of vaccine tours to Russia. Two trips in one month will set a traveller back by 1,199 euros (Rs 107000), one for each dose. A luxury 22-day stay in a Russian health resort like the one Menon wants, with a shot in the beginning and the end of the trip costs 2,999 euros (a little over Rs 268000). Then there is the Turkish option, that offers a trip to a spa hotel in Turkey, with layovers at Moscow.

The Moscow airport will soon get a vaccination centre in the terminal. German travel agency Fit Reisen (or ‘Fit Travel’) had reportedly begun offering vaccine vacations or, ‘Impfreisen’, in February. “We have received an increasing number of customer inquiries as to whether it would not be possible to combine a health vacation with a Covid-19 vaccination,” a Fit Reisen spokesperson was quoted in Deutsche Welle. It was suspended during the vaccination drive but could be back on the table with Germans facing struggles to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Austrian company Impfreisen is reportedly taking nonbinding pre-bookings for all-inclusive vacation travel packages with “guaranteed access to the coronavirus vaccination.” Impfreisen, reportedly, has a tour to suit every pocket it offers free trips to one-tenth of people who order its cheapest package, if they can prove their financial status.

Though the Russian government has not given official approval for Sputnik V vaccination to be positioned at the centre of a tourism programme starting this July, the foreign exchange will doubtlessly be welcome.  

Sputnik V’s official Twitter account tweeted, “Sputnik V vaccination in Russia! Who’s onboard?” with a photograph of people standing next to an airplane with Sputnik printed on it. The tweet said that this was no joke and a programme to offer foreigners the vaccine could start from July; Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the government would consider it, but its citizens are the “absolute priority”. The Turkish ambassador to Belgrade has denied reports on vaccine tours from Turkey to Serbia.

Since December when the Pfizer vaccine was approved in the UK, travel agencies such as Zenith Holidays in Kolkata, Gem Tours & Travels in Mumbai and Chariot World Tours in Bengaluru reportedly have been working on vaccine tours to England. With flights to Heathrow not possible, Russia is still a good bet.

Menon could be in for a disappointment since no official arrangements have been made yet for vaccine visitors from abroad to get the jab they have come for. India is not the only country where many people are wary of vaccination; Serbia is inviting citizens of neighbouring countries to get their shot from surplus doses kept in their storage facilities before they expire.

Menon is not bothered about the ethics of a vaccine holiday because there seems to be no signs of people getting their jabs any time soon as thousands are dying from the mutation. Menon is restlessly waiting to hear back from his travel agent.

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Tags : Vaccine tourism vaccination Sputnik V vaccine Sputnik V vaccine tourism

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