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I got Covid right before traveling overseas. Here’s how it affected my trip

Siobhan Downes is a senior travel reporter for Stuff.

OPINION: At first, I thought the timing couldn’t have been worse. But actually, it couldn’t have worked out better.

On April 5, I tested positive for Covid-19. It wasn’t an unexpected result. My partner had tested positive a week earlier, so I’d already done seven days’ isolation as a household contact.

I’d had a sore throat and overall foggy feeling since Friday, but it wasn’t until the Tuesday that two lines finally showed up on my rapid antigen test (RAT).

Siobhan Downes tested positive four days after first developing symptoms.


Siobhan Downes tested positive four days after first developing symptoms.

The problem was, I was due to fly to Fiji for a work trip – and what would be my first international trip in two-and-a-half years – just eight days later, on Wednesday, April 13.

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* How my first post-Covid overseas trip was almost ruined at the check-in counter

Given my symptoms had started on Friday, I was due to leave isolation on Saturday, April 9. But I was worried it was going to be too tight – what if my symptoms didn’t go away in time? The official advice is if you are still sick, you should stay home until you are well and for 24 hours after your symptoms resolve.

My next concern was Fiji’s entry requirements. As well as being fully vaccinated and having travel insurance, most travelers to Fiji are currently required to present a pre-departure test. This can be either a PCR test taken within 48 hours of your flight, or a supervised RAT taken within 24 hours. You also have to arrange to have a RAT within 48 to 72 hours after arriving in Fiji.

Fiji requires most travelers to do a pre-departure test as well as a post-arrival test.

Tourism Fiji/Supplied

Fiji requires most travelers to do a pre-departure test as well as a post-arrival test.

Now, some people who have had Covid-19 will continue to test positive weeks after they have recovered. That’s why the Ministry of Health advises against taking another RAT in the 28 days after you first test positive, as the result may continue to show even though you are no longer infectious.

But Fiji did have another option for travelers in my position. On Tourism Fiji’s website, it says if you test positive within 30 days of traveling to Fiji and have recovered, you can provide a “fit to fly” certificate or letter from a medical practitioner. This will exempt you from both the pre-departure and post-arrival testing requirements.

I booked an appointment with my GP for Monday. Thankfully, I had woken up on Sunday feeling much better, so I was confident I could safely leave isolation.

At the appointment, my GP took my temperature, and examined my oxygen levels and heart rate, breathing, and throat to determine that I had adequately recovered.

She then asked for Fiji’s specific requirements, so I shared the information from the Tourism Fiji website. It said the letter needed to be typed and on an official letterhead, and include the date my symptoms started, the date I tested positive, the date my symptoms ceased, and my release date from isolation.

It occurred to me there is quite a big element of trust in this approach – as most RAT results are self-reported, the GP just has to take your word for it that you’re not fudging the dates. But I guess that’s the point of the physical examination – and if the GP found anything to suggest you were still infectious, you would not be cleared for travel.

Masks still have to be worn at the airport in Fiji, but are optional elsewhere.

Tourism Fiji

Masks still have to be worn at the airport in Fiji, but are optional elsewhere.

Two days later, I nervously presented my documents at the check-in counter. When it came to evidence of my pre-departure test, the staff member briefly scanned over the letter from my GP, and said that it was fine. But then they asked for proof that I had booked a RAT in Fiji.

I pointed out the Tourism Fiji website said the letter would exempt me from the post-arrival test as well. The staff member made a quick call to check that it was the case, then confirmed I was good to go.

On the plane, I had to fill in a Covid declaration, which included ticking boxes to confirm I’d had symptoms in the past 14 days and come into contact with Covid-19. But this didn’t cause any problems on arrival – I simply handed the form to immigration. They only asked to see my vaccine certificate.

When I got to my resort, I was once again asked if I had booked my post-arrival RAT at the onsite testing center. After explaining my exemption, I was told I still needed to visit the testing center after 48 hours and present my letter. When I did so, they simply photocopied it and filed it away for their records, and said there was no need for a test.

New Zealand doesn’t require travelers from Fiji to take a pre-departure test, so there were no issues there.

On arrival back in New Zealand, I was given three packs of RATs so I could test on day 0/1 and day 5/6, with one spare. I wasn’t sure if I should take these tests or not, considering my recent case. Out of curiosity, I took the day 1 test, figuring I would be able to explain the situation to the Ministry of Health if I tested positive – but I ended up testing negative anyway.

In some ways, getting Covid-19 right before my trip actually made the travel experience a lot easier. I didn’t have to deal with the fear of unexpectedly testing positive on the pre-departure test, or testing positive on arrival in Fiji and getting stuck in isolation over there (their isolation period is also seven days).

I also felt slightly safer traveling with the knowledge that I’d had the virus so recently. The Government’s Covid-19 website says while you can get Covid-19 again at any time, the chance of reinfection in the three months after recovery is low.

But when it comes to Covid-19, nothing is certain, and for me that was what caused the most stress – just not knowing what shape I’d be in. I was fortunate to have only experienced mild symptoms and to have recovered relatively quickly, but long Covid is a concern, and you don’t want to push yourself too soon.

It’s for that reason rather than any logistical challenges that I would advise anyone who gets Covid-19 before heading off on a trip to seriously think about whether you should reschedule. It’s just not worth jeopardizing your health for a holiday.

The writer traveled to Fiji courtesy of Fiji Airways.

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