What It's Like To Travel During Covid-19
A few weeks ago, we made the decision to travel to Greece. It wasn't an easy decision to make. We went back and forth on it quite a bit. Naturally, there was fear of Covid, fear of being judged and fear of the unknown basically as things were changing quickly (i.e. borders suddenly closing). But life is short so we decided to go for it while well aware of the risks we were taking. And just because you're traveling doesn't mean you're forgoing all common sense - you still social distance, sanitize your hands regularly and wear your masks. I don't want to encourage anyone to travel or not; it is a personal decision at the end of the day. I wasn't even sure I wanted to write this post but perhaps some people may find it useful.
So what's different about traveling now compared to 'normal' times?
First off, you have to do your homework on the entry requirements of the countries you want to go to. Many countries are not open to tourists right now so you may find that destinations are limited. Greece is currently opened to EU nationals plus citizens of several selected countries.
Second, be flexible. Border closures and quarantine requirement changes can happen quickly. While we were abroad, the HK government included UK as a high risk country which meant that you are required to have a negative Covid test 72 hours prior to your flight and quarantine at a hotel upon your return. While we didn't enter the UK, we did transit in London but luckily our flight landed in HK right before the new requirements took place.
At the airport - allow more time to check in. Airlines will check your eligibility to enter your destination very thoroughly so be sure to have all your documents with you. We had called the Greek embassy in HK to check our eligibility and they even gave us a letter (this is not always required but it did make things a lot easier). The ground staff at the airport are not always familiar with all the different country requirements, so it takes time for them to look up and verify. The same thing happened at Heathrow and Athens airport. Just be patient and be prepared.
On the flight - on all segments of our flights, we were given a 'Personal Protection Pack' containing an antiseptic wipe and hand sanitizer gel. Masks are required at all times except when eating and drinking. Food in business class was handed to us in a paper box. We had a choice of sandwich and everything was packaged and taped up. Drinks are served as usual.
Entry into Greece - the first thing the airport staff ask for is the QR code which you would have received after filling out the Passenger Location Form online. Based on the QR code, passengers are randomly selected to test for Covid. We were selected (which I suspect was based on our country of origin) and were given a deep throat swab by a medical professional. We were then allowed to continue our journey without having to wait for results and would only be notified if tested positive (we were never notified).
Entry into Hong Kong - coming back to Hong Kong was totally different. From the moment we got off the plane, we were herded through a series of checkpoints. The first few were just to check if you have a QR code (which you get by filling out a locator form online) and have downloaded the 'Stay Home Safe' app onto your phone. Then you get a wristband which is used to track your location and cannot be taken off during the 14 day quarantine period. You then get to a station where they give you your official quarantine papers and specimen bottle for the deep throat saliva test. For the test, we were instructed to spit into the bottle by ourselves, double bag it and hand it over to the staff. All these stations were within the departure terminal and at times, it felt like we were doing the Amazing Race since no one wanted to be last among hundreds of other passengers. While I heard that my exact flight from the previous day waited at the airport (for 12 hours!), we were sent off to Dorsett Hotel in Tsuen Wan to await our results. While at the hotel, we were given dinner and breakfast in bento boxes with drinks and fruits. Finally shortly before noon the next day, we received a call informing us that we can check out and proceed to our home to finish the quarantine period. Having hundreds of people checking out and trying to get a taxi all at the same time was nothing short of chaotic, but we made it back home in just about 24 hours after we had landed.
Home quarantine - once at home, we had to activate the app and walk around the house to let it know the boundaries. From time to time, the app would request us to scan the QR code on our wristbands to confirm our location. On day 10, we had to submit another saliva sample; the specimen bottle was already given to us at the airport and we had to ask family to help us take it to a designated clinic. Upon finishing the quarantine, we could then finally take off and dispose of the wristband.