We were poised to re-start expeditions in 2022, but as we write this, Omicron is upon us.
We have just (in late November) placed our first two expeditions of 2022 (Arabia and Kenya) on a warning. This means that we now believe that there is a higher than 50% chance that we will have to defer these expeditions again.
Like everyone else on the planet, we can but wait, plan, react and adapt. So here is our plan:
1. We will keep monitoring the situation and re-open expeditions as soon as it is reasonable to do so.
2. We will start another survival fundraiser if this new wave of the pandemic threatens our survival.
3. Once we restart expeditions, we will take all reasonable precautions necessary to protect our citizen scientists, staff, helpers and the wildlife we are honour-bound to protect. This means that
(A) only fully vaccinated people (with certifications proving their vaccination status) will be allowed on the expeditions. All available vaccines will be accepted. The last vaccination must not be older than six months.
(B) Those that are not fully vaccinated may be allowed to take part if (i) there is a certified medical reason why they cannot be vaccinated – in that case they must provide a negative rapid / lateral flow / antigen Covid test immediately prior to the expedition commencing and will need to be re-tested at regular intervals during the expedition, or (ii) if their country of origin has not offered vaccinations to them – for local staff we will try to compensate for this via private vaccinations where they are available; where this is not possible, the testing scheme as above will apply.
(C) We will also require a rapid / lateral flow / antigen Covid test from each expedition member immediately prior to the expedition commencing and may repeat this test at regular intervals, as needed.
(D) Expedition leaders will also be fully vaccinated. As far as possible, we require all others (scientists, rangers, cooks, all other support staff who will come in contact with our citizen scientists) to be fully vaccinated too. For countries where this is an issue, we will have testing regimes and/or a vaccination programme for our local partners, where necessary, via private healthcare.
(E) Although there will be common threads (vaccinations, tests, hygiene procedures) on all expeditions, the exact procedures will vary from country to country. We will publish what the exact procedures are about six to seven weeks before the expedition starts, alongside your reminder to start preparing and settle your balance.
At the time of writing, only three people have complained about this and have been removed from the expeditions until such time that they see sense or that anti-vaxxers no longer present a danger to others.
Stay healthy, stay safe, keep up your spirits and wish us good fortune to get through this, as we do all readers.
We are expecting the new variant to spread rapidly around Africa and then the rest of the world. What measures countries will take to contain the spread is unkown and at the moment unknowable.
We are therefore placing our first two expeditions of 2022 (Arabia and Kenya) on a warning. This means that we now believe that there is a higher than 50% chance that we will have to defer these expeditions again. The outlook for Kenya is particularly bleak, because Kenya is in Africa, our expedition scientist comes from South Africa and is there at the moment.
Our recommendation is not to book any flights or make further arrangements for now (flights and other services already booked should have been booked with a cancellation insurance, as recommended in the dossier). If we have to defer, information on how deferment works is here.
We will keep monitoring the situation and keep you informed. We will make a decision about whether to defer or not at least four weeks in advance of the first day of the expedition (so for Arabia scheduled to start on 8 January, we will tell you by 8 December at the latest).
Please bear with us. We realise this is disappointing, inconvenient and annoying for everyone, but we are also sure you understand why we have to take this action.
The winter wave of coronavirus is in full swing over much of the northern hemisphere. However, lockdowns are few and far between and on the whole the world remains accessible and open, especially for fully vaccinated people. A good overview of worldwide entry regulations, flight bans, test requirements and quarantine regulations is here.
With this in mind, we fully intend to start expeditions again in 2022, commencing with Arabia in January – have a look at our portfolio for all other expeditions throughout 2022. Many expeditions are already almost full (Kenya is already full), so please join us early, if you can.
Most countries only allow fully vaccinated people to enter. This meshes well with our policy for the 2022 expeditions (see below).
Policy for 2022 expeditions
Our policy for expeditions in 2022, at least at the beginning of the year, will be:
Only fully vaccinated people (with certifications proving their vaccination status and the last booster vaccination not older than six months) will be allowed on the expedition. All vaccines that have been approved by at least one national or international approval body will be accepted (see list).
Those that are not fully vaccinated may be allowed to take part if (a) there is a certified medical reason why they cannot be vaccinated – in that case they must provide a negative rapid / lateral flow / antigen Covid test immediately prior to the expedition commencing and will need to be re-tested at regular intervals during the expedition, or (b) if their country of origin has not offered vaccinations to them – for local staff we will try to compensate for this via private vaccinations where they are available; where this is not possible, the testing scheme as above will apply. This also applies to cases where people are unable to receive booster shots in their country of origin and therefore fall foul of the six months rule in rule 1.
We will also require a rapid / lateral flow / antigen Covid test from each expedition member immediately prior to the expedition commencing and may repeat this test at regular intervals, as needed. The initial test will be provided by Biosphere Expeditions.
Expedition participants must bring at least four lateral flow home test kits with them for any additional testing we may require. Those whose last booster vaccination is older than six months and who are unable to get a booster vaccination in their country of origin, must in addition bring enough tests to test themselves every second day whilst on the expedition.
Our end goal is to run expeditions in a safe and reasonable environment, and empower all those who are not anti-vaxxers to be able to attend wherever possible.
Although there will be common threads (vaccinations, tests, hygiene procedures) on all expeditions, the exact procedures will vary from country to country. We will publish what the exact procedures are about six to seven weeks before the expedition starts, alongside your reminder to start preparing and settle your balance.
Expedition leaders will also be fully vaccinated. As far as possible, we require all others (scientists, rangers, cooks, all other support staff who will come in contact with our citizen scientists) to be fully vaccinated too. For countries where this might be an issue, we are working on testing regimes and/or a vaccination fundraiser for our local partners to acquire vaccinations via private healthcare, where this is possible. Also see our fundraiser for this below.
Third and final fundraiser under way
Our third and final fundraiser connected to the coronavirus pandemic is all about vaccinations for our local partners: In some of our expedition countries, vaccines are an expensive luxury. We want to make sure that all our local support staff and helpers (and their immediate family) are vaccinated. We need € 4,500 to achieve this and have raised over half of it to date (54% today). Please help us achieve our funding goal via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/appeal
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS POSED IN RESPONSE TO THIS BLOG
The following questions have been asked in response to this blog and we are providing answers for everyone to see.
What constitutes “fully vaccinated”?
You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after you get your second dose of a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or two weeks after a single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Currently, there is no time limit after vaccination on your fully vaccinated status, but this is likely to change soon in most countries. We, in any case, require your last vaccination to be no older than six months by the time you leave the expedition.
What vaccines do you accept?
We will accept all vaccines that have been approved by at least one national or international approval body. A list of such vaccines is here.
What type of proof of vaccination do you accept?
Any reasonable type. This may be a vaccination certificate on a national app, a letter by a doctor or vaccination facility, an entry in a vaccination booklet or on a vaccination card. All proofs must show your full name, the date of the vaccination and which vaccine you have been given. If your proof is a hardcopy, please bring the original with you, not copies or photos. If you are in any doubt, please send us a scan or photo of the proof for verification first.
My expedition ends on 4 May and my next booster vaccination will be on 10 December. Is that ok?
Yes, it is. We require your last vaccination to be no older than six months by the time you leave the expedition and count this in full months from the date that your expedition group ends. For example, if your booster vaccination is on 1 January, you can stay with us on expedition up to and including 1 July.
Boosters are not available in my country of origin – what do I do now?
In that case you fall under rule 2(b) of vaccines not available in your country of origin. You can therefore still attend the expedition, but you must bring enough lateral flow home test kits with you to test yourself every second day on the expedition (rule 4), plus four more tests in addition. Home test kits are cheap and easily available online or via pharmacies, supermarkets etc.
I will need to provide a negative test to get into the expedition host country. Do I still have to perform a lateral flow test immediately before the expedition departs?
Yes, you do. Everyone will have to undergo a lateral flow test before departure. The reason is that travelling will have exposed you to an increased risk of infection and we want to make sure – as much as this is possible – that we start the expedition infection-free.
Who provides the lateral flow test at the beginning of the expedition?
Do I need to bring additional flow tests?
Yes, you do. Please bring at least four more lateral flow home test kits with you from home. They are easily available from pharmacies, supermarkets etc. and not expensive. Please make sure you bring at least four kits for any further testing we may require you to do during the expedition. If your last booster vaccination is older than six months and you are unable to get a booster vaccination in your country of origin, you must – in addition to the four tests everyone must bring anyway – bring enough tests to test yourself every second day whilst on the expedition.
What happens when I or someone else on the expedition tests positive?
This will depend on the regulations of the country we are in. It may be enough to isolate the person who has tested positive and the rest of the expedition team can continue under a strict and frequent testing regime (this is where the home test kits you will bring with you will come into play, for example). Where isolation within the expedition base is possible, we will offer you the option of doing this. This is at the easy end of the scale. At the other end of the scale is stopping and disbanding the expedition with de-central isolation of the whole expedition team, if local regulations require this or if this is the prudent thing to do. We will always try our best to help you avoid additional costs and hassle, but you must come prepared, adequately financed and/or insured for eventualities and additional costs. For example, as soon as an expedition is stopped or when you are leaving an expedition (voluntarily or because you are required by local regulations to do so), then you must cover all costs yourself. This may include hotel or hospital stays for quarantine periods required by local laws, additional Covid tests, health care costs, missed flights due to quarantining etc. It is impossible for us to predict what the regulations in each expedition host country will be in the future. Suffice it to say that we will have a plan before each expedition starts (and communicate this to you), but you must also think about eventualities yourself and make sure you come on the expedition adequately financed/covered/insured for the example situations described above, as well as any others that may arise. In this context, insurances vary widely and it is up to you to decide what cover, if any, you want to purchase. Because policies vary widely and change frequently, we have no partner insurers or recommendations.
What about getting into the expedition host country?
This is your responsibility. The host country requirements for entry (there is a good worldwide overview here) will differ from our requirements for expedition participation. It is your responsibility to make sure you fulfil both so that you can firstly get into the expedition host country and secondly take part in the expedition once you have arrived in-country.
Why do you require a booster / what is the reason behind the six months rule?
There is very strong evidence, recently underscored by an Australian study, that protection decreases with time and that booster vaccinations are therefore necessary.
Why are you creating all these rules?
The end goal is to run expeditions in a safe and responsible environment, especially whilst the pandemic is still with us, and empower all those who are not anti-vaxxers to be able to attend. Therefore, if you are already vaccinated and if local conditions prevent you from having a booster within six months of your expedition group ending, then we will be reasonable about this (see explanations of rule 2(b) above).