Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Sarah is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and is the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Originally posted: 16th Jun 2020

After months of strict restrictions on our movements, with many of us being unable to see our loved ones, or travel as widely as we'd like, it's clear that the UK public is desperate for a break.

And that break seems to finally be here, with COVID-19 cases across the UK continuing to fall, the government announced that from the 4th July 2020, England based hospitality, tourism, and attractions can now open up. In addition, the long-standing ban across all but essential international travel has now been lifted for many countries that are managing to keep the virus under control.

With hotels and airports re-opening, they will be looking forward to welcoming you back. But, how can you minimise your risks on holiday, whether it be within the UK or to sunnier climbs? 

Read on to find out more and make sure you check our full guide on the coronavirus outbreak and travel insurance.

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The advice that stays the same

Regardless of what other precautions you’re taking, the most effective ways to reduce your risk are the same precautions doctors have been advising for months. COVID-19 is caught in three ways:

  • By droplets spread from someone who’s infectious.
  • By touching contaminated surfaces with your hands, then transferring the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • By aerosol spray from some who’s infected but who doesn’t have symptoms.

That means there are several precautions – some more useful than others.

  • Keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from other people at all times where possible is your single best protection.
  • Coronavirus can’t get into your body through your skin, but it’s essential to wash your hands regularly – that includes before your touch your face, before you eat and of course, after you visit the toilet.
  • Carry hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol with you at all times - alcohol destroys the virus. Don’t assume that ‘antibacterial’ sanitiser will protect you against viruses, and don’t rely on understanding the instructions on foreign sanitisers. Take enough supplies with you to last for your trip.
  • Self-isolate if you have symptoms. If you develop a new cough, fever or a loss of sense or smell, it’s essential to self-isolate for at least 10 days (this was revised from 7 days by the UK Government). Other people you live with need to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Face coverings. These protect other people, not you, and they’re no substitute for handwashing and social distancing. But in enclosed spaces where you can’t socially distance, they do reduce spread.
  • Gloves. It’s important to remember that if you wear gloves, you can still transfer the virus onto your face if you touch it. Gloves are of little extra value if you’re washing your hands, sanitising when you can’t wash and avoiding touching your face. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.
Medical Travel Compared Wash Your Hands

Accomodation and activities – what to choose?

If you’re thinking about what type of accommodation to choose and how you’re going to spend your break, there are a few COVID-related considerations.

Hotels: Many people prefer to stay in hotels because it provides a real break – no cooking, no washing up, no cleaning. In terms of understanding risk, though, visit the hotel’s website or contact them directly to learn more about the COVID-19 measures they are implementing in-property. 

Organised touring holidays: If your idea of heaven is having someone else take charge of the itinerary and provide you with things to do, a package tour may be your holiday of choice. If this includes coach outings, you will be spending a lot of time on a bus in close proximity with a group of other people. This does pose a risk of infection, but the risk is smaller if it’s the same group throughout the holiday. You’ll basically be forming your own social bubble. Tour companies will have measures and guidelines in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19: do ask them before you book to take you through them, so you are happy before booking and travelling.

Day trips: Taking individual day trips will mean you’re coming into contact with a different group of people each time. You may want to avoid long coach trips, as each trip will mean you’re in close contact with a coachload of fellow travellers. If you are looking to visit a local attraction or natural beauty site do research ahead of your visit the local council’s or attraction’s website for information about how they are managing coronavirus prevention measures.

Self-catering: This offers the most flexibility and the chance for you to stay in your established bubble, but of course there’s nobody to do the washing up if you’re cooking for yourself. And do remember that restaurants may be restricting the number of customers to allow social distancing, so getting a restaurant table could be tougher. Once again, ask ahead of your visit for the company’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Medical Travel Compared Keep Your Distance

Know your destination

Some countries have more cases than others, and the number of people infected varies all the time. Keep an eye on the gov.uk website for their general advice.

Find out about the situation in the country you’re visiting from gov.uk’s country specific guidance or by looking at one of the up to date world interactive COVID-19 maps. Each country has its own restrictions, and these are changing regularly.

Some countries are managing the pandemic much better than others. Brazil has been repeatedly criticised, and has stopped releasing any figures about the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19. It has one of the highest number of cases and deaths in the world and travel there is likely to be heavily discouraged for many months.

The USA seems to be experiencing an alarming increase, as most states started reopening, posing a real risk of unchecked spread.

For most European countries, risks are lower than they are in England – but do remember that you’ll be in contact with far more people than you would be at home.

Plan your insurance

Millions of people have had first-hand experience of the importance of holiday insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic. But it has never been more important to remember that other medical conditions can affect your insurance.

If you have any long term medical condition, you may be required to declare it – if you don’t, your travel insurance could be invalid. Medical Travel Compared offers a wide range of insurance providers who can ensure that regardless of your medical history, you won’t come home from your long-awaited holiday with any nasty surprises.

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