Exactly one year ago, all Britons arriving home from EU nations faced 10 days in isolation – even if fully vaccinated. It was the law: if you broke quarantine, you risked a £10,000 fine. We spent hundreds of pounds proving our health, swabbing our noses before, during and after summer breaks – and faced reams of paperwork just for one sweet week in Greece, Italy or Spain.
But these days, you’d be lucky to get away at all. Travel chaos has now firmly replaced the threat of the virus: this is the summer of flight cancellations, transport strikes, gruelling delays. Covid is no longer an issue. Or is it? Unfortunately, although many nations have dropped their pre-travel tests, a positive result at home still has the power to ruin your holiday – and you may be legally compelled to disclose it.
As cases rise, here’s what those two red lines could mean for your summer break.
I have Covid – can I go on holiday?
Legally speaking, yes. In the UK, there is no legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive. The current NHS advice reads: “You should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days […] this starts from the day after you did the test”. Under-18s: “should try to stay at home” for three days. Morality, rather than legality, rules the roost.
But the small-print of your holiday booking may legally compel you to confess your result and bear the consequences, warns Javed Ali, legal consultant at Hill Dickinson: “By booking your travelling arrangements, whether part of a package holiday or booked separately, you may be legally obliged under the terms of your contact with your travel service provider to notify them of your Covid status,” he explains. “[This] most likely may result in the cancellation of your holiday. You should therefore take out travel insurance for such contingencies.”
And of course, if you are travelling abroad, the laws and guidance of your destination may differ from the UK’s – so check them on gov.uk. Failure to comply could result in fines, the invalidation of your insurance, or even imprisonment.
Am I legally required to divulge my positive result to my airline or tour operator, if they don’t ask for it?
Airlines will only ask for proof of your Covid status if required by your destination, and many countries will accept your vaccination certificate or proof of recovery in lieu of a Covid test – if, indeed, they demand anything at all. Many summer holiday hotspots have dropped their Covid-related entry requirements altogether: Greece, Turkey, Portugal (and its islands), Croatia, Italy, Germany and Poland require no tests, certificates or declarations at all. Find out more on how to get a Covid pass for travel here.
However, that doesn’t mean you can conceal your positive status, warns Ali: “Even if your airline or the country do not ask for a test nor require you to attest that you are negative on the border entry form, your tour operators’ booking terms and conditions may well have some term in there about Covid.
“Depending on the terms of your contract you may well be legally obliged to inform your tour operator, airline, or accommodation provider of your Covid status. You should therefore check your holiday booking terms and conditions carefully.”
I’ve recently had Covid and recovered – can I go on holiday?
You certainly can. Indeed, your subsequent ‘proof of recovery’ documentation may even ease your journey: for example, Monaco accepts a previous positive test result (taken 11–180 days ago) in lieu of vaccine certification. Find out more on how to prove you’ve recovered from Covid in order to travel here.
However, as above, watch out for travel companies’ small-print. For example, Airbnb states that travellers “should not check into a listing [if they] have tested positive with COVID-19 in the past 30 days.” It cautions that it “will investigate reports of violations specific to this guidance and may take steps […] including the removal of an Airbnb account.”
Also, if your destination requires a negative PCR test (as do Hong Kong and China, even for fully vaccinated arrivals), beware the risk of a ‘false-positive’ result caused by inactive remnants of the virus. “10-30 per cent of individuals may test positive [on a PCR test] up to a month after their initial infection,” says Dr Alasdair Scott, clinical director of test provider C19 Testing. If permitted, take a lateral flow test rather than a PCR, as they do not detect prior infection.
How do I get a Covid test for travel?
While NHS tests are not permitted for travel use, ‘fit to fly’ PCR and antigen tests are still available from companies such as Express Test, Randox Health and Qured – with lateral flow kits priced from £10. All major airports and transport hubs still have testing facilities, though many remote clinics have closed. UK-bound travellers are no longer required to test pre- or post-arrival. Find out more about how to get a Covid test for travel here.
Are masks still mandatory in airports and on planes?
In Britain, no. Here, airports and airlines are free to set their own mask rules, and most have removed the requirement altogether – including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton – though all still ‘recommend’ that passengers cover-up. The likes of British Airways, Ryanair, Jet2 and easyJet have followed suit.
In May, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control stated that wearing masks is “no longer recommended”. However, in the traditional spirit of Covid rules, individual European nations sing from different hymn sheets: Italy, France and Greece no longer mandate face coverings for travellers, but Spain is standing firm on its pro-mask rules. According to the Foreign Office (FCDO), coverings are “mandatory… on any form of public transport in Spain”; anecdotally, rule compliance varies, but there are rumours of tighter restrictions ahead.
I’m worried about catching Covid on holiday: if I choose to cancel, can I claim on my travel insurance or get a refund?
Most likely not, warns Fiona Macrae, Head of Consumer Awareness at Travel Insurance Explained: “Travel insurance policies include specific reasons in which they will consider a claim for cancellation. Where travellers simply do not wish to travel, this would be classed as ‘disinclination to travel’, which is not something most policies cover.
“For example, travellers would not be covered to cancel their trip if it was forecast to rain at their holiday destination and so they did not want to travel,” continues Macrae. “That said, if a traveller had a medical reason as to why they could no longer go on their trip, their insurer may accept this as a reason to cancel under the policy terms and conditions, as long as the traveller could provide supported evidence by a medical practitioner.”
As for refunds, many companies still offer flexible rebooking or cancellation policies, so it’s worth enquiring directly.
If I catch Covid abroad, what happens? Will travel insurance cover me?
You may need to self-isolate or register with local authorities: check the laws and guidance of your destination on gov.uk, and (as above) consult your bookings’ small-print.
In Italy, for example, you must isolate for at least seven days; in the Portuguese islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and the Azores, the requirement is five days – versus seven days on the mainland. In Croatia, infected travellers may even be fined for checking in at the airport, the FCDO warns.
As for insurance, any necessary healthcare will likely be covered, says Macrae. “Generally, travellers who fall ill and require medical attention abroad as a result of catching Covid will be covered for emergency medical treatment under the majority of policies as standard.”
However, wider Covid protection still varies between policies: “Additional protection, such as cancellation cover if travellers test positive before their departure date and can no longer go, might only be available through a policy extension,” warns Macrae. “For this reason, it is important to check the wording of the policy.” Find out more on what happens if you test positive for Covid abroad here.
If I catch Covid while on holiday in the UK, what should I do?
“From an English law perspective, presently there is no legal requirement to voluntarily divulge Covid test results,” says Daniel Scognamiglio, partner and head of travel at law firm Blake Morgan. “Covid is at large in the population, and restrictions have been lifted with no legal requirement to be tested or divulge the results of a test before travelling or staying in the UK.”
However, your accommodation or travel company may still refuse guests with symptoms of the virus, Scognamiglio explains. “According to Visit Britain, hotels may decline to accept guests who appear unable or unwilling to pay, or who are not in a fit state to be received. That could include someone with Covid symptoms.”
This article is not intended as, nor should be used as, legal advice. Contact your insurance provider, tour operator or airline for specific rules and regulations before travel.