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

Coronavirus COVID-19 Q&A

Photo By: Thommen Jose

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation and information about the virus is still emerging. IAMAT is updating this Q&A page as new details are confirmed.

Travel-related COVID-19 questions and answers:

1. Should I travel internationally?

Many governments and public health authorities continue to advise against non-essential travel to reduce the global spread of COVID-19. At this time, the best way you can protect yourself and others is to stay home.

Restrictions are still in place in many countries to reduce international departures and arrivals, meaning you may have difficulty entering or exiting your destination.

If you choose to travel internationally, you may encounter enhanced screening and monitoring at entry and exit points. You may be asked to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test, submit to a temperature check, and be asked questions about your travel history and health. In many circumstances, you will also be required to self-isolate upon arrival at your destination.

If you are travelling, see the following infographic for tips on staying healthy and safe: 

Travel and COVID-19

2. Where can I find information on international travel restrictions?

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.

3. What measures should I take before travelling internationally?

It’s important to note that there is no ‘zero risk’ when travelling internationally. Travel can increase your contact with people, thereby increasing your risk of encountering an infected person or surface. There is no vaccine or COVID-19 treatment at the moment, meaning that travellers have to be vigilant about following public health advice to protect themselves and others.

If you do travel internationally, consider the following: 

Check out the following infographic for more tips on staying healthy and safe during your trip:

Travel and COVID-19

4. Who should not travel?

Travel can increase your risk of getting COVID-19 and spreading it others. Travellers who are 65 years of age and over or have a pre-existing condition (including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, renal failure, or respiratory illness) should consider postponing travel until a COVID-19 vaccine or effective treatment is available. Travellers who live with or who are visiting someone who is at high risk of COVID-19 complications may also want to consider postponing travel.

Do not travel if you are sick – stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19 or any other illness to others. You should also avoid travel if you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

Follow the COVID-19 and travel guidance provided by your local health authority.

5. I am currently abroad - what should I do?

Due to international travel restrictions, there are many travellers who are experiencing delays or disruptions to their travel plans and who may not be able to return home as planned. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the pandemic’s developments, your government’s response, and the response of your host country. The following steps can help you while abroad:

6. I am currently abroad and am experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 - what should I do?

If you start to experience symptoms of COVID-19, take steps to isolate yourself and call an local doctor or medical facility. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Follow the advice of the local health authority.

7. Is there travel health insurance that provides coverage for COVID-19?

Not all travel health insurance providers are committed to providing coverage for COVID-19 and related expenses. If you are currently covered under an existing policy, call your provider to ask what is included in your coverage. You may have to purchase an additional policy or add-on providing coverage for COVID-19.

If you are looking to purchase travel health insurance, where possible, look for a plan that fully covers:

Be aware, however, that many insurers may not be able to guarantee a hospital bed or doctor availability where COVID-19 continues to tax healthcare systems around the world. Ask your insurer if they can guarantee coverage for your destination.

It may take some time to find a policy that’s right for you. Start by researching policies using insurance comparison sites or refer to an independent insurance broker.

If you are in a situation where your travel health insurance provider is denying you coverage or refusing to pay a claim in full, there are steps you can take:

Try to remain patient throughout this process. Insurance companies are experiencing a high volume of calls due to the pandemic, so it will take time and perseverance to get results.

8. 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 requiring or 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 practice 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. 

9. What can I do to prevent COVID-19 on an airplane?

On an airplane, much of the same simple measures being used on the ground apply including:

General COVID-19 questions and answers:

1. What is the novel coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of respiratory viruses that can cause illness in people and animals. Infections from coronaviruses can vary in severity from the common cold, which causes mild illness, to more severe forms such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

The novel (new) coronavirus was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China when a cluster of cases of viral pneumonia with unknown origin were reported. Scientists identified the new virus as genetically related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and officially named it SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the disease COVID-19).

2. How does COVID-19 spread?

The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is primarily transmitted from person-to-person during close contact. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or breathes nearby (within 2 metres / 6 feet), respiratory droplets containing the virus are expelled. These droplets can be inhaled by another person or directly deposited onto a mucus membrane, such as a person’s mouth or nose.

People infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to others before symptoms develop (known as pre-symptomatic transmission). It is also possible for people with mild symptoms (such as a mild cough and no other signs of illness) or no signs of illness to transmit the virus. This is why it’s important to stay 2 metres / 6 feet apart.

Under certain conditions, COVID-19 can be transmitted through airborne transmission which occurs when droplets linger in the air for minutes to hours. These droplets may be able to infect people who are more than 2 metres / 6 feet apart, and may linger in the air long after the infected person has left.

In less common circumstances, infected droplets can land on surfaces or objects and can transmit illness to a person who touches the infected surface and then touches their own mouth, nose, or eyes.

3. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as: new or worsening cough, fever, fatigue, muscle and body aches, new loss of smell or taste, headache, gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea), difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure.

The majority of cases (around 80%) appear to have mild symptoms, though a small proportion of people develop breathing difficulties, including pneumonia. 

Those with a weakened immune system, the elderly, and those with a pre-existing condition (specifically high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to be more prone to severe illness.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, blue lips or face, or confusion.

4. How does COVID-19 compare to the flu?

In short: The viruses have some similarities, but COVID-19 causes more severe disease than the flu and has a greater capacity to overwhelm healthcare systems.

Both COVID-19 and the flu (influenza) are viral infections that can spread from person-to-person through droplets, typically from coughing or sneezing. Both viruses can also cause similar symptoms such as fever, cough, and in severe cases, pneumonia. They are also treated through supportive care of symptoms (note: antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, not viral infections).

However, COVID-19 and the flu are caused by different viruses. The flu is caused by different types of influenza viruses, whereas COVID-19 is caused by a new type of coronavirus. Unlike influenza, people have not been previously exposed to COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19 leads to more severe illness requiring hospitalization than the flu – approximately 19% of COVID-19 cases require hospitalization, compared to 2% for the flu (based on WHO, CDC, NCBI data). As such, COVID-19 has a higher potential to overwhelm our healthcare systems and severely impact people with pre-existing illnesses, weakened immune systems, and the elderly.

While most people who contract COVID-19 fully recover through supportive care, hospitals and medical facilities will not able to treat all severe cases requiring hospitalization if the virus is allowed to spread unabated in our communities. This is why it’s so important to follow the guidance of your government and health authority regarding physical distancing and restrictions on travel and gatherings.

5. Where have cases been reported?

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in many countries around the world. You can see a full list of affected countries here. For real-time updates on active case numbers and recovered cases, see: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases.

6. Is there a medicine that can prevent or cure COVID-19?

At this time there is no universally approved vaccine, medicine or therapy that can prevent or cure COVID-19. However, there are multiple efforts underway to develop a vaccine for prevention and medication treatment.

The majority of people who contract COVID-19 recover with supportive care of symptoms. Some people with serious illness require hospitalization.

Note: Be cautious of products or vaccines claiming to cure or treat COVID-19 – numerous scams regarding COVID-19 vaccines and medications have been reported. There are also many myths and misconceptions about COVID-19 and its transmission being circulated online. Make sure you are getting your information from reliable sources (such as your government and health authority). You can read more about COVID-19 myths here.

7. 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 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.

It’s also important to follow basic hygiene measures to avoid spreading COVID-19 and other viruses. These include:

8. What is physical distancing?

Physical distancing (otherwise known as social distancing) is a way to reduce the spread of contagious diseases by increasing distance between people. It is an effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19, which is primarily transmitted through close contact.

To practice physical distancing:

9. How do I self-isolate?

If you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19 (e.g. you had contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19) or recently returned from travelling, you may be advised by your local health authority to self-isolate and monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days.

Self-isolation may also be recommended for people who are elderly or immunocompromised. Refer to your health authority for guidance on when to self-isolate.

Self-isolation involves:

If it is confirmed that you have COVID-19, your healthcare practitioner and health authority will advise you on additional self-isolation measures. Learn more about self-isolation here.

10. Should I wear a mask to protect myself against COVID-19?

Wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of some respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. Wearing a mask helps reduce the risk of your respiratory droplets reaching others in case you are infected. 

Wearing a mask is recommended in circumstances where physical distancing is not possible, such as when caring for a sick person, or when it's more difficult to practice physical distancing, such as when grocery shopping or on public transit. Wearing a mask may be required by your local government when inside public spaces or on public transit. Check with your local public health authority to find out about requirements in your location.

While wearing a mask, it’s important to continue to prioritize physical distancing and personal hygiene measures, such as frequently washing your hands and avoiding touching your face and mask. It's also important to make sure you are using your mask correctly - masks can become a source of infection if not worn or discarded correctly. Learn more about how to safely wear your mask here

There is evidence that people infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus before symptoms develop (known as pre-symptomatic transmission). It may also be possible for people to transmit the virus without developing symptoms (known as asymptomatic transmission). This is why it’s important for all of us to follow the advice of our local health authority and government by practicing physical distancing, hand-hygiene, and wearing a non-medical mask.

11. How can I take care of my mental health during the pandemic?

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:

IAMAT's Coronavirus COVID-19 resources:

Information last reviewed: November 18, 2020

Travel Health Journal