Today (September 10, 2020): Tips for traveling safely during the COVID-19 pandemic
The Coronavirus pandemic caused a sudden halt in global travel and several health authorities continue to recommend staying home over traveling, since travel increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. However, the need to get away and recharge probably feels more necessary now than ever before. But our willingness to travel is based on our perception of the risk associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic (which is far from over). Besides the evident health risk and fear to be admitted in a hospital in a foreign country, there’s also the risk of being confronted with an unexpected quarantine, a region- or country-wide lockdown, and cancellations/rebookings of flights. The more people travel, or hear about people travelling, the more we’re exposed to and experience the risk, and the more we feel the need to deal (and live) with it. Our willingness to travel will increase the more we know about what it’s like and how confident we feel. While safety is never 100% guaranteed, here are some tips to consider if you are willing to take a trip during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Basic safety rules
- Choosing your destination
- What to expect during a flight
- What to expect at a hotel
Have you traveled during the pandemic? If so, do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment.
BASIC SAFETY RULES
According to the World Health Organization, there are several measures you can take to protect yourself and others from getting infected:
- Wash your hands often – and thoroughly – with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content is a good secondary option
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes with unwashed hands
- Use gloves and masks as needed
- Get a flu shot if you haven’t already
- If you’re sick – stay home
Don’t travel during the COVID-19 pandemic if you:
- Are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms or have in the last 7 days
- Are self-isolating as a result of coronavirus symptoms
- Are sharing a household or support bubble with somebody who has experienced coronavirus symptoms in the last 14 days
- Have been advised by an official authority and trace service that you must self-isolate
CHOOSING YOUR DESTINATION
Before deciding on a travel destination, ask yourself the following 3 important questions:
- Is COVID-19 spreading where I live? Is my home area considered a high-risk area?
- Is the virus spreading where I want to go? Is my travel destination considered a high risk area?
- Do you know whether the country you’re traveling to is open to travelers (from your region/nationality) ? Are there any requirements to self-isolate or quarantine?
If you live in an area where the virus is spreading, consider being extra cautious in the weeks leading up to your vacation. This can help reduce your chances of getting sick and inadvertently spreading COVID-19 during your trip. You might even consider postponing your trip until cases lower in your area.
If COVID-19 is spreading in the area you’d like to travel to, choose a different destination. Once you do decide where you’re going, it’s important to be aware of any specific rules being enforced that you’ll need to comply with during your trip. You can find this information by checking the website with travel advises of your government.
A good source to see the number of cases, the infection rate, the total cases and the number of deaths per country is the website of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING A FLIGHT
Your chances of contracting COVID-19 on a plane are very small. Most aircraft are equipped with state-of-the-art circulation systems, similar to those found in hospitals, which use a high-efficiency (HEPA) filter to circulate the air and removes up to 99.7% of airborne particles (including coronavirus). So the risk, if there is one, does not come from the supplied air. It comes from other people. From what we know, the transmission of coronavirus is generally limited to the distance you cough or sneeze – which is about 2 m (7 ft). If you do get this type of virus on a plane, it’s likely because of a person seated within two rows around you.
Nevertheless, taking a flight and being in close proximity to others in a contained space for a prolonged time, rightfully remains an area of concern for most travelers. If the prospect of a flight causes you stress, I advise you to postpone your flights until you feel comfortable to board a plane again or to choose a travel destination that can be reached by car. That said, if you take a flight, several measures are in place to contain any spread of the virus and for passengers’ peace of mind:
- To reduce the chance of personal contact, online check-ins are encouraged.
- For increased passenger health screening, your temperature may be checked by thermal cameras upon entering the airport building or during transit.
- Social distancing is observed throughout the airport. Protective barriers are installed at most check-in desks to provide additional safety measures to passengers and airline employees during any interaction. At most airports, a 1,5 m (5 ft) distance between passengers is required, from the entry gate to boarding gates.
- Masks need to be worn in most airports as well as onboard aircraft. There’s no discussion here as medical research tells us that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to reduce the COVID-19 infection rate. Please note that masks with a valve are prohibited by an increasing number of airlines since the respiratory droplets from the wearer of these masks are still expelled into the air and could reach other people.
- Several airlines board passengers according to the row number, so that passengers are seated one row at a time (in order to mitigate the chance of passengers crossing paths).
- If the flight’s not full, you may be required to sit one seat apart so that there’s additional room. Some airlines, like Delta, even block middle seats and limit the number of customers per flight as a precaution.
- It’s likely you’ll see more reminders to wash your hands and pop-up hand sanitization stations, both in the airport and onboard the plane.
- Food and beverage services may be limited (or even cancelled) during flights. For example, Turkish Airlines, which used to serve some of the best airplane food in the world, now serves pre-packed boxes with cold snacks to Business Class passengers on long haul business flights.
- Some airlines (such as Emirates) require COVID-19 testing prior to traveling.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT A HOTEL
Hospitality is all about making guests feel comfortable and at home. But it’s a difficult balancing act for hotel staff to convey this warmth in a socially distanced way, while prioritizing health and safety. It’s likely that vacation-goers don’t want constant reminders of the COVID-19 virus during their travels, but they still need to be confident they are staying in clean, healthy and safe places. You might see this done in the following ways:
- Before entering the hotel, guests will often have their temperatures taken. Anyone with a fever is not permitted into the hotel.
- Check-ins and check-outs are preferably done online, with no human-to-human contact.
- Elevator rides are limited to one guest (or one travel party) per car.
- Guests who wish to use the hotel’s gym must sign up for a specific time slot to continue social distancing practices.
- Amenities such as minibars, excess hangers, excess linens and excess pillows may been removed from the rooms.
- Several hotels are using new cleaning protocols, including more thorough changeover processes between guests. Some hotels even take it to the next level and leave rooms vacant for a full 24 hours after a guests checks out.
- Housekeepers will only enter your room with your approval. housekeeping staff wears appropriate PPE or personal protective equipment.
- Hotel lobbies are often reconfigured so there’s more room for people to mingle and move about in a socially distanced way.
- Self-service food buffets are mostly closed and replaced by à la carte options.
- Some hotels even offer maximum safety for guests traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani in the Maldives test all guests upon arrival for the coronavirus. In case the COVID-19 test result is positive, the resort will ask the COVID positive guests, his/her family, friends and other travelling together to isolate in their villa. As an exclusive privilege, (i) Soneva will immediately waive the daily room rate of the villa for the next 14 days and the only charges will be meals and other incidentals; and (ii) all guests under isolation are welcome to make full use of the facilities within their villa, the surrounding private gardens and adjacent beach. To ensure guests’ comfort and enjoyment, even while in isolation, full in-villa dining service, as well as general housekeeping services, will continue to be available to isolating guests, delivered in line with strict delivery and service operating procedures.