IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal

COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2)

COVID-19: Travel restrictions, returning travellers, and advice for travellers abroad

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation. Many countries have introduced measures that significantly affect how we live, work, and travel. As COVID-19 continues to spread among communities around the world, it’s important to work together to reduce transmission and protect those most at risk.

In this blog, you will find updated guidance on international travel restrictions, what to do if you’re currently abroad or a returning traveller as well as what you can do to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in your community. We also link to resources on caring for your mental health during the pandemic.

Have more questions about COVID-19 and travel? Check out: Coronavirus COVID-19 Q&A.

Can I still travel internationally?

At this time, IAMAT is advising against all non-essential domestic and international travel. This includes travel to destinations that currently do not have many COVID-19 cases.

Many governments and public health authorities have also advised against non-essential travel and have placed restrictions on international departures and arrivals – as such, you may have difficulty entering or exiting your destination.

To see what restrictions are in place, refer to your home country’s government and national health authority as well as your destination’s government. You can also see a complete list of international travel restrictions and advisories here.

See the following infographic if travel is unavoidable: Travel and COVID-19

I am currently abroad – what should I do?

If you are currently abroad, it is recommended that you follow the advice of your home government and return home as soon as possible. Register with your embassy and home government (e.g. STEP for US citizens; Canadian citizens can register with their government here) to get alerts.

Many countries have implemented restrictions on international arrivals and departures. As a result, airlines have begun reducing and cancelling flights, and some airlines are grounding all planes. As these new measures take effect, it may become increasingly difficult to return home in the coming days or weeks.

I am currently abroad and cannot come home – what should I do?

Due to international travel restrictions, there are many travellers abroad who may not be able to return home as planned. If you are not able to return home, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the pandemic’s developments and your government’s response. Take the following steps:

  • Register with your embassy and home government (e.g. STEP for US citizens; Canadian citizens can register with their government here). Several governments are also planning to introduce programs that will support citizens who are not able to return home due to travel restrictions.
  • Call your travel health insurance provider to extend your policy and consider purchasing evacuation coverage if you are not already covered. Be aware that some providers may be restricting coverage for COVID-19 – see the following question for more details.
  • Call your financial institution to ensure you have access to appropriate funds.
  • Make sure you have access to a doctor that speaks your language in case you require medical care. IAMAT doctors can help.
  • Pay attention to your health. Make plans to self-isolate and call an IAMAT doctor or local medical facility if you experience any of the following symptoms: cough, fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. Follow the advice of the local health authority.

How is my travel health insurance coverage affected by COVID-19?

It depends on your policy – call your travel health insurance provider to determine how your coverage is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some providers are still covering travellers who booked their trips prior to the COVID-19 outbreaks, but many have stopped providing coverage for COVID-19 medical expenses. As such, if you contract COVID-19 during your trip, you may be responsible for all costs associated with your medical care, including expenses related to travel delays and disruptions because of your illness.

Some insurers have begun limiting coverage to a short window to allow for travellers to return home. Stay in touch with your insurer to find out if your coverage is affected.

I am returning to my home country – what should I do?

Returning travellers should refer to their local and national health authority for guidance. Public health authorities around the world are encouraging returning travellers to self-isolate for at least 14 days once they arrive home.

Approximately 80% of persons infected with COVID-19 show mild symptoms. As such, it’s important to practise self-isolation even if you feel fine.

Make sure to take the appropriate steps (as advised by your public health authority) to consult with your workplace, school, or child’s school regarding self-isolation after travel.

What can I do to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in my community?

All of us have a role to play in this pandemic. Governments and health authorities around the world are encouraging people to stay home and practice physical distancing (otherwise known as social distancing) as a way to flatten the epidemic curve. Flattening the curve refers to preventing a sharp peak in infections so as not to overwhelm healthcare systems and dedicate more time to developing treatments or vaccines.

Public health measures such as physical distancing help flatten the curve because they reduce the amount of contact people have with each other, thereby slowing down the spread of highly contagious diseases. Physical distancing can be particularly effective for reducing the spread of COVID-19 because it is primarily transmitted through close contact, specifically direct contact with infected droplets when someone coughs or sneezes.

To practice physical distancing:

  • Stay home as much as possible and limit your interactions with others.
  • Work from home if possible.
  • Avoid public spaces such as restaurants, movie theatres, places of worship, sporting events, and concerts.
  • Make necessary trips outside during off-peak hours.
  • Use virtual tools to stay in touch, especially with elderly persons and those with pre-existing illness or compromised immune systems.

If you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19 or recently returned from travelling, you may be advised by your local health authority to self-isolate for 14 days to see if symptoms of COVID-19 develop. Self-isolation involves:

  • Staying at home.
  • Staying at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from people in your household.
  • Practising good personal hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing, proper cough and sneeze etiquette, and avoiding touching your face.
  • Not sharing items such as towels and utensils and disinfecting surfaces frequently.
  • Not having visitors.

If it has been confirmed that you have COVID-19, your healthcare practitioner and health authority will advise you on additional self-isolation measures. People who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are advised to follow self-isolation measures as outlined above and wear a mask to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. Learn more about self-isolation here.

An important note on COVID-19 and mental health

This pandemic is an unprecedented situation and it’s understandable to experience feelings of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. As we navigate this together and settle into new routines, it’s important to remember to take care of your mental health and wellbeing. Here are some resources that can help:

Image by NIAID-RML

Article by Jacqueline Tucci and Claire Westmacott