11 Aug 2020

COVID-19 (coronavirus): general advice for travellers

Advice for travellers from the UK on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 outbreak COVID-19 (coronavirus): general advice for travellers
  • This updates the news of 21 July 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 continues to evolve. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated its global advisory against ‘all but essential’ travel and from 4 July 2020 some destinations have been assessed as no longer presenting an unacceptably high risk to British nationals travelling abroad [1]. Details on the exempted countries and territories can be found on the GOV.UK website [1]. This advice is being kept under constant review [1]. Travellers should continue to monitor the GOV.UK travel advice and check the UK FCO website for country specific information regularly, as the information may change.

Those who may be at greater risk of severe illness, and who fall into the clinically vulnerable group due to their age or medical condition, should take particular care with social distancing and hand hygiene [2,3]. Certain individuals who are thought to be clinically extremely vulnerable to severe COVID-19 have been advised to follow more stringent measures [2,4]. Current evidence also shows that there is a higher risk of infection and of severe disease in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups in the UK, but reasons for this are currently not clear.

Advice for travellers

When planning to travel internationally, you should follow sensible guidance to prepare for your trip and reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 while this outbreak is on-going:

The air quality on board aircraft is carefully controlled, changed very frequently and passed through filters efficient at removing viruses; research has shown that there is little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board an aircraft [5]. However, if you are planning air travel, the following advice should be considered:

  • Ask your airline about physical distancing and other measures in place to reduce or limit physical contact with potentially infected passengers aboard the aircraft. Guidance for measures that are recommended aboard aircraft have been published [6,7].
  • To reduce the risk of passing on infection, you should not travel on an aircraft if you are unwell. Exit screening may be implemented and you may be denied boarding if you have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You should continue to take good hygiene measures (see below) and use the designated toilet for your area of the aircraft, washing your hands before you leave the toilet.
  • Avoid moving from your seat unnecessarily but do continue to exercise your legs (flex and extend the ankles) as much as possible to encourage blood flow from the lower legs.
  • If you are unwell on the flight, please stay in your seat and follow any instructions provided during the flight, contacting the air crew as soon as possible.

In addition to the points above, consider the general advice for preventing the spread of respiratory viruses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. This is particularly important after taking public transport or being in a public space.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you feel unwell, stay at home, do not attend work or school.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home and work environment.

If you are unwell with any of the following: a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia), you should self-isolate and arrange to have a test following the Public Health England stay at home guidance.

Advice if you have contact with a COVID-19 case while abroad

If you have been in contact with a known COVID-19 case, follow relevant public health advice (if available), and speak to your healthcare provider or travel insurance company as soon as possible for further guidance. If you are required to quarantine or self-isolate by local authorities, you should expect to do so in the country you are in.

Advice if you become unwell abroad

If you develop symptoms of new continuous cough, high temperature or a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia) while abroad or during travel, you should immediately:

  • Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people, as you would with the flu.
  • Call your health provider and/or insurance company to discuss what you should do.
  • Follow local public health guidance if available.
  • If you become unwell at an airport, bus or train station before or during a long trip, seek medical advice and do not start or continue your journey.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 while abroad you will need to follow local public health advice and stay there until you have recovered. If you are required to quarantine or self-isolate by local authorities, you should expect to do so in the country. You may need to stay longer. Plan ahead for any delays to your return home and the financial implications or practical arrangements you may need to make.
  • Once you have fully recovered, check with your health provider if you are fit to travel, before any onward travel.

After travel

All travellers arriving back in the UK must read the guidance on entering the UK from GOV.UK.

From 8 June 2020, new quarantine rules apply to those entering or returning to the UK. All travellers will need to provide their journey and contact details to border health authorities. Self-isolation will be required for 14 days except in very limited situations. From 10 July travellers will not have to self-isolate if arriving from a country or territory on the ‘travel corridor’ list.

Advice for health professionals

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals may present with a fever. In the returned traveller, some will have other infections including Plasmodium falciparum malaria, which can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated. All individuals being assessed for possible COVID-19 must be asked if they have travelled abroad in the last six months. If they visited a country where malaria occurs, they must have a blood test result for malaria on the same day [8].


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