Government AffairsGetting Covid while abroad isn't uncommon. But the problem is with testing for re-entry.

What happens if you test positive for Covid while travelling?

Getting stuck abroad after a positive COVID-19 test can be a stressful and expensive experience.
Getting stuck abroad after a positive COVID-19 test can be a stressful and expensive experience. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/OKrasyuk

More destinations are scrapping Covid-19-related tests and quarantines for fully vaccinated travellers.

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If you’re reading this, you’re already a professional traveller. And, as professional travellers, we certainly have found ourselves in stressful situations on the road. Tight airline connections, lost luggage, no GPS signal — these hiccups are all part of the adventure. But these days, even for the most intrepid of us out there, nothing seems to cause anxiety quite like the threat of that little pink positive strip on a re-entry Covid-19 test.

I’m speaking from personal experience. After a whirlwind winter spending three months in Thailand, a last-minute decision to visit Ireland on the way back to the United States left my fiancé and me stranded with Covid-19 for a week in Dublin, unable to return home because of the re-entry testing requirements.

It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise fantastic trip — one that cost us thousands of dollars in additional accommodations, airline fare changes, food and more Covid-19 tests. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been a staunch supporter of masks, testing and travelling as safely as possible, especially while vaccines were not readily available and deadly variants were causing overcrowded ICU wings.

While hindsight is 20/20, it doesn't seem that the difference in regulations has yielded much difference in terms of contagion or deaths, especially in the post-vaccine era.– Katie Lynn Reynolds, Travelmation

But this recent experience in Ireland shined a very bright light on the many, many holes and — some may argue — antiquated measures that exist in current travel requirements, particularly the requirement to provide a negative Covid-19 test to re-enter the U.S.

A lack of uniformity among Covid-19 rules and requirements

It was a recipe for disaster once the world started reopening at different rates and with different requirements. How could it not have been? One country completely lifts restrictions, while another still requires stringent testing or quarantine.

This happened early in the pandemic, particularly with Americans returning from Mexico, which has essentially been open to tourism, without restrictions, since the initial outbreak. Millions of people from around the world made Mexico their vacation destination of choice for the last two years, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that it was one of the easiest destinations to travel to.

But this left hundreds of travellers stranded when they had to provide a negative test to return to the U.S. Inevitably, they would contract Covid-19 while on vacation, or just as likely, they would contract Covid-19 prior to arriving in Mexico and would start testing positive in Mexico. Unable to return home, they would have to scramble at the last minute to figure out where and how to stay. (Many all-inclusive resorts side-stepped this hiccup by offering to put Covid-19-positive travellers up at no additional cost while they awaited a negative result so that they could return to their home countries.)

On this most recent trip, we started our adventure at the end of December, when we left for Thailand in the midst of an Omicron surge. We had to show negative PCR tests, get travel insurance, provide proof of vaccination and commit to a 24-hour quarantine to await the results of a PCR test on arrival. By the time we left Thailand in March, many of its travel requirements had eased, and we were on our way to Ireland, a country that had recently dropped every single Covid-19 travel restriction (including mandatory masks and all entry requirements).

After successfully evading Covid-19 for three months in Thailand and adhering to masks, vaccine mandates, curfews and occupancy capacities, Covid-19 found us in Ireland. It came as a considerable shock, seeing as we’re vaccinated and boosted — plus, I’d had Delta in March 2021. While my fiancé had a cough for a day or two, I had no symptoms at all.

The issue was not with contracting Covid-19 — it was with being unable to get back to the U.S. because of it. Inherently, this rule is not something I disagree with. But these testing requirements seem outdated, and almost nonsensical, for a country that has no problem allowing people to return to work in person and, most recently, go on planes and to airports unmasked.

Why bother requiring a negative Covid-19 test to return home, when preventative and protection measures at home are inconsistent? It adds stress and costly expenses that, at this point, feel wildly unnecessary.

How to help your clients prepare for the possibility of getting stuck abroad

Because there is no consistency anywhere in the world, the best way to prepare yourself and your clients right now is to constantly check the current rules and regulations — which continue to change by the day. Many countries have remained consistent; those that are freshly reopening or newly dropping mandates may pose more of a risk.

I will say that our three months in Thailand never caused a problem for us. Because of the mask mandates and other requirements, we knew we would be able to enter other countries that also had travel restrictions. It’s the travel between countries that are not aligned on requirements where the risk continues to be greatest, and as countries drop their travel restrictions, that means that there are many more places where it’s possible for Americans to get stuck.

"These requirements definitely need to go," said Katie Lynn Reynolds, a travel advisor with Travelmation. "As cases get lower, we do not need them. It's causing more stress than it's worth. Sitting on edge waiting to hear if a client is negative, or if I have to spend three hours cancelling flights, is not fun for anyone. Most people have common sense and won't travel if they don't feel well — unless they have to. I think masks should stick around as an option and not be shamed, though."

"At this point, I don’t think the U.S. testing requirements for entry make much sense,” he added. "While hindsight is 20/20, it doesn't seem that the difference in regulations has yielded much difference in terms of contagion or deaths, especially in the post-vaccine era."

Source: TravelAge West

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