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: 13th Aug 2020

What should I do if I get COVID-19 when I am abroad?

The main early symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to many other common viral infections. They include fever, a new continuous cough, and a loss, or change to, your sense of smell or taste.

If you develop any of these symptoms, you should stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. If you are staying at a hotel, inform them immediately and ask about local public health guidance. Call your insurance company for advice on what to do.

If you develop symptoms while you are at the airport, a bus or train station, do not start your journey. Instead, seek advice from your travel insurance provider or ask the local authorities to contact someone on your behalf to get medical advice.

You are likely to have to self-isolate for at least 10 days, so be sure to check with your insurance provider on local regulations. Once you have recovered, check with your travel insurance provider before you leave self-isolation.

COVID-19 Medical Cover

We’ll only show you quotes from providers who cover emergency medical expenses (including repatriation to the UK) if you catch the virus whilst travelling abroad.

Enhanced COVID Cover

Extra cover that'll give you & your holiday even more protection against COVID-19. Compare quotes from leading providers with this additional cover today.

Are there any medications I should pack before going abroad in case I get COVID-19?

There are not any specific treatments for mild cases of coronavirus. However, paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets, such as ibuprofen, can help with aches and pains as well as fever if you have coronavirus symptoms. It is also very important to keep up your intake of non-alcoholic fluids.

In the early stages of the pandemic, there were concerns that taking ibuprofen might increase your risk of developing severe complications of coronavirus. However, the Commission on Human Medicines has now confirmed that there is not enough evidence to suggest there is any link. Nor will taking ibuprofen increase your risk of catching coronavirus. Therefore, unless you have been advised you should avoid ibuprofen for another reason, it is perfectly safe to take it to relieve your symptoms.

Do not take paracetamol or ibuprofen just to bring down a fever. If your only symptom is fever, keep cool with fans, air conditioning or tepid showers instead. Also, be sure to keep up your intake of non-alcoholic fluids.

Do you have any natural pain relief remedies you can suggest if I get COVID-19?

There are not any 'natural' pain relief remedies that have been proven to help with the symptoms of coronavirus.

However, drinking enough non-alcoholic fluids is important. If you have a fever or have diarrhoea or vomiting, you are more prone to dehydration. Being dehydrated can make you prone to headaches, as well as kidney problems, poor concentration and feeling generally more unwell.

In addition, for a mild cough, a teaspoon of honey (not suitable for children under one years old), or cough mixture from a pharmacist can help soothe a mild cough. Make sure you do not leave your room to visit the pharmacist yourself, ask someone else to get it for you.

Is there anything I can prepare in advance should I get COVID-19 when I am away?

The most important precaution to take is to ensure that your medical travel insurance is valid and that if you are going to a country covered by the EHIC card, that you have a valid card.

It's also important to ensure you have enough of your regular medication to last the whole of your trip with at least a few days' spare, in case you aren't well enough to travel at the time you were due to return.

Take a print-out of your repeat prescriptions and, if needed, a letter from your GP outlining your past medical history. Remember that your GP may charge for this.

I have an underlying medical condition; do you have any tips for going on holiday following COVID-19?

It is extremely important to check with your travel insurance provider what impact COVID-19 could have on your coverage. This includes coverage for medical repatriation costs if you become unwell whilst you are away.

It's essential for everyone, but especially if you have an underlying medical condition, to keep a careful eye on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. This provides a full list of all the countries you can currently travel to without needing to self-isolate when you return. If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office feels that the risk of infection from a country is high, they will recommend against all but essential travel to that country.

If you travel to a country that is already on that list, or extend your trip to a country that goes onto the high-risk list while you're away, it could invalidate your travel health insurance, including for medical conditions other than COVID-19.

Dr Sarah Jarvis 1080X1080

What tell-tale signs should I look out for that might suggest I have COVID-19?

The 'classic' symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • A new, continuous cough (this means coughing for longer than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours). If you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual.
  • A fever (temperature above 37.5 degrees Celsius or your skin feels hot to touch on your chest or upper back)
  • Loss of or a change in your normal sense of smell or taste.

However, you may also have breathlessness (which may cause anxiety), tiredness, headache, muscle aches and sore throat, among others.

Most people affected with coronavirus have mild symptoms and can expect to feel much better in about a week. However, it is very important to know the warning signs to look out for.

At what point should I seek medical attention if I have COVID-19?

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, you should keep away from other people and stay isolated for at least 10 days. Take the same precautions you would if you had a nasty cold or flu. If you are staying in a hotel, be sure to inform them straight away as they should be able to arrange to have food delivered to your room. Also, ask them about local arrangements for getting tested.

You should seek medical help if:

  • You have a child under five years old who has possible symptoms of coronavirus infection.
  • You cannot cope with your symptoms at home/hotel etc.
  • Your condition gets worse.
  • You still have a fever, are feeling generally unwell or have other symptoms after a week.
  • You are so breathless that you are unable to speak more than a few words.
  • You are breathing harder or faster than usual when doing nothing at all.
  • You are unable to do any everyday tasks such as looking at your phone, reading or getting out of bed.
  • You have an underlying medical condition that increases your risk of severe complications of coronavirus.

If I have definitely had coronavirus, does that make me immune?

No. While being infected with many conditions does reduce your risk of catching them in future, we are not sure if this is the case with COVID-19. It seems that not everyone who has had COVID-19 (with a positive swab test confirming they are infected) develops antibodies.

If you do develop antibodies, it is not certain if these are enough to provide immunity. If you do develop immunity, we do not know how long that immunity would last. The latest research suggests that for many people, antibody levels drop within a few months.

That means the only safe option is to behave as if you could catch COVID-19, whether you have been infected or not. That means always following sensible precautions, including:

  • Staying at least two metres away from other people whenever you can.
  • If you cannot stay two metres apart, always trying to stay at least one metre apart.
  • Wash your hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. This is particularly important if you have been on public transport or in areas where there are other people.
  • Use hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol if you cannot wash your hands.
  • Wear a face covering if you are indoors and cannot socially distance. Be aware that in some countries you may be required to wear a face-covering in other situations.
  • Self-isolate if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If possible, get tested as soon as you develop any possible symptoms of COVID-19.

Would you advise quarantining before going on holiday to make sure that I am fit to travel?

Nobody wants to be unwell while they are on holiday. There is no official recommendation that anyone should quarantine before they go on holiday but if you develop any of the symptoms above before or even at the start of your trip, it is essential that you do not travel. Instead, stay at home and arrange a test as soon as possible.

Would you advise I quarantine when I get back from my holiday, to ensure I am not passing on the virus?

In most countries where non-essential travel is permitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the risks of getting COVID-19 while you are away are as low as or even lower than in the UK. Therefore there is no need to quarantine if you're coming from one of the countries on the FCO exemption list.

However, if you've come from a country where the UK has said you must quarantine, it is essential that you self-isolate for 14 days on your return. If you have travelled through a high-risk country in the last 14 days, you must self-isolate until 14 days after you left that country.

We’ll only show you quotes from providers who are able to cover emergency medical expenses (including repatriation to the UK) if you catch the virus whilst travelling abroad.

Some of our providers are able to offer additional cover, such as cancellation cover should you catch COVID-19 or have to self-isolate because of suspected symptoms before departure. We’ll make it clear who these providers are when you’re comparing quotes so you can choose the policy that is right for you.

This doesn’t apply to all insurance providers, so unless otherwise stated, for all other sections of cover, you wouldn’t be covered if making a claim as a result of COVID-19.

For more information, we recommend reading our full guide here.

If the FCDO are advising against all, or all but essential travel to your destination at the time of your trip, there will be no, or extremely limited cover provided by your policy.

You can still choose to take out a policy now for a future holiday, but it is very important to note that if the FCDO are still advising against all but essential travel to your destination at the time of your trip, your cover will not be valid.

For more information, we recommend reading our full guide here.

A pre-existing condition is a diagnosed medical condition that existed before taking out a policy. We'll ask a series of questions about the medical history for you and any travellers on your quote. If you answer yes to any of these, you will need to tell us about the traveller's conditions. This could be a condition that a traveller has now, or has had in the past. If you are not sure what conditions you need to declare, we have online support available to help you 24/7!
Yes. It’s important to declare any past or present medical conditions. Failing to do so could invalidate your travel insurance policy and you may not be covered in the event of a claim.
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