So, Is Catching Covid Just An Inevitable Part Of Holidaying Now?

A lovely souvenir for all.
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Go on holiday, come back with souvenirs, a sun tan and Covid.

That seems to be part and parcel of a trip abroad at the moment, judging by the many posts on social media (and the trend of absence in our own office).

If fact, Covid-19 infections in the UK have risen for the first time in two months, according to figures released on Friday from the Office for National Statistics. It comes after the bank holiday Jubilee weekend and half term, when travel soared and airports struggled to meet demand.

So, is catching Covid just an inevitable part of going on holiday now?

How likely are you to catch Covid on holiday?

It’s unclear exactly how frequently people return from holiday with Covid, says Professor Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick. This is due to a lack of robust data collection.

“The lack of testing, generally and in folk returning to the UK after holidaying abroad, makes it very difficult to assess the risk of infection and of spread in the community,” he explains.

However, Prof. Young isn’t surprised to see anecdotal reports of people returning from holidays with the virus. Airports are likely to be part of the problem.

London Heathrow on June 1, 2022.
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London Heathrow on June 1, 2022.

“Increased mixing in poorly ventilated spaces will inevitably lead to more infection,” he tells HuffPost UK. “My own recent experience of travelling to a conference in Barcelona testifies to the problem. The airport leaving the UK was packed with holidaymakers and we were squeezed together for around two hours to get through the security checks – with most people not wearing face masks. I travelled out and back with different airline companies.

“On the way out, there was no mandate to wear face coverings and therefore most people didn’t bother. The airline company on the way back insisted on everyone wearing a face mask except during refreshment times.”

Is ‘holiday Covid’ inevitable?

Airport conditions – and a lack of consistency on safety measures – do create an environment where transmission is likely. However, catching Covid is not inevitable, especially if you’re fully vaccinated and have recently recovered from the virus.

Emily Oster, an economics professor from Brown University, recently shared data analysis explaining how the risk of reinfection increases over time.

Although reinfection is “hard to measure reliably,” she concluded that you have an extremely low chance of catching the virus again if you’ve been infected in the past three months.

Your risk then increases month by month after the three-month mark.

What does this mean for the future of travel?

Is all this just part of “living with Covid?” Have we reached the stage when we simply have to accept the risk if we want to travel abroad?

That all depends on your personal risk level and the baseline health of those around you, says Prof. Young. Scientists also need to keep a close eye on emerging variants.

“While most infections now are mild due to a combination of vaccination and previous infections, it’s still possible to spread the virus to clinically vulnerable and elderly people who are more at risk of more severe disease and there is also the risk of developing long covid,” Prof. Young says.

“The main worry is virus variants that might be brought back into the UK and could be more infectious and able to evade the protective immunity generated by vaccination and/or previous infections.”

Around 11 million Brits are expected to jet off on holiday in 2022, so you can expect to hear many more people calling in sick on their return. Perhaps in a “post-pandemic” world, we’ll book our annual leave in the knowledge that we might need to add a day or two for recovery on the end.

Is catching Covid on holiday inevitable? Not if you’re fully vaccinated, you’ve recently recovered from the virus and you’re being as cautious as possible. But it’s certainly not entirely avoidable – and you should bear this in mind when you book.

“The best advice is to remain cautious and be aware,” says Prof. Young. “Wear a face mask in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces and where possible avoid being in these tightly crowded spaces for long periods. Enjoy the sunshine and be weary of close proximity to strangers.”