Travel and the Omicron variant: 5 questions answered before your next trip

A passport, surgical mask, phone with COVID-19 vaccine passport, and a model aeroplane lay on a table.
Credit: Emilija Manevska, Getty Images.

The latest COVID-19 variant of concern identified by the World Health Organisation is omicron and its high rate of transmissibility has been a leading factor in the unprecedented outbreaks. Despite this, Australians are still able to travel interstate and overseas, albeit with some conditions.

While travel has never been risk-free, the pandemic has certainly given us a good reason to be cautious while on holiday. So, we’ve come up with a list of the five questions that’ll help you prepare for travelling during the Omicron outbreak.

Is it safe to go on holidays right now?

The Australian government’s Department of Health says that early reports indicate Omicron is less severe than other variants of COVID-19, but concede that it’s still early days and the data could change. That being said, it really does come down to your tolerance for risk. If you’re immunocompromised, for example, it’s probably not the best idea to jump on a plane or train, where the risk of transmission is higher. But for others, it might not seem all that worrying. 

Whatever your perspective, it’s always a good idea to check out the Smartraveller warnings and advice, especially if you’re going overseas. More often than not, travel insurance providers will take the Smartraveller advice levels into consideration when reviewing claims. If Smartraveller suggests you shouldn’t go there, then travel insurance providers will reason that it was unsafe to do so in the first place and may deny your claim.

What precautions should I take?

If you’re travelling anywhere, it’s a good idea to get travel insurance. Provided that your destination isn’t listed on Smartraveller as risky, you may even be able to claim for COVID-19 related benefits. 

If you’re flying to your destination, bring a mask. You won’t be getting on any flights unless you’re wearing one. What’s a few hours of discomfort compared with a potentially life-threatening infection? Along with wearing a mask, stock up on some hand sanitiser. When they bring around the drinks trolley, you’ll want to make sure you’re not picking up any unwanted travellers and putting them on a first class flight towards your mouth. 

You’re less likely to catch COVID-19 if you’re outdoors, so doing activities that get you out and about are a safer option than staying in enclosed spaces with other people. 

Should I pack rapid antigen tests (RATs)?

If you can manage to find one, then there’s no harm in checking up on your status throughout your trip. RATs in many countries are more affordable than in Australia, and some even offer them for free. If you’re heading overseas and not planning on bringing any RATs with you, then make sure you do your research on where to get them, and if they’ll cost you anything. 

Should I check if case numbers are high where I’m going?

You definitely should. It’s better to be in the know, so you can take extra precautions if you’re going somewhere with high case numbers. 

Using search engines like Google, you can search COVID-19 cases by location. More often than not you’ll be met with a graph and some data which should give you a good idea of how high the case numbers are.

How will Omicron affect my travel insurance? 

Like all COVID-19 variants, Omicron will have an impact on your travel insurance policy. As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of travel insurance providers will not cover COVID-19 related claims if the country you’re travelling to has a Smartraveller warning prior to buying your policy. But beware, some travel insurance providers don’t provide COVID-19 cover at all, so it’s always a good idea to read the product disclosure statement (PDS) before you commit to a policy. 

If your travel insurance policy does cover COVID-19, then it may cover you and your fellow travellers for hospitalisation and (in the worst case) death, along with things like travel delays. More often than not, travel insurance providers won’t cover things like government mandated quarantine.