Travel in the context of COVID-19: Some things to consider…

Travel is hugely important for ADAPT members. The fast-moving nature of the pandemic continues to impact healthcare options globally, as well as travel options for working internationally for global health. Many members will have had their plans for working overseas, or volunteering to support global health projects put on hold and may be wondering if, when and how they can plan for the future.

ADAPT has had recent contact with the WCPT (World Confederation for Physical Therapists) regarding the issue of travel. 

“WCPT would not be able to provide any information on the safety of communities around the globe. We simply don’t have this information and the variability within and between countries as to what is safe is significant. 

As you would be aware in many countries the lived experience and the official government word can vary substantially. In relation to COVID-19 this is changing daily.

The staff and volunteers of WCPT do not anticipate undertaking any travel for the remainder of 2020. 

Humanitarian projects around the globe are being massively impacted by this pandemic. ICRC and HI have removed staff from most of their overseas missions with no sign of when they may return. Therefore I think the likelihood of physiotherapists undertaking LMIC volunteering work in the near future is very remote.”

WCPT CEO May 2020

If you are UK-based and undertake short contracts for a large organisation and are under their responsibility, it is likely they will set their own policy regarding international travel. If you tend to travel for work that that has been independently organised, or indeed hope to continue volunteering overseas it is essential that you are fully informed. This is both for your own safety but also for the communities to which you may be wishing to help. It would be terrible to be unwittingly transmitting the disease to a region of the world that has significantly less prevalence than us in the UK.

If you are working on a long-term project overseas, you will know the reality on the ground and your organisation’s risk assessment, which combined with your personal level of risk, may influence your decision whether or not to return to the UK.

Regardless of which category you fall into, your work and plans will have undoubtedly been affected. Below are some aspects to consider: 

1. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Foreign Travel Advice
The FCO has issued an ‘Exceptional Travel Advisory Notice’ in light of COVID-19; “the FCOadvises British nationals against all but essential international travel. Any country or area may restrict travel without noticeIf you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now, where and while there are still commercial routes available. Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving.

FCO travel advice is developed based on multiple sources including host government agencies and law enforcement. It is important to remember that FCO Foreign Travel Advice directly impacts the ability to secure travel insurance.

2. Flight reliability / availability
As any country or area may restrict travel without notice by, for example closing borders or airports, many commercial flights have found they are unable to operate and options for travel are extremely limited.
If you are out in the field and wish to return to the UK, it is advisable to contact the British Embassy or British High Commission within your host country and register for alerts for updates regarding charter flights that may be organised for repatriation of British citizens overseas. These are at individual expense.
Due to the uncertain nature of COVID-19 and the impact on the aviation industry, travel options could be unpredictable for some time.

3. Be informed re: host country and the COVID-19 measures in place
 The measures taken by individual countries will be grounded in their own assessments, which may differ from the UK. It is important to stay well-informed to understand your needs, and the needs of your project. Areas to consider include:

  • Is there a mandatory quarantine on arrival?  
  • What domestic or international travel restrictions are in place?
  • Are there any lock down measures in place? Mandatory police checks? temperature checks? documentation requirements?
  • Is it mandatory to wear masks in public?

This information may be detailed on the FCO country specific travel advicepage. However, getting a sense of what is happening on the ground via local partners, or online sources (credible local news agencies, credible social media or via host government websites) may give a more complete picture.

4. Be informed re: UK and COVID-19 measures in place

  • 14-day compulsory quarantine is to be introduced (date yet to be confirmed) for air passengers returning from anywhere outside the UK and Ireland.
  • Current UK government policy is stay alert for England, whist the other UK countries have kept the stay at home message.

For current guidance on what to do if you have coronavirus symptoms see here.

For now, we do not know what the new normal will be. There is a huge amount of uncertainty. In the meantime, there is much we can do through remote support and assistance to our partners and projects in host countries. Whether you’re in the global field or in the UK it would be really useful to know how COVID is impacting your work, or what you are doing to support your colleagues overseas, particularly those in low or middle income countries.