Travel during the pandemic: travel checklist, health insurance, travel insurance

Craving a vacation? The last thing you would want is to harass your family with an ill-prepared trip!

How to plan a vacation during the COVID-19 pandemic?

As the second wave of the pandemic ebbs in India and the states gradually lift travel restrictions, the Indian tourism industry has begun witnessing what is being called “revenge travel”. Months of lockdown have left people hankering to get out – anywhere, as long as it involves leaving one’s hometown – say media reports quoting industry sources.

Short trips involving just a day or two have become popular, while pandemic-related concerns have introduced a new trend: a preference for high-end hotel rooms where COVID-19 protocols are given top priority.

Apparently, this urge for travel is not going to end with Diwali, indicates a survey by market data portal Statista. According to its findings, more Indians (46%) plan to travel during November-December than those who don’t (38%).

In case you, too, have started planning your first vacation post-lockdown, remember that the threat of COVID-19 has not gone away. This means you cannot afford to be lax with your health and safety, or that of your family, of the staff at the services you avail of, or of fellow holidaymakers. 

Here’s a checklist that you should refer to before you hit the road:

Foreign travel: Checking the requirements

The last thing you would want is to harass your family with an ill-prepared trip to a foreign land. Many countries had barred the entry of travellers from India after the outbreak of the second wave here, though several have since relaxed the rules - conditionally. Failure to meet these conditions can land you and your family in a mess.

Spain, for instance, will allow you entry provided you have been vaccinated within 14 days prior to the departure date, so long as the vaccine is okayed by the WHO or the European Medicines Agency (EMA). While Serum Institute’s vaccine Covishield received WHO’s approval in February, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin received it as recently as November 3. This allows people who have had Covaxin jabs to travel to countries like Spain, who would not recognise this vaccine.

Other than Spain, the countries that do recognise Covishield in the EU are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. The other EU members, plus Norway and Lichtenstein (both non-EU Schengen Area countries), say they will not recognise the vaccine till it is approved by the EMA.

Related: COVID-19: Some Frequently Asked Questions

Like Spain, Canada too recognises Covishield (apart from vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) but will quarantine those who have taken the Bharat Biotech vaccine. So, if the foreign destination you have chosen allows Indian tourists, you need to find out the entry rules for COVID-19 compliance. Remember, many are likely to have a quarantine period for visitors.

You can check with the airline you are using about any quarantine policy changes in the country of your destination. This can even be done at the check-in counter before departure, but do note that you may find yourself in a spot of bother if you keep this step of travel plans pending till the last minute. 

Foreign travel: Checking the ‘at risk’ status

The Union health ministry has also identified certain countries as ‘at risk’; at the moment, these are the European nations, the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe. Keep an eye on this list; it may be extended or shortened by the time you travel and, accordingly, will have a bearing on your ‘on-arrival protocol’ when you return.

The government also has reciprocal arrangements with other countries that recognise India’s vaccination certificates, where protocols for Indian tourists are less stringent than those with India on their watch list. You may look up the health ministry website for updates on rules for ‘international arrivals’ or find them here or here. 

If you are using Nepal as a stopover to a third country, you will need a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Indian embassy in Kathmandu in case you do not fly in as a transit passenger, i.e. do not clear immigration. See here for the documents you will need for the NOC. 

Related: 11 Tips To Follow While Travelling In 2021 To Ensure Safety At All Times

Consider domestic destinations

In these uncertain times, it is best you think local; in that case, if anything goes awry, returning home will be that much less troublesome. There are no restrictions on inter-state travel, though some states governments have imposed negative RT-PCR testing reports as a criterion for entry into their states. Given this, it is advisable to check if your destination falls in any of these states.

Moreover, the health ministry has identified certain areas within the country as ‘containment zones’ under its COVID-19 guidelines. This means these areas will remain under lockdown till November 30; you are advised to stay clear of these areas. The health ministry has also issued guidelines for domestic travellers; you can find them here.

Check states’ guidelines for air travellers

If you plan to travel by air to a domestic destination, you should know that most states have their own COVID-19 guidelines and rules for air passengers, even if they are Indian residents. You will find the details here; you should follow these to minimise the risks of catching the coronavirus and even spreading the disease.

Get travel insurance

There are 25 million reasons why you need travel insurance - and then some. According to a BBC report, airliners across the world mislaid some 25 million pieces of baggage in 2018, which was considerably less than the nearly 47 million pieces lost a decade ago. Despite the drop, the lost baggage numbers are still huge; what if one of them is yours?

But baggage may not be the only thing people lose while travelling; they can lose money to scammers (it is not unknown). If this happens to you and you need emergency cash, your insurance cover can help you out.

There is one more issue you should need to consider: medical emergencies. What if you or a member of your family were to fall ill or meet with an accident while abroad? Healthcare can be five times more expensive in developed countries than in India.

Even within India, a medical emergency will definitely prove more expensive for you than it would in your hometown because you wouldn’t have the convenience of your home at hand. In such situations, the medical cover would definitely help. Look for insurance companies that offer cashless medical coverage for international travel, especially for COVID-19.

Some insurers offer cover for accidents from adventure sports such as scuba diving, bungee jumping, and sky diving (provided the duration is at least one day), while some offer coverage for just one trip.

Related: Find Out What Is Included Under COVID-19 Travel Insurance

Seeking help from the government

If you follow the above steps carefully before departure, you will have fewer chances of getting stuck in a messy situation abroad. However, if it is an emergency, try getting in touch with the Indian mission/embassy in the country you are visiting over the phone or by email. You can get the list of Indian missions here.

Other than this, you can register with the Madad portal run by India’s external affairs ministry. Meaning ‘help’ in Hindi, Madad is an online platform for Indian citizens living/travelling abroad to file consular grievances. To register, visit the portal here.

Madad’s helpline numbers are 1800-11-3090 and 011-40503090 (international). Alternatively, you can download the Madad app from Google Play Store and report your grievance. 

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