International flights returned to Sydney and Melbourne on Monday, and with them, Australians’ prospects of overseas holidays.
Yet even though travel restrictions are easing, the pandemic is far from over and COVID still poses a real risk.
“Getting COVID while you’re away would be particularly annoying,” Dr Deb Mills told The New Daily.
The Brisbane-based travel doctor is starting to see patients trickle back for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and many are looking for COVID-specific travel advice.
Here are her top tips for travel while the world learns to live with COVID.
Add a COVID test to your first-aid kit
Do-it-yourself rapid COVID tests are now available at most supermarkets, and they’re a handy addition for any travel medical kit.
While they’re less accurate than a professionally-administered COVID test, they can help provide additional peace of mind while you’re on the move.
Be careful on the plane
“The most dangerous place is actually when you’re climbing onto the plane,” Dr Mills said.
That’s because the airport bridges aren’t well ventilated and passengers tend to bunch up.
Once onboard the plane, it’s a good idea to point the air vent towards yourself so that fewer particles flow from other passengers towards you.
“I would also try and eat at a different time to everyone else,” Dr Mills added.
“So that everyone’s not breathing out at the same time.”
Wearing a mask for the rest of the flight is a given.
Choose your destination carefully
Although people visiting loved ones don’t have much of a choice on where to visit, people travelling for a holiday can minimise their risk of catching COVID by choosing their destination carefully.
“I think at the moment, for the next couple of months, I would say that most people on recreational trips might want to consider staying within Australia or going to the Pacific – somewhere that’s fairly close,” Dr Mills said.
“So staying a bit closer to home is probably a bit better until we see how things work out.”
The first holiday destinations to reopen with direct routes to Australia are in the Pacific and south-east Asia, plus the US and UK, and travel agents can help you figure out what the conditions are like in a specific country.
For people who are immunocompromised, elderly or otherwise vulnerable, it might be worth holding off altogether.
“I would think they really need to consider carefully if their reason to travel is urgent,” Dr Mills said.
Consider COVID booster shots
Dr Mills said people should treat COVID booster shots like any other travel vaccination.
With the Australian government now recommending booster shots six months after people had their second jab, it’s worth factoring this in to your travel schedule.
“If someone’s booster is scheduled for a week after their departure, I’d have the booster before you go,” she said.
“Those sorts of discussions are worth having.”
Don’t skimp on the usual precautions
“The normal travel diseases have not gone away,” Dr Mills said.
“There’s still hepatitis, and typhoid and all these other things all over the place.
“But it’s worse now because if you get sick, or even if you break a leg, the hospitals are under more stress due to the pandemic, so getting care is more tricky.”
This means one of the easiest ways to minimise your risk of being affected by COVID abroad is to remember the usual health precautions from before the pandemic halted global travel.