Many of us consider a long-delayed trip abroad. However, despite what our politicians tell us, the pandemic is not over, and there is always the risk of contracting COVID while on holiday or just before you leave.
So here are some general tips on maximizing your chances of a safe and enjoyable vacation and a quick look at the COVID situation in four popular vacation destinations.
First and foremost, ensure you’re fully vaccinated — that’s three doses for most people and four for those over 65 and some vulnerable groups. Two doses are better than nothing, but not good enough against the Omicron variant.
Several insurance companies will cover you against a COVID infection just before you travel or while traveling. Travel insurance is recommended and mandatory in countries such as Fiji and Indonesia.
On the plane
Airplanes are quite safe because the air is filtered by HEPA filters. However, you can be very unlucky and have someone close to you who is contagious. So it is best to wear a face mask when not eating and drinking.
Aircraft are reasonably safe environments because of the HEPA filters.
Bring alcohol wipes and wipe your tray, seat belt, entertainment controller, and inside of the seat pockets well.
When thinking about your destination and the COVID cases there, it’s also important to compare this to the situation in Australia.
The cases in Australia (seven-day rolling average per million population) are 1,684 per day, and deaths (seven-day rolling average per 10 million population) are 19.8 per day. About 84 percent of the Australian population has undergone the initial vaccination schedule.
In terms of how much COVID there is, Fiji is doing quite well. The average daily number of cases is 13.6 per million, small compared to the Australian rate. The daily death rate per 10 million inhabitants is zero.
The currently available vaccines are AstraZeneca and Moderna, and 70 percent of Fijians have completed the initial vaccination schedule. There seem to be few current public health regulations. Face masks are optional, and social distancing requirements are not enforced.
I don’t think this is a big deal, given the very low case numbers. But if you are older or at risk due to health problems, I would still wear a face mask indoors.
Healthcare in Fiji is not up to Australian standards, especially in government-run hospitals. Private hospitals are better but go to Australia or New Zealand if you get seriously ill.
The number of cases in Fiji is quite low.
Indonesia is also doing quite well, with daily cases of 0.98 per million and a death rate of 0.3 per ten million inhabitants. However, this data can be under-reported.
The currently available vaccines 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 others you may not have heard of are from China. There are some questions about the effectiveness of some Chinese vaccines.
About 60 percent of Indonesians have gone through the initial vaccination schedule, but this is likely higher in Bali.
Wearing a face mask indoors (e.g., in shops) is mandatory, and some social distancing and QR code scanning is in effect. Face masks are not required when you are in a restaurant.
Like Fiji, hospitals in Bali are generally not up to western standards, although private hospitals are better than public hospitals. If you get seriously ill, it’s probably the best way to get to Australia.
On the other side of the ditch, the COVID situation is similar to that in Australia, with 1,399 cases per day per million inhabitants and 23.4 deaths per 10 million.
Permitted vaccines include AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. Vaccination rates are comparable in Australia, where 80 percent have completed the initial vaccination schedule.
New Zealand is more sensible than Australia and maintains face mask mandates in retail environments and public spaces such as museums.
New Zealand has wisely kept some health measures such as masks.
The healthcare system in New Zealand isn’t quite up to the level of Australia, but good enough that you don’t have to worry if you need to be hospitalized. The good news is that Australia has a reciprocal agreement with New Zealand, so there is no cost if you are admitted to a public hospital.
The United Kingdom
In the UK, all public health measures have been removed.
The number of reported cases is not as dire as that of Australia and New Zealand, with an average daily number of cases of 120 per million inhabitants. However, for most people, COVID testing is no longer free. While people can purchase their own rapid antigen tests, they cannot be registered on the government’s website.
Only those with underlying health conditions can get a free test and must report the results. This means that the said case numbers are probably a large underestimate. This would partly explain the current daily death rate in the UK of 12.4 per 10 million inhabitants.
Interestingly, almost everyone in the UK has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. About 73 percent of the UK population has completed the initial vaccination schedule, significantly less than in Australia.
Regarding quality, the UK health system is between Australia and New Zealand. Like New Zealand, Australia has a reciprocal health care scheme with free treatment in public hospitals in the UK.
In a nutshell
While Bali and Fiji don’t have much COVID, their health systems aren’t as good if you’re unlucky enough to get sick. You are more likely to contract COVID in the UK or New Zealand, but they have good health services if you do.
As for me, I’ll be masking myself and staying in Australia for the next few months!
Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia