Expat travel: the impact of COVID 19

With the irrationally unpredictable UK traffic light system making travel exceptionally tricky in this Covid era, there are many armchair critics sat back in blighty criticising the fools who would even contemplate travelling in such uncertainty. What I would point out however, that it is not just those who wish to leave UK shores for perhaps the first time in eighteen months. There are approximately 5.5 million British expats around the world, who have been separated from their families since March 2020 without respite. No park meetups between grandparents and grandchildren. No rainy outdoor pints with dearly missed parents. No noisy sibling reunion barbecues.

covid expat travel, globe with mask
Family expat travel: the anxiety of travelling even to a green destination

“Ah but they live in holiday destinations, I have no sympathy!” cry the most sanctimonious, smugly encased in their self-enforced martyrdom. Why did they leave the UK in the first place? Work transfers, inability to get on the UK housing ladder, military postings… the list goes on, and lends itself to another article in its entirety.

My point is, that now that the statistics suggest that the vaccine has curtailed Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths, everybody deserves the right to travel without judgement. We have been double vaccinated, as have our families. The NHS is protected; let us now protect the mental health of grandparents with absent grandchildren, families who are desperate to go abroad; those who cannot afford the ridiculously inflated prices of what is now becoming the very middle class British ‘staycation.’ The UK Government are really not making it easy for us.

We travel back to the UK on Thursday from Gibraltar. We will need to take a rapid test at the airport prior to departure, a Day 2 test for the whole family (which “start at £5,” but the final price is on average 1500% more than where ever this starting price is plucked from) and another rapid test on our return. This all seemed relatively straightforward in this ‘new normal,’ until I started to really think about it in more depth.

Our 8 and 10 year old don’t get tested until we are in England on Day 2-what if they test asymptomatically positive? Ten days in a hotel room, rebooking flights, and putting everybody who we had seen in the first two days into ten days of isolation too. Notwithstanding the fact that in at least two instances from Gibraltar in the past two weeks, a positive Day 2 Covid test put the whole plane’s worth of passengers into a 10 day isolation. It is no doubt an inconvenience being put into isolation on your return home, but on Day 2 of your holiday?

Then there have been the ‘summer colds.’ A normal everyday occurrence which were just a mild irritant of yesteryear and an important part of building up our day to day immune system (which appears to have regressed into primitivity since lockdown). 2021 and ‘the Delta variant’ put an immediate stop to this.

My family have all had colds and associated symptoms over the last week, two or three of which now cross over as Covid symptoms. Is it Covid? Am I going to ruin not just our holiday, but a whole plane’s worth of family reunions? Or shall we risk getting tested? Positive results would put us in isolation for ten days, ruin the holiday and possibly the forthcoming holidays of those that we have been in contact with. Was I going to be single-handedly responsible for ruining my colleague’s boys’ trip back to the UK to Legoland? With the vaccine rollout, Covid has now evolved into a modern day flu, yet once upon a time we were trusted with our own common sense in order to protect those for whom it could be deadly.

Expat covid travel anxiety
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We were tested as Covid negative (I cannot fault the efficiency of the Gibraltar testing facility). We have colds. We could just as easily have tested positive for Covid. Same symptoms, but two very different outcomes for us and our wider contact pool, based on a single text message. The anxiety is ridiculous, yet people are quicker to vilify the travellers before questioning the rules.

So onwards and upwards. Fingers crossed that our trip back to the UK runs smoothly. I certainly won’t be flying again until testing has been phased out. Now for the next dilemma.. do I keep my kids isolated until take off in case of another cold/covid dilemma…?

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