Airlines have resumed international flights for non-essential travel, and countries are removing quarantine restrictions. But more than half the world’s population is still without a single vaccine dose, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages international travel unless you’re fully vaccinated. And yet, you may need to travel for work or want to get away for leisure. In a recent webinar, Dr. Aisha Khatib, Medcan’s clinical director of travel medicine, shared advice that should help guide you when deciding when, where and how to travel.
Q: How long do you anticipate travel restrictions will last?
Dr. Aisha Khatib: I can’t predict the path of the pandemic, but the airline industry is looking to resume normal operations by the end of 2023 or early 2024. About 53% of the population remains unvaccinated, which can pose a risk for variants to develop and health systems to be impacted, but assuming people continue to get vaccinated, I think the airline’s trajectory is a fairly accurate barometer for the return to normal travel.
Q: I’ve heard that some countries may not allow mixed vaccines as proof of full vaccination. Is this true?
AK: This is a big concern for Canadians because about 3 million Canadians have had a first dose of AstraZeneca followed by a second dose of an mRNA vaccine. The U.S. considers two doses of the same vaccine to be considered a full vaccination schedule. However, many countries followed the mixed vaccine schedule, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reviewing this information to determine whether it will be considered acceptable proof of being fully vaccinated. Right now, regardless of your vaccine status, you’re required to show a negative COVID test from up to 72 hours before arrival into the U.S. So the only real difference, at the moment, would be in the quarantine schedule, particularly if you’re unvaccinated.
Q: If I want to get away somewhere warm this winter, where should I go?
AK: I think the U.S. is your best bet. You want to be cautious because their COVID numbers are surging, and their healthcare systems could become overwhelmed. But the Caribbean, by comparison, is a lot more volatile. Many of these countries have low vaccination rates, so you’re potentially putting yourself at risk for COVID and variants. Plus, testing is more widely available in the U.S. so it’s just more convenient, should you need it.
Q: I’m a snowbird preparing to go to Florida for the first time in over a year. What non-obvious precautions should I take before I go?
AK: I recommend getting the flu vaccine to protect against new viruses that may spread now that people are out and about again. Next, ensure you’ve had a full medical exam, including dental and vision. Fill medication prescriptions for an extra month past the date of your return in case you end up away longer than expected.
Q: How can I minimize my risk of contracting any viruses while on an airplane?
AK: Risk of COVID transmission on airplanes is relatively low, particularly when everyone is masked. Mealtime poses a higher risk because passengers are all removing their masks at the same time. If you can, stagger your own mealtime or snacking from those around you. Stay hydrated, make sure you’re well rested, wash your hands frequently and wipe down surfaces you’re using. Finally, be patient when deplaning—try to distance yourself from others while the plane is on the tarmac, because that’s when the ventilation system is off and you’re at highest risk.
Q: Do you think it will ever be safe to take a cruise again?
AK: Canadian waters are currently closed to cruises. While that may change in 2022, many cruises go to destinations that have low vaccination rates. So even if all passengers are vaccinated, they’ll be exposed to people who aren’t vaccinated, where there’s potentially a high COVID case count and not the same level of precautions that we’re taking in Canada. Passengers could be required to take a COVID test before they get back on the ship at any port, but if they’ve been exposed to COVID, it’s not going to show up for anywhere between two and 14 days, rendering the test ineffective. All that to say, I’d steer clear of cruises for the foreseeable future.
As vaccination rates, government guidelines and travel regulations change, these resources may help keep you up to date on pertinent information:
To book a travel consult with Dr. Aisha Khatib, contact BookingTeam@medcan.com or 416.350.3621.