As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect international travel, it is important to remember that no travel is risk-free. Many countries have initiated travel restrictions to prevent the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants within their borders. As the pandemic evolves, these restrictions are modified to reflect the assessed risk within a country at that point in time. For example, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA they are advising no international travel until the traveller is fully vaccinated.
To minimize the risk of transmission linked to travel, the UK government has introduced a traffic light system classifying countries as green, amber or red. Travellers should not travel to red or amber listed countries where possible, while travel to countries or territories on the green list is allowed with certain provisions (eg pre-travel Covid-19 testing) as it is considered lower risk. The USA has classified countries based on assessed level of Covid-19 risk, from “level unknown” to level 4. As the situation changes, the lists are revised and should be consulted prior to travel.
As the level of risk in different countries and territories varies, so do the health requirements for entry into those countries. Specific country regulations need to be consulted and complied with prior to and following travel. This may include pre-travel Covid-19 testing, demonstrating that a traveller does not have Covid-19, and possible quarantine (with further Covid-19 testing) at the destination. All workers travelling for business reasons are subject to the relevant country specific regulations, which could impact business plans.
The following are guidance notes and should be considered in conjunction with local rules on travel:
Covid-19 general travel advice
- Avoid unnecessary travel.
- Do not travel if you have been recently exposed to Covid-19, you are sick, you test positive for Covid-19, or you are waiting for results of a Covid-19 test.
- Check the destination country for policies on what kind of travel is permitted.
- Follow the recommendations of the travel authorities regarding policies at the airport and for the specific airline being used.
- Follow general hygiene advice: wash hands frequently, use hand sanitiser, cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue, wear face coverings and try to maintain a physical distance of at least one metre from others.
- Travellers aged 60 and over, and those with serious chronic illnesses or underlying health conditions, are considered high-risk and should therefore try to postpone travel or take special precautions, ensuring a medical face mask is worn continuously throughout the travel.
- Travellers who feel healthy and have no symptoms can wear a fabric mask to prevent any virus they may have from spreading to others.
- Continue to follow prevention strategies at the destination (ie hands-face-space).
- Travellers should self-monitor for any symptoms up to 14 days after arrival. Report any symptoms and your travel history to local health facilities and follow national protocols.
Vaccine certificate / passport
A vaccine certificate or passport is proof that the traveller has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and can travel without the need to quarantine. The traveller should have received their final vaccination dose at least 14 days before travel.
EU countries have introduced the Digital Green Certificate and the UK has introduced the vaccine certificate (an NHS app) as evidence of full vaccination.
The EU’s Digital Green Certificate is proof that a person has:
- been vaccinated against Covid-19
- received a negative test result, or
- recovered from Covid-19.
The Digital Green Certificate should facilitate free movement inside the EU. It will not be a pre-condition to free movement, which remains a fundamental right. However, the certificate is an opportunity for Member States to adjust the existing restrictions on public health grounds. People who have not been vaccinated will still be able to travel but will need to comply with Covid-19 testing and quarantine rules of the destination country, as well as complying with local rules on their return.
Travelling for work
The UK has provided a list of jobs that qualify for travel exemptions. Included in these jobs are aircraft pilots and crew, border security workers, downstream oil facility workers, drivers of goods vehicles and nurses. The government website needs to be consulted to see what requirements each of the job categories is required to meet.
IOSH recommends the following key actions organisations can take to manage traveller health, safety and wellbeing:
- Consider whether the travel is absolutely necessary - can you achieve the same result with video conferencing and minimise the risk to both organisation and traveller?
- If travel is essential, make every effort to ensure all travellers are fully vaccinated before they do so
- Situations such as the coronavirus pandemic can change rapidly, potentially leaving travellers stranded or quarantined. Consider introducing “fly/no fly” decisions based on best available guidance, such as governmental travel advice
- Where travel is deemed necessary, complete a travel risk assessment that incorporates not only the travel, accommodation and work itself, but also the traveller’s physical and mental capabilities
- Ensure the means to support travellers are available if they do develop Covid-19 whilst travelling This includes interventions for medical assistance, Covid-19 testing, quarantining in the destination country, and possible casualty evacuation
- Provide relevant information, instruction and training to travellers, the nature and extent of which should be identified during the risk assessment process.