Going abroad for the first time since the pandemic started? Sarah Maber discovers everything you need to know to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy on holiday.
Booked a holiday abroad this summer? While we’re all craving sea, sand and sundowners, Covid-19 will make our fortnight in the sun a different experience this year. Alongside your sunhat and swimming costume, you’ll also need to pack some basic coronavirus knowledge, says Professor Ian Jones, virologist in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading and a member of the Medical Research Council Infectious and Immunity Board. “Local infection rates are widely reported and before going on holiday you should check the levels of virus circulating in the area you are intending to visit,” he recommends. “This local circulation level is far more important than any one country or another and as long as the level is acceptably low you will be safe, following the usual precautions, wherever you go.”
So, what other measures should we be taking to stay healthy on holiday – and once we arrive? Professor Jones gives his advice.
Staying healthy on holiday at the airport
Hand sanitiser, 2020’s travel essential, can go through security with liquids and gels as long as the bottle isn’t bigger than 100ml. It’s now compulsory to wear face coverings in the airport and on board your fligh. While it won’t do any harm to give high-touch areas like seat trays, armrests and seatbelts a quick wipe-down, airlines say they clean and disinfect between flights. During the flight itself, there’s no need to worry about the virus circulating via the air conditioning. “There’s no particular evidence for it,” says Professor Jones. “In all, the flight is no more likely to be a threat than the travel to and from the airport or queuing for restaurants or amenities.”
“Ferries follow national guidelines, and require face masks to be worn while queuing to get on and off and social distancing measures whilst on board,” says Professor Jones. The safest place to be is on deck, if the weather allows. “Ferries are a form of transport where, traditionally, passengers group together in bars and rest areas while waiting for the transit to complete. Social distancing should therefore be the main concern. Stay in family groups or social bubbles and wear a mask when appropriate,” says Professor Jones.
On the road
If you’re driving to your destination, you’ll probably have to stop at a service station for snacks, the loo or for petrol. “Most service stations will have signs for social distancing and will be encouraging card payment,” says Professor Jones. “Queueing for the toilet does represent an unavoidable transient risk situation but if you keep your distance and don’t turn around to talk to people, that risk should be kept to a minimum. As always, wear a mask if you can and wash your hands, on entry and exit.”
In your hotel
If you’re staying in a hotel, research what measures your hotel has taken to prevent coronavirus transmission and keep its guests healthy on holiday, and whether you’re required to wear masks. “If you feel safer giving the area a formal wipe-down when you arrive, then that is what you should do, but in general you can assume that the room or property will have been checked and cleaned before your arrival,” says Professor Jones. “Don’t worry about any special virus cleaner – a squirt of household bleach from the local supermarket in a bowl of water will do an excellent job. While you should open a window if you feel stuffy or to admire the view, it has no bearing on virus risk.”
Staying healthy on holiday on the beach
Take more food and water than usual, in case public eating areas and drinking fountains are closed; and double the number of face masks you take, in case one gets wet. But safety-wise, open spaces like the beach are one of the safest places to be to stay healthy on holiday, says Professor Jones. “The key thing is to try and avoid crowded areas; there is very little chance of catching the virus from the beach itself or from the sea.”
At the pool
If the pool area is uncrowded and social distancing is possible, the transmission risk is low; chlorine protects against most viruses, so the water itself isn’t dangerous. “Maintain your social distance and take sensible precautions like washing hands regularly,” says Professor Jones. “Pool water will be sanitised, and hotels may have traffic routes marked, as well as separated tables and disposable menus for poolside dining. Follow the guidelines, as they will have been established with your safety in mind.”
In a restaurant or bar
As always, being outdoors reduces the transmission risk, though properly spaced tables and safety measures should make eating indoors low risk, too. “Follow the restaurant guidelines and you should be OK,” says Professor Jones. “Bars have been associated with some virus bounce-back since lockdown eased but it is generally people behaviour rather than the venue itself – NOT throwing caution to the wind should be your guiding principle.”
Staying healthy on holiday while visiting tourist attractions
Should you visit local attractions, sights and events while you’re on holiday? “The issue is crowds not venues, so you must take a close look at the rules for entry or the tours on offer and then decide for yourself,” says Professor Jones. “In deciding to re-open, the venue will have put in place measures they think will allow a safe visit. The critical thing is to follow them, not make it up as you go along. Check what is required beforehand and adhere to it, for your safety and that of others.”
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