On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of coronavirus disease COVID-19 a pandemic, reflecting the worldwide spread of this infection. The WHO produces daily situation reports, listing all affected countries and the number of confirmed cases.
Travellers to all destinations must be aware of how COVID-19 is transmitted, its symptoms, actions to take if symptoms develop and the risk factors for severe infection. Travellers can access information on COVID-19 on the fitfortravel and NHS Inform websites, while health professionals should access the TRAVAX website.
As of 12 March 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against cruise ship travel for all British nationals aged 70 and over, and for those with pre-existing health conditions.
Recommendations for travellers
Prior to travel, the following should be checked:
- The FCO website, for the latest country specific outbreak advice including:
- Any travel restrictions to a country. This advice is frequently updated, and must be checked regularly for the latest information.
- Entry requirements set by the destination country in response to COVID-19.
- Reports of COVID-19 at the destination and measures the country is taking in response to the outbreak.
- Advice from healthcare practitioners, ensuring travellers receive any necessary health advice and vaccinations. This must happen at least four weeks in advance of travel, as courses of vaccines may take time. There is currently no vaccine available to protect against COVID-19.
- Travellers should ensure they have travel health insurance and check the impact this outbreak may have on coverage. If the FCO advises against travel to a country and the trip still proceeds, travel insurance will be invalid.
- Travellers should consider taking a first aid kit, which should include some means of checking body temperature.
- If travelling with medication, ensure adequate supplies for the duration of the trip are taken and include extra for unforeseen delays, damage or loss.
The outbreak situation may change during travel, and local public health advice should be followed in this instance.
In attempting to prevent coronavirus infection during trips, travellers must:
- wash their hands frequently and carefully, using soap, for at least 20 seconds. This must be done before eating, after visiting the toilet and before touching your face. If soap, clean water and towels are not available, alcohol hand rub (containing at least 60% alcohol) can be used
- avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth unless your hands are clean
- avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and their personal items
In addition, it should also be noted that there is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of facemasks as a way of preventing infection outside of hospitals.
If travellers become unwell during their trip, they should:
- promptly seek out medical advice
- call their travel health insurer for advice on health care cover
- postpone any further travel until they are well again
- follow good hygiene practices, such as covering their nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing, using tissues only once, disposing of them promptly and carefully, and washing hands frequently
Returning travellers who develop any symptoms of COVID-19 should follow advice on the NHS Inform website (Scotland) and the NHS.UK websites (rest of the UK).
Source: TRAVAX, 13 March 2020