Andy Kusi-Appiah

Travelling & the effects of COVID-19: codename for ‘huhuduous’ logistical nightmare.

By Professor Kusi-Appiah,

QE scholar, 2019/2020


I am currently in Ghana visiting friends and family during the scariest pandemic of the 21st century. Among other things, this experience has exposed the injustices in the system, especially as it relates to economic and social marginalization. It has been 11 months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit from Wuhan, China and so far, every region on planet Earth has been affected – 85.5 million infected, 1.78 million dead, and 46.1 million recovered, to date. Additionally, various forms of lockdowns/restrictions have been imposed worldwide.

International travel and travel plans have not been spared, with every little detail magnified in disbelief. The initial reaction of all ‘legal’ authorities was to shut down all borders and/or allow only essential travel to take place. However, international travel represents a tiny fraction of the source of spread of the virus. According to Canadian federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, only 1.3% of all known COVID-19 cases recorded in Ontario originated from travel outside Canada. The situation in Malawi corroborates the Canadian story and points to locally transmitted cases rather than from travel outside Malawi.

COVID-19 exposes what we already know: the rich continue to be rich while the others remain poor:

Today, much more freedom of travel has been instituted, but this is not without its challenges — especially the way in which the measures have affected and continue to affect humanity’s most productive but grossly marginalized citizenry. To be sure, COVID-19 has revived the class consciousness of those who have nothing to sell but their labour. Currently, most of the workforce, especially those who have been deemed essential, are beginning to realize that they endure the most of a double jeopardy.

On the one hand, our essential workers continue to be the main force behind the production of wealth in the world, while on the other hand, this group has been the most affected (negatively) by the pandemic. Additionally, the vast majority of these workers are marginalized and can be categorized as immigrants with ties to countries other than those identified as western and developed. About 60% of the caseload of COVID-19 is borne by marginalized peoples in Canada and elsewhere. While a large swath of the elites is able to safely stay at home, people of minority backgrounds are disproportionately essential workers, who have no choice but to brave the pandemic and head to work for wages that are meagre to begin with. Many have lost their lives working jobs they considered to be unsafe and underpaid. Those who are able to afford an airfare to see their families are subjected to more extortion.

In the meantime, the “One Percent” continue to make money on the backs of the workforce that, incidentally, provides the excess value, which is the profits of these heartless billionaires and corporations.

In a new study in December 2020, David Hope and Julian Limberg reviewed data over the last half-century in advanced economies and found that tax cuts for the rich widened inequality without having any significant effect on jobs or growth. It will be recalled that since the beginning of the pandemic, over 650 billionaires in the west have gained $1 trillion of wealth, while the unemployment rate keeps rising globally. Obviously, none of that wealth has trickled down to the workers who made that wealth possible. Instead, our marginalized brothers and sisters worldwide continue to be at the receiving end of yet another injustice — i.e., being forced into shelling out more of their meagre earnings to do a test for COVID-19, in order to visit their loved ones in faraway lands.

Travel accommodations and marginalization:

Preparing to travel out of Canada has been a logistical nightmare of epic proportions. From getting a travel visa to visiting the tropical medical clinic (for malaria/yellow fever/tetanus shots) to getting tested for COVID-19, the working masses have been exposed to additional stresses and traumas. The good news is that a negative test result for COVID-19 brings the traveler a little closer to their final destination, to visit family and friends they left behind when they had travelled to find work.

On December 12, 2020, I received my negative COVID-19 test result in Ottawa (where I live and work), but upon arrival at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I was advised to show proof of payment of $150 US as fees for another COVID-19 test on arrival at Kotoka international airport in Accra, Ghana (my final destination). I have no objection to taking a COVID-19 test upon arrival in another country, but I take issue with the fee of $150 per person. Let us assume for a moment that I am travelling with 3 dependents; this means that I have to shell out four times $150 just to travel for a short vacation to the country of my parents.

Indeed, all travelers are supposed to pay for this service, and I get that. However, not all people can afford this added expense, especially when we consider that essential workers are not paid according to the services they provide. Many of these workers are part-time workers who work more than two jobs to only put food on the table and be able to afford the cost of housing for their kids and loved ones.

In conclusion, it must be said without equivocation that the economic system in place (neoliberalism) does not afford marginalized people the opportunity to make a decent living from their labour as nothing trickles down to them. It goes without saying that “trickle-down economics is a terrible hoax, which does not benefit the vast majority of workers who create the ‘wealth of nations’ (apologies to Adam Smith). What is really needed is the adoption of a new economic model – a “build-up economics system” which takes our most valuable resource – the human resource — into account.

We do have the monumental task to organize and struggle for the establishment of justice and equality for all. We must come to the realization that the worker is the real originator/producer of wealth and the only force that can change the world for good!

Andy Kusi-Appiah is an adjunct professor at Carleton University. His interests are in the impact of social and environmental changes on the health and well-being of vulnerable groups (e.g., 2nd generation Canadians of African descent).