sSince the Robert Koch Institute removed all 63 countries still classified as high-risk areas from the list as of March 3, traveling long distances hasn’t been easier for two years. In addition, more and more countries abroad are relaxing their entry rules. However, many travelers ask themselves one question: how safe is a vacation on another continent?
WELT asked two Corona experts about this, and they gave the green light, at least to vacationers who have been vaccinated or fully recovered: long-distance travel is “extremely responsible,” says immunologist Andreas Radbruch, professor of rheumatology at Berlin Charité. National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. “From an immunological standpoint, those who have been vaccinated and who have recovered have very effective protection against their serious illness.”
Virologist Johannes Knobloch, Professor at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, also expressed cautious optimism: “For travelers, there is a risk that illness during the flight could lead to significant restrictions. This risk is currently high, but will decrease in the coming weeks. As the number of casualties decreases, “the decision and responsibility to take a long journey should be in the hands of the individual and not be dictated from the outside.”
Radbruch says the fact that most overseas travel destinations have set minimum standards like 2G plus (fully vaccinated or now restored and tested) provides added security. In addition, “in many of these countries, the accidents are much lower than in Germany, but the temperatures are higher, which the virus seems to like less.”
Traveling far without vaccination protection is a risk
However, experts advise vacationers who do not have a corona vaccine to be careful. “For people who are not vaccinated, there is a greater risk of developing an acute course of the disease,” Knobloch says. “Everyone has to decide for themselves whether they are willing to be treated in a hospital abroad if necessary.”
In other words, long-distance travelers should be aware that in case of illness they may end up in a hospital whose level cannot be compared to a German one. So vacationers should continue to observe preventive measures, Knobloch advises: “Distance, staying outdoors, and protecting the mouth and nose from close contacts remain fully effective outside.”
Immunologist Radbrush also points out that in most countries people who are not immunized should go into quarantine first, which is “completely impractical”. Agrees with Knobloch: Traveling to other continents without vaccination protection carries an incalculable personal risk of serious illness if infected. Radbruch’s conclusion: “You can do it, but it’s like riding a motorcycle without a helmet.”
The risk of catching corona on the plane
And does more long-distance travel automatically mean more cases of corona in Germany? “Not necessarily,” says virologist Knobloch. “Sure, hiking alone farther away carries a lower risk of infection than attending a group event locally.”
A performance testing system is essential for Radbruch in order to minimize virus entry so that it does not play a role. However, it is dangerous “that long-distance travel naturally enhances the spread of new variants, especially those variants that undermine the immunity of those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered, and who are already circulating ‘under the radar’ of surveillance before they are officially observed.” It is therefore important to identify the virus subtype by PCR tests on infected returnees and trace their contacts.
Since almost all long-distance destinations can only be reached by long-distance flights, the issue of the risk of infection on board the plane arises. Both experts consider them manageable. “Aerosol transmission cannot be completely ruled out,” Knobloch says, but “can only be expected in the immediate vicinity of a sick person and not in an entire aircraft.” Because the machines have ventilation systems in which the circulating air is filtered.
This refers to the so-called HEPA filters, which clean the cabin air from impurities such as dust, bacteria and viruses. Fresh air from the outside is added to this treated “recycled air”, so that according to Lufthansa, on an Airbus, for example, the entire cabin is completely replenished every three minutes.
Radbruch considers the risk of infection on long-haul flights to be “very low” if only passengers with a current negative PCR test are on board and who have also been vaccinated or recovered. “There is a very high chance that not everyone will become infected and be contagious during the flight.”
Even the expert considers that the omission of the hygiene regulation is conceivably particularly annoying for many passengers. If the said regulations are met, “there is in fact no reason to require a mask during the flight.”