Many of us are thinking about a long-delayed trip abroad. However, despite what our politicians are telling us, the pandemic is not over and there is always a risk of catching COVID while on holiday or just before you leave.
Here are a few general tips on what to do to maximize the chances of a safe and enjoyable vacation, and a quick look at the COVID situation in four popular vacation destinations.
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First and foremost, make sure you’re fully vaccinated – that’s three doses for most people and four for the over 65s and some vulnerable groups. Two cans is better than nothing, but not good enough against the Omicron variant.
Several insurance companies will insure you against COVID infection just before you travel or during your trip. Travel insurance is not only recommended, it’s mandatory in countries like Fiji and Indonesia.
On the plane
Airplanes are fairly safe as the air is filtered through HEPA filters. However, you could be very unlucky and have someone around you who is contagious. So it’s best to wear a face mask when not eating and drinking.
Take alcohol swabs with you and give the tray, seat belt, entertainment controllers and inside of the seat bags a good wipe down.
When thinking about your travel destination and the COVID cases there, it is also important to compare this to the situation in Australia.
Australia’s current cases (7-day moving average per million population) are 1,684 per day and deaths (7-day moving average per million population). ten million inhabitants) are 19.8 per day. About 84% of the Australian population has completed the first vaccination schedule.
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Fiji is doing reasonably well in terms of the spread of COVID. The average daily case count is 13.6 per million, which is tiny compared to Australia’s rate. The daily death rate per ten million inhabitants is zero.
Vaccines currently available are AstraZeneca and Moderna and 70% of Fijians have completed the first vaccination schedule. There appear to be few current public health regulations. Face masks are optional and social distancing requirements will not be enforced.
In view of the currently very low number of cases, I don’t think this is a big problem. But if you’re elderly or at risk for health issues, I’d still wear a face mask indoors.
Healthcare in Fiji is not up to Australian standards, particularly in government-run hospitals. Private hospitals are better, but if you get seriously ill you’d better be taken to Australia or New Zealand.
Indonesia is also doing reasonably well, with daily cases of 0.98 per million and a fatality rate of 0.3 per ten million population. However, this data may not be adequately reported.
Vaccines currently available are Zifivax, Covovax, Moderna, Pfizer, Convidecia, Sputnik V, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, KCONVAC, Covilo and CoronaVac. Covovax is from India, Sputnik V is from Russia, and the rest, which you may not have heard of, are from China. There have been some inquiries about the effectiveness of some Chinese vaccines.
About 60% of Indonesians have completed the first vaccination schedule, but this number is likely to be higher in Bali.
Wearing a face mask indoors (e.g. in shops) is mandatory and some social distancing and mandatory QR code scanning are in effect. Face masks are not required when sitting in a restaurant.
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As in Fiji, Bali’s hospitals are generally not up to Western standards, although private hospitals are better than public hospitals. If you do become seriously ill, heading to Australia is probably the best way to go.
Across the ditch, the COVID situation is similar to Australia, with 1,399 cases per day per million population and 23.4 deaths per ten million population.
Approved vaccines are AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The vaccination rate is also very similar to Australia with 80% having completed the first vaccination schedule.
New Zealand is a little more sensible than Australia, maintaining face mask requirements in retail settings and public spaces like museums.
New Zealand’s healthcare system isn’t quite up to Australian standards, but it’s good enough that you don’t have to worry if you need to be hospitalized. The good news is Australia has a reciprocal arrangement with New Zealand so there are no charges if you are admitted to a public hospital.
The United Kingdom
All public health measures have been abolished in the UK.
Reported case numbers are not as bad as in Australia and New Zealand, with average daily case numbers of 120 per million population. However, COVID testing is no longer free for most people. While people can buy their own rapid antigen tests, they cannot be registered on the government website. Only people with underlying health conditions can get a free test and are required to report the results. This means that the reported case numbers are likely a huge underestimate. This would partly explain the UK’s current daily death rate of 12.4 per ten million people.
Interestingly, almost everyone in the UK has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. Around 73% of the UK population have completed their first vaccination schedule, significantly fewer than in Australia.
In terms of quality, the British healthcare system is somewhere between Australia and New Zealand. Like New Zealand, Australia has a reciprocal healthcare arrangement with free treatment in UK public hospitals.
While Bali and Fiji don’t have much COVID, their healthcare systems aren’t that great if you’re unfortunate enough to get very sick. You are more likely to catch COVID in the UK or New Zealand but if you do they have good health services.
As for me, I’m masking up and staying in Australia for the next few months!