Amid this pandemic, some travellers are hitting the road once again and sharing their experiences with us
The first half of 2020 saw many countries closing borders and placing tight travel restrictions, but as the number of infected cases started to decline from June onwards, many countries have begun to reopen, although most destinations still remain quieter than normal. In this article, we catch up with three individuals to hear their recent travel experience.
From Berlin to Zürich with Swiss Air
Travelling dates: 25 June to 28 June
There is a fair chance that everyone will remember their 2020 birthday, even though it may have been a low-key celebration. For Zoe, she decided to combine her birthday celebration with a visit to Zürich, where a dear friend lives.
“I was really looking forward to this trip as it was a break from the lockdown, and the feeling of aimlessness when you weren’t quite sure what would happen next,” Zoe shares with us.
“But I was thrown off guard when I realised the plane was full. Every seat was taken and we were all crammed into this confined place. Needless to say, I was confused and anxious, because the situation was a contradiction to the social distancing mantra we’d heard since the start of the pandemic.”
“Another thing that surprised me was wearing a face covering wasn’t mandatory in Zürich at the end of June when I visited – they only made face masks compulsory from 1 July. It was strange to see people visiting shops and taking public transport without wearing a mask. In Berlin, we were used to wearing a mask so I continued to wear one throughout my trip.”
Where did you do in Zürich?
“Just hanging out with my friend. We spent many hours walking around and enjoying the stunning lakeside promenades, even taking a refreshing dip in the River Limmat. We also went to the Museum of Design and Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, both were relatively empty.”
Did you stay in a hotel?
“No, I stayed with my friend as it gave us a good opportunity to catch up. We talked, laughed, spent hours making delicious meals and even more time lingering over them. It was absolutely fantastic!”
From Poole to Jersey with Condor Ferries
Travelling dates: 31 August to 04 September
For Vivien, the work trip to Jersey was pencilled in for the end of August when the largest of the Channel Islands opened its border at the end of July. But during the four weeks – from the onset of the trip confirmation to the date of departure – Vivien chose to minimise contact with other people as much as possible.
“I definitely felt some trepidation,” Vivien explains, “Jersey requires all arrivals to go through a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) COVID-19 swab test and those who show a positive result must be quarantined for 14 days in Jersey. I didn’t want to be quarantined, so I took extra precautions, like working from home and venturing out only when necessary in those four weeks leading up to my trip.”
Instead of flying, Vivien chose to drive and catch a ferry from Poole to Jersey. “Condor Ferries (www.condorferries.co.uk) is wonderful. They reduce the number of passengers to half to ensure social distancing, collect passengers row by row if they want to visit the duty-free shop, have hand sanitiser dispensers throughout the ship, and impose a cash-free environment. All staff and passengers over the age of 11 wear a mask, while passengers can also enjoy the fresh air outside at the viewing areas and on the helipad.”
“On my onward journey, a father and son sat in a wrong row, but before the passengers holding the right tickets could take the seats, the staff actually cleaned the seats first. I was thoroughly impressed.”
What did you do in Jersey?
“It was a work trip, but I did visit quite a few pubs and restaurants in Jersey and they seemed to manage this pandemic really well. As part of the track and trace efforts, many of the restaurants have a QR code at the entrance for you to scan and register. It was so easy.”
Did you stay in a hotel?
“Yes. I stayed at the gorgeous Atlantic Hotel (www.theatlantichotel.com), which sits within Les Mielles Nature Reserve, and has unobstructed ocean views – it’s one of the best spots to watch the sunset in Jersey. I felt really safe there too, as it’s airy and spacious, and staff were wearing a mask.”
From Vienna to Santorini with Wizz Air
Travelling dates: 29 August to 5 September
An accomplished photographer, Ingrid had long wanted to capture romantic Santorini devoid of tourists. And with COVID-19 halting mass tourism for the time being, Ingrid knew that she had to grab the opportunity and go. Having made the decision, she and her husband bought two tickets and flew out to Santorini with Wizz Air (www.wizzair.com).
The Greek government requires all arrivals to submit a PFL (Passenger Locator Form). It also requires passengers from high-risk countries to go through a COVID-19 test 72 hours before their entry to Greece and must produce a negative certificate accordingly. For passengers from a low-risk country like Austria, where Ingrid and her family live, they may be subject to random testing upon arrival.
“Thankfully they just waved us through and we didn’t need to be tested, although some passengers on the same flights were told to go to the testing facility.”
“Our flights were pleasant and everyone was wearing a mask,” Ingrid arches an eyebrow as she recalls the trip. “Oh wait, actually it was almost everyone except the man sitting in front of us on the onward journey – he wasn’t that keen to put on a mask but the stewardess kept reminding him to do so.”
What did you do in Santorini?
“We did all the touristy things – strolling along winding, cobbled streets, driving to Fira and taking the classic shots of the whitewashed settlements and the shimmering stretch of water spreading out before us, visiting the nearby islands of Nea Kameni and Thirassia and even enjoying a wine tasting session there. It really was idyllic.”
“Somehow, we felt safer in Santorini than in Vienna, probably because there were fewer people around. Like many other destinations, the tourism sector in Santorini is perhaps the most visible casualty from COVID-19.”
Did you stay in a hotel?
“We stayed at Stelios Place (www.steliosplace.com), a family-run hotel in Perrisa, a stone’s throw away from the black sand beach that Perrisa is famous for. The archaeological site of Ancient Thera is also within walking distance.”
“Although the hotel bar and restaurant were shut, there was a nice bakery nearby, which we visited every morning to have our breakfast.”
Understand the risks of travel
At the time of writing, many countries are constantly updating their travel restrictions depending on the number of COVID-19 cases they have on their home turf, as well as from countries on their ‘travel corridor’ list. Travel corridor is a concept born out of COVID-19; its aim is to allow free movement between low-risk countries.
The ever-changing travel restrictions do make travelling seem like rolling the dice. On top of that, many are genuinely fearful of catching the virus in confined places like airplanes, hotel rooms and shops.
According to an article on MedRxiv, the preprint service for health sciences, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 on a flight from Singapore to Hangzhou in China on 23 January – 11 passengers on board were infected by one mask-less man who developed a fever during the flight. The full article is accessible here.
However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has since published a report arguing that the case mentioned above did not consider “pre-flight infection and had not evaluated seating location of the case”. The Association continues to stress that “relatively little research has been published on in-flight transmission of COVID-19”.
You can travel safely
Putting travel restrictions aside, many people believe that they can still travel safely by implementing precautionary measures such as:
1. Be mindful of your surroundings
When in public, in the proximity of groups of people or travelling on public transport, think about your actions, such as what you touch. Understand that confined areas could be breeding grounds for viruses, so wear a mask, use alcohol-based hand sanitiser and wash your hands when you arrive at your destination, before doing anything else.
2. Wash your hands frequently
Wash your hands with soap and water after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, and after going to the bathroom, especially a public toilet. Make sure you rub all fingers with soap well and the process should take about 20 seconds.
Use a hand sanitiser when on the move, make it a habit.
3. Protect your face
We know the COVID-19 virus can enter the body through the nose, mouth and the eyes. In May 2020, scientists from John Hopkins University found that if droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough were to land on the surface of the eye, or if you touch your eyes with contaminated hands, the virus could begin entering the body, and tears could spread the infection further.
4. Maintain social distancing
As the virus is highly contagious, maintaining good social distancing is vital. Avoiding close contact with other individuals means you can avoid catching the virus yourself, while it also limits the chance of passing the virus on. Beware that a person infected with the virus can be contagious before they begin showing symptoms.
5. Wear a mask
WHO recommends us to wear a three-layered fabric mask as part of the prevention and control measures to limit the spread of viruses, including COVID-19.
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