In a few weeks on July 19, the delayed lifting of restrictions on social contact is set to go ahead in the UK. While primarily this means that events and venues that cater to larger numbers of people will be able to reopen, it will probably also mean that more countries will be added to the UK’s travel green list.
But the situation is fluid. It’s difficult to say for certain whether the ‘unlocking’ date may be put back further, and whether the restrictions around travel will loosen or tighten.
So if you’re planning a holiday later this summer, or hanging on for your desired destination to be added to the green list, it’s best to be ready for the situation to change at short notice.
Okay, so we should be doing this regardless, pandemic or not. But with the situation here and in other countries less certain than usual, it’s important to make sure you have travel insurance to cover any cost incurred by curtailed travel arrangements, or unexpected medical bills.
‘Getting sick or stranded abroad became a lot trickier post March 2020.’ comments Dr Daniel Atkinson. ‘The COVID situation means that flight routes in and out of foreign destinations are less reliable than they used to be. Guidance can change, airline crew may need to self-isolate at short notice - there are a lot of variables. And that’s just getting to your destination and back. If you’ve booked a hotel and there’s an outbreak at that location, they may have to close and you might need to find somewhere else at short notice and so on.’
‘But with coronavirus around in greater numbers in some countries, variable vaccinated populations and variants popping up in different parts of the world, the net risk of ending up in a foreign hospital has probably risen. And with that comes medical costs.’
‘So if you normally chance it on short trips by not taking out a policy, I would definitely advise against doing that now. It’s not worth it.’
Hold off until you’re vaccinated.
There has been speculation that proof of vaccination or ‘vaccine passports’ could enable people who have had two jabs to travel more freely to countries on the amber list, without having to quarantine. But while we’re waiting for these guidelines to materialise, it’s advisable to wait until you are fully vaccinated before attempting to travel abroad, on the more obvious grounds of health.
‘Your risk of contracting and getting seriously sick with coronavirus is low if you’ve had one jab, and it’s very, very small if you’ve had both jabs.’ says Dr Atkinson. ‘So there are benefits to waiting until you’ve had both jabs before going on holiday abroad. There’s the obvious one that you aren’t as likely to wind up in hospital with the virus. There’s also encouraging data to suggest that vaccinated people don’t transmit COVID as easily, so you’re less likely to take the virus abroad or it back with you and infect others.’
‘But there’s also peace of mind too. If you’ve had both jabs, you’ll be able to enjoy the experience of your holiday more because you won’t be as worried about getting sick with COVID.’
Read the rules.
Guidance and restrictions have had a tendency to change quickly, and without much warning here in the UK. Other countries are changing their advice frequently too, so it’s important to stay up to date with what’s allowed, and what isn’t.
‘Do some research before you book.’ advises Dr Atkinson. ‘Find out what restrictions are in place, and what activities you’re currently allowed to do when there. Government websites are the best places to find out. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in some countries rules may be set at state or local level. So try to find information that’s specific to the area you’re visiting.’
‘While they’re not an official resource, travel forums like Tripadvisor and Travel Stack Exchange tend to have sizable expat communities and may be able to shed some light on if rules have changed quickly before or if they’re likely to change in the future.’
‘The UK government website also has advice on whether travel to a certain destination is safe, and may also have some information on local restrictions.’
Rules on obtaining a test result before boarding flights are in place in some countries, and it’s important to realise that these may not be free. So if there are rules such as these in place, find out before you go, and factor any extra costs or fees into your budget.
‘Be ready to have to quarantine upon your return,’ Dr Atkinson warns, ‘even if your destination is on the green list, because things can change quickly. If you’re expected in person at work, or have other commitments like pets to feed, make sure you’ve got arrangements in place should you need to self-isolate unexpectedly.’
Hand gel, masks and medication.
You can never have enough, so take extra than you think you need.
‘Rules on wearing masks vary from country to country and these can easily get misplaced or lost when we’re in transit, so make sure you have spares.’ Dr Atkinson suggests. ‘It’s not a substitute for washing your hands, but hand gel does help to limit the spread of coronavirus and it might not be readily available everywhere, so it pays to take a decent supply with you.’
‘And because the situation may become less predictable while you’re abroad and your plans might get curtailed, be ready to stay abroad for longer than expected, and have extra medication with you. If you’re on prescription treatment, are going away on holiday, and need extra medication to last you in case of delays, let your pharmacy know in advance, and they might be able to issue you with a longer lasting supply.’
Consider a raincheck.
With travel restrictions set to be in a state of flux for some months to come, skipping that holiday abroad for a year and going somewhere local instead might be a safer option if you prefer a surer thing.
‘This is down to personal preference, but it’s worth bearing in mind that when travel restrictions to a country are eased, there will be a rush of people booking to visit that location. We saw it earlier this year with Portugal.’ comments Dr Atkinson.
‘And while people were abroad, the status of the country was changed from green to amber, so some tourists rushed back to the UK in order to avoid having to quarantine.’
‘Obviously everyone is different, and for many the promise of a few days in a warmer, sunnier climate outweighs the potential for delays and quarantine. And that’s understandable - it’s been a tough year.’
‘But if you do want to be extra cautious, maybe think about postponing that holiday you were planning abroad for a few more months, until things are more predictable again. If you’re investing time, energy and money into a holiday, you want to be able to relax and unwind while you’re there. So ask yourself, with things being as they are now and likely to be for the coming months, whether your holiday would be as stress-free as it usually is.’