Overseas travel and the COVID-19 threat

by Peter English

The BMA supports the quarantine measures aimed at people returning from high-risk areas

Location: UK
Published: Thursday 30 July 2020
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Guidance for people travelling overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be fluid to respond to the continued efforts to tackle the spread of the virus. General travel advice can be found here.

Individuals planning to travel in the coming weeks should be aware that the country they intend to visit may become subject to quarantine requirements at short notice prior to their return to the UK. The first instance of this was Spain following an increase in the number of coronavirus cases reported. The measures introduced require anyone currently in Spain or planning to travel to Spain in the coming weeks, to quarantine for the first 14 days upon their return to the UK. The Foreign office has since advised against all non-essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands, based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks in the country.

Since these restrictions were introduced, the BMA has been in discussions with colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS Employers, to clarify how this will impact our members who are currently in Spain or planning to travel in the coming weeks.

Our position

The BMA fully supports quarantine measures being introduced in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the UK, especially where the need to do so is evidence based.

Anyone travelling back from a country which becomes subject to quarantine requirements (which now includes Spain) including essential healthcare workers, must quarantine for 14 days upon their return to the UK.

We advise anyone in this situation to get in touch with their employer as soon as possible before their travel (ideally before they book their travel) to agree how the quarantine period is managed.

Our expectation is that all employers will allow their employees to work from home where it is possible to do so. If such alternative arrangements would not be possible and you are unable to come to a mutual agreement over how this period is managed, then please contact the BMA for assistance in these discussions.

We do however recognise that each case will vary depending on individual circumstances and therefore, should be reviewed on a case by case basis. We particularly encourage employers to take a sympathetic approach when individuals are unable to work from home and are required to:

  • Travel overseas for a family emergency or funeral
  • Have long-standing plans which will incur financial costs if cancelled
  • Their plans suddenly become subject to quarantine requirements.

The BMA is aware of the impact such measures are having on GP practices. We are continuing to lobby the Government to make available the promised general practice COVID fund as soon as possible.

We expect the fund to cover costs above those which the practice would have incurred prior to the pandemic, including cover for anyone who is required to quarantine, so that they can continue to be paid full pay while quarantining. However, until that happens practices and staff should work together to agree how to manage the period.

Peter English is chair of the BMA public health medicine committee