COVID-19 Quarantine and Testing Guidance Concerning International Travel

ECDC issued evidence based travel guide regarding SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern
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Europe (Vax Before Travel)

Travel measures, such as quarantine and testing of travelers, are designed to reduce the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 transmission before, during, and after travel, stated the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

This ECDC document published on March 12, 2021, summarises the current scientific evidence to support decision-making concerning quarantine and testing of travelers, considering the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC) and the current epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA.

As a general measure, travel should not be undertaken by ill people or who have had recent contact with COVID-19 cases. Furthermore, at the time of writing this guide, ECDC recommends that non-essential travel should be avoided as one of several non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) designed to prevent crowding and delay the introduction and/or spread of VOCs. 

In time, vaccination programs will enable the easing of NPIs, says the ECDC.

This ECDC document follows the provisions of the Council Recommendation 2021/119 of February 1, 2021, amending Recommendation 2020/1475 on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The further transmission of new VOCs to a geographical area may to some extent be delayed by reducing the movement of people - i.e., by reducing non-essential travel. 

Travel measures, such as quarantine and testing, can further delay the importation and spread of the virus. However, once a VOC is established and widespread in a community, the impact of travel measures is limited.

When deciding on the implementation of travel measures, countries should carefully weigh the expected public health benefit against the public health resources required to implement them and the socially and economically disruptive effects they may cause.

To respond to the emergence of VOCs, ECDC recommends strengthening all public health measures, including those relevant to travel, taking into account the epidemiological situation at both the points of departure and arrival. 

These strengthened measures should remain in place until very high vaccination coverage of high-risk groups and healthcare workers has been achieved. Sufficient sequencing capacity is in place for the Member States to rapidly detect VOCs and take appropriate action to reduce the risk of their further spread.

As a general measure, anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 or is in quarantine should refrain from traveling. Also, at this stage of the pandemic, non-essential travel should be avoided as part of the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) designed to prevent crowding and delay the introduction and/or spread of VOCs.

When travel measures are being considered, current evidence supports a combined approach to quarantine and testing of travelers - i.e., a pre-departure test (or test directly upon arrival) combined with quarantine and a further test five to seven days after arrival to confirm the possibility of being released from quarantine if the test is negative.

It can be considered to ease quarantine and testing requirements for individuals who have recovered from a laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection within 180 days before travel. 

However, it is still unclear whether prior infection with one variant protects against other variants.

At this stage, it also remains uncertain whether vaccinated individuals are capable of transmitting the infection.

Therefore, both individuals must be recovered from a COVID-19 infection in the last 180 days. Those who have been vaccinated continue to adhere to all other preventive measures, such as wearing a face mask and respecting the need for physical distancing during travel.

At the time of writing, three VOCs with an essential public health impact have already emerged and been described (P.1 first described in Brazil; B.1.351 first described in South Africa and B.1.1.7 first described in the United Kingdom). 

New VOCs derived from the previous ones will continue to emerge, be detected, and be characterized. Therefore, the characterization and epidemiological investigation of the VOCs are essential to understand their transmissibility, virulence, and impact on vaccine effectiveness.

The ECDC will continue monitoring the epidemiological situation, and this guidance will be updated with all relevant evidence accordingly.

Various travel vaccines, including for the prevention of COVID-19, are listed on this Vax-Before-Travel webpage.  

Vax-Before-Travel publishes research-based travel vaccine news.