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.

So you’ve booked your trip and – hurrah! – it hasn’t been cancelled due to COVID-19.

All countries in Europe have had lower death rates than the UK, so your risk while you’re away is at present lower than it is if you stay home in some respects. However, you do need to consider risks en route and how your habits will change while you’re there.

Do visit the official government tourism website of the country you will visit for more information about travel to your destination as guidelines and protocols will differ per country.

Getting there - UK

If you’re travelling in the UK, you would normally be deciding between car, taxi and public transport. Because of the need to ensure social distancing on public transport, capacity is currently drastically reduced, and using public transport to travel to a holiday destination is likely to be discouraged, even when the restrictions on staying away from home overnight are lifted.

Taxis are an option but do be aware that you won’t be able to socially distance unless your driver has a screen between the front and back seats.

Remember that if you can’t travel to your UK holiday destination by public transport, neither can anyone else. That means car parking is likely to be busier. Contact your hotel or holiday provider to ask about parking in advance.

If you’re travelling to an airport, the same problems are likely to apply. You may drive to the airport, only to find all the car parks are full. Contact the airport for up to date advice on how you can travel there.

Medical Travel Compared Airport Departure

Airport etiquette

Airline travel involves queuing at the best of times – for check-in, baggage drop, security, to get onto the plane. Airports will have arrangements in place to maintain social distancing, but this will mean queues are longer.

  • Check-in online and print your boarding pass.
  • Hand luggage. Can you travel with hand luggage only? This will reduce contact with others at baggage drop and collection points.
  • Take a face covering and put it on when you get to the airport.
  • Carry hand sanitiser with you and use it regularly.
  • Consider taking food with you for your journey – not only are you less likely to find food outlets open, queues will probably be long.

On the plane

Currently there are plans to reduce the number of passengers on planes very significantly to allow people to keep apart. You’re likely to be required to wear a face-covering on the plane.

Airlines are undertaking strict cleaning of planes, but it’s still worth carrying antiviral cleaning wipes to wipe down the area you’re sitting in.

If you accept food etc from a steward or stewardess, clean your hands before eating or touching your face. Do check with your airline what their COVID-19 procedures are: individual airlines have devised their own COVID operational guidelines.

Medical Travel Compared Social Distancing

When you arrive

Whether you’re in the UK or abroad, follow all the sensible precautions above about social distancing, handwashing, hand sanitising and face coverings.

You can read more in my other guide to planning travel during COVID-19.

Risks when you’re there

Many countries have seen far fewer cases of COVID-19 than the UK. That means your risk of catching coronavirus while you’re abroad is probably smaller than it is at home. But don’t take any chances.

Firstly, there are other Brits out there too, and they may carry the virus. Secondly (and very importantly) the healthcare services are not the same in other countries as they are in the UK. It has never been more important to have the right travel insurance.

Medical Travel Compare Closed Cafe

Eating out

Coronavirus is killed by temperatures above 60°C, so there’s little risk from freshly cooked food. There have been no reported cases of coronavirus being passed on by infected food. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, food is prepared and served by people, and people can spread the virus. Most hotels and restaurants have strict hygiene regulations for waiting staff and cooks, but hand hygiene is still essential. Do check ahead of time with each venue you intend to visit what their COVID-19 measures are.

If you choose to eat from a buffet, be mindful that the virus can survive for up to 3 days on hard surfaces, including metal, glass, and plastic.

If you do eat from a buffet:

  • use your own utensil to serve yourself (beware of using the same fork or spoon in two dishes if one contains nuts or shellfish – some people are allergic to them; or a vegetarian dish if you’ve touched a meat dish first). 
  • Ideally, don’t lift food coverings other people have touched, and if you do, use a paper towel that you dispose of immediately.
  • If possible, choose freshly put-out cooked dishes.
  • Never pick up any food with your hands.
  • Always sanitise your hands before and after helping yourself to food, before you eat.

Coronavirus isn’t the only medical problem

It’s easy to forget at the moment that other medical problems apart from coronavirus haven’t gone away. Unfortunately, you are just as likely to develop complications from an existing medical condition today as you were six month ago. And that means you need to take steps to make sure you don’t end up ill abroad without insurance cover.

The first step is to plan in advance and make sure your travel insurance covers you. There are many medical conditions which you’re required to declare: failing to do so could mean your insurance is invalid. Medical Travel Compared has detailed information about a host of medical conditions – not just what you need to declare, but how you can minimise your risks while you’re abroad.

And while it may not have been top of our agenda in recent months, Brexit is still coming. It’s essential to know how the current plan to leave the EU on 31st December will affect your entitlements and insurance requirements.

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