Coronavirus (COVID-19) and travel: The situation around the world is changing dramatically. Various governments have changed their travel warnings to restrict travel during this time. To understand how this may impact cover under your policy, please go to our FAQs and select your country of residence.
For the latest travel warnings and alerts around the world, read about lockdowns and border restrictions.
While COVID-19 cases continue to rise and fall around the world, some countries have started opening their borders to travelers. On July 1, the European Union Council released recommendations for EU member countries to lift restrictions and allow travelers from a select number of countries outside the EU. Many EU nations have already lifted restrictions to allow visitors from other EU countries.
The United States is not currently on the list of nationalities the EU has recommended allowing in (as of July 15). However, some countries from outside Europe are welcoming US visitors, including the Maldives, a number of Caribbean nations, a handful of European countries such as Croatia, and Mexico. (It should be noted that cases in Mexico are on a sharp increase at the time of this writing.)
New Zealand is also considering creating a “travel bubble” where it would open its border to certain Pacific island nations (and potentially Australia) and vice versa.
Many of these countries require proof of a negative COVID-19 test before travelers depart their own country or upon arrival, and in some cases, the time period of the COVID-19 test result is proving almost impossible for travelers. Those who test positive on arrival may be required to quarantine.
Despite these precautions, COVID-19 has not gone away – it remains a serious risk throughout the world, and some countries and regions have seen a resurgance of the virus.
But the desire to travel hasn't gone away, either. According to a recent survey of American travelers by business news site The Manifest, "less than one-quarter of people (23%) have gone through with canceling their 2020 travel plans at this point. This indicates that people are still looking for ways to travel safely during the pandemic."
If you do choose to travel, how can you do so safely?
Before you start planning a trip, check the status of your government travel advisory, and follow its advice.
Keep in mind – even if the status of your destination is “safe to travel”, the advice may change at very short notice, putting you and your safety at risk.
Your government may have their hands tied when it comes to repatriating you and other stranded travelers.
And depending on where you’re returning from, your government may require you to quarantine on arrival – possibly at a state-run accommodation facility, and maybe at your own expense.
If you cannot run the risk of extra costs or loss of work associated with quarantining, you should consider traveling domestically instead of overseas for now.
Consider all of these factors in order to make a good judgement call.
Tourism is vital to the economies of many countries, and they are eager to welcome visitors again. But they don’t want to do so at the risk of creating a spike in local cases. They also know many travelers are leery of travel in the age of COVID-19.
In response, some countries such as Portugal, Abu Dhabi, and Singapore have created certification programs that enforce certain standards of hygiene for hotels, public-facing businesses, and attractions.
Other, more global initiatives have also been cropping up. The World Travel and Tourism Council recently launched its Safe Travels program that sets protocols for 11 industries, including hospitality, aviation, and tour operators. Companies and destinations can apply for a Safe Travels stamp once the health and hygiene protocols have been implemented. The protocols will be updated as new information about COVID-19 becomes available.
The Adventure Travel and Trade Association has put together similar protocols for the adventure travel industry. Currently, there is a general set of guidelines for these activities: trekking, cycling, rafting, wildife safaris, culinary experiences, small vessel cruising, skiing and snowboarding, small lodge stays, and cultural tours. Operators who are following the guidelines can request a badge for their webiste.
Note: both the stamp and the badge are based on self-assessment and are not certifications. In using them, the company or destination is confirming ongoing complaince with the protocols. However, travelers should still look into what steps are being taken to stay safe.
So, one way to help ensure that your activities and accommodations are COVID-19 safe is to look for destinations or operators that are participating in these programs, or ask them what protocols they are following before you book.
This does not mean the risk of catching COVID-19 is totally eliminated. There are many factors in play, some of which are beyond the control of the operator or destination, and some of which depend on the behavior of the travelers themselves.
Some countries have been relatively unscathed by the COVID-19 pandemic, at least so far. If a destination has few cases or hasn’t seen new cases in several weeks, the risk of catching the virus while there is low – provided no travelers are infected with COVID-19 when they arrive.
Wherever you go, it’s safest to stick to wide open spaces, and avoid crowds. Certain activities are also lower risk than others – hiking and camping are considered quite low, visiting a museum (with proper distancing) is moderately low, eating at an indoor restaurant is moderately high, and going to a large music concert, bar, amusement park, or sports stadium is high.
According to the US-based Mayo Clinic, viruses don’t tend to spread easily on aircraft because of the way the air is circulated and filtered. Airlines have also implemented more stringent disinfecting measures, and many require passengers to wear masks while on the flight. Some have also started performing temperature checks on passengers prior to boarding. (Check the airline’s website for information on its policies.)
However, social distancing is nearly impossible on a full flight, even when middle seats are kept vacant. It’s very important to wear a mask and wash your hands well before and after eating or drinking, and after using the bathroom.
Airports are a potential source of infection, with thousands of people passing through from all over the world. Most airports have made changes to their security protocols (such as allowing passengers to carry containers of hand sanitizer up to 12 oz., or asking passengers to keep frequently touched personal items inside their carryons when putting them through the security scanner, rather than putting those items in the trays). Passengers are also asked to social distance at security, and while queing up for ticket counters, flights, or deplaning.
Complying with these new restrictions is a good way to stay safe – so is packing your own disinfecting wipes and using them to clean door handles, tray tables, and so on. But now might also be a good time to consider rail travel or a road trip instead.
Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility. Millions of people are dependent on tourism for their livelihoods – but opening their doors puts them and their fellow citizens at risk. So, if a country welcomes you, the decent thing to do is to comply with its requirements, not present it with a new outbreak.
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Michael Howard shares his advice on extra travel safety and health precautions you should take during an epidemic or pandemic.