Thus far in 2020 three of our four Tours were cancelled in May, August and September, but these have all been rearranged for the future. The next tour due to go out is the Christmas in Antwerp Tour, and I will announce whether this can proceed on 24 November 2020, as currently the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises British nationals against all but essential travel to Belgium, France or the Netherlands.
There are however other issues which travellers need to be aware of besides FCO advice on continental travel. I would like to draw travellers attention to the following areas which they need to be aware of, some will apply to any continental travel, some are specific to group travel and may not be well-covered in the media and are not always obvious. We want to inform travellers as fully as possible what their tour might look like and set expectations as tours will look and fell different whilst the pandemic and local regulations are in place.
It is necessary for all coach operators to consider the issue of social distancing when travelling by coach. There are no official UK issued ‘rules’ on what coaches/mini buses and private hire vehicles can and cannot do, but the Confederation of Passenger Transport have issued some guidance to its members on Coronavirus measures and social distancing on vehicles. As in some other sectors and businesses, if it is impracticable to maintain a distance of 2 meters between people then a 1 m + is permitted, the ‘plus’ being the imposition of extra protection measures such as the wearing of a face covering. Most U.K. coach operators have carried out their own risk assessments for Coronavirus and seem to be adopting the measures of reducing the number of people allowed on a vehicle, extra cleaning regimes and protection for drivers. Our coach provider Galloways have carried out a risk assessment and we will be adopting their measures. These include ensuring that only the coach seats next to the window are occupied, except where two people from the same household travel together, and they can sit together in a double seat. Single travellers will thus be allocated a window seat and will have no-one sitting next to them. Seats will be allocated at the beginning of a Tour and need to be kept to by travellers, but our travellers usually do this anyway. We will need to wear face coverings at all times whilst on the coach and must use alcohol hand gel each time we get on or off the coach. Both pairs of front row seats will be blocked off for passenger use to protect the driver.
These measures mean that our 49 seater coach will only be able to carry between 23 and 32 travellers, depending on how many single and pair/couple travellers we have on Tour. So we need to ensure we don’t over-book a coach/Tour. When travellers book for a Tour I will keep a watch on seat occupation to make sure we don’t get overbooked. Belgium has produced coach passenger transport protocols, which I have seen and I consider that it’s all ‘do-able’, but they require that the coach toilet cannot be used.
Travellers need to be aware that UK and foreign government can impose onerous and draconian restrictions on travel at any time and without notice which could affect your holiday. Though there are none currently, there may be enhanced screening/monitoring at entry and exit ports. In some countries borders may close or you may be required to self-isolate for a set period, even if you do not have symptoms.
Belgium has instituted a traffic light system for their citizens travelling abroad. This is pretty clear for that purpose but is a little more clunky when applied to tourists travelling into Belgium. If you are travelling from a Red Zone into Belgium on arrival in Belgium you must take a test and isolate for 14 days. The current red zone in the U.K is West Central Scotland. Belgium has also declared large regions of the U.K. as Orange Zones. The Belgian authorities consider these areas to be a higher risk than the rest of the U.K. and recommend that travellers entering Belgium from these regions take a test for Coronavirus and self-isolate for 14 days in Belgium, upon arrival. These orange regions currently are North East England, East Midlands, West Midlands, London, Wales, Yorkshire and Humber, West Central Scotland, Eastern Scotland, Southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Belgian official pages do not further geographically define these regions. This is something travellers into Belgium from those areas need to be aware of. We all need to feel comfortable that we understand the regulations, especially when these involve ‘recommendations’ as in the advice given by Belgium authorities and what is required of us. If travellers booked to go on the a Tour live in any of the then current Belgian ‘Orange’ zones we can discuss this.
Belgian inbound regulations state that all persons entering Belgium for a stay longer than 48 hours must complete a Public Heath Passenger Locator Form in the 48 hours before their arrival in Belgium. This is so Coronavirus contact and tracing can be done if necessary by the Belgian authorities. I understand that submission of the form generates a QR code which the border authorities can demand to see on your mobile phone. If you don’t have a mobile phone number, you must fill in the document and keep a printed copy with you for the duration of your stay in Belgium.
On the return leg back to the U.K. from abroad all returnees must fill in a Public Health Passenger Locator Form. Again, each traveller must complete a separate form which is online only. You are not permitted to print out the form and fill it in by hand. This needs to be submitted online to the British authorities within 48 hours of arrival back in the U.K. Upon completion travellers receive a confirmation email with a document attached. Before arrival at the border, travellers must either print a copy of the document (could be difficult whilst abroad) or download the document onto a mobile phone. Travellers must either show this document when they arrive in the UK (Eurotunnel Calais, France) or have the QR code at the top of this document scanned by border control to check it has been completed successfully. The U.K. government will use this information to contact you if you or someone you’ve travelled with develops Coronavirus symptoms.
To complete the set, France, through which we travel, may have forms to complete, but I will ascertain what if any there are, nearer when we are next able to travel.
I think we can deal pretty well with most of the ‘paperwork’ for the above, though those without electronic devices will need to work something out. I can take a lot of the legwork out of these requirements for travellers if the regulations are still in place when we next travel. I can let you know what you need to do, send links to what forms you need to fill in and provide some of the information you will need to complete the forms, such as the coach registration number.
Some of the following may seem obvious, but other items may not be so. Travellers need to consider the following before travelling abroad in any event and in particular on a Podge’s Belgian Beer Tour:
You must have travel insurance to join a Podge’s Belgian Beer Tour, taken out preferably before you book a Tour in case you need to cancel at short notice. Our cancellation policy is here along with our other Terms & Conditions.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused insurers to amend their policy cover and many policies purchased after the pandemic broke in or around March 2020 in the U.K. have Coronavirus exclusion clauses, so you need to know what your policy covers and what it does not. If you are unsure please call your insurer. In very general terms it is likely that your policy would cover you for medical expenses, medical repatriation costs and certain other expenses incurred only if you actually contract Coronavirus abroad, have a positive test and a medical diagnosis. You may also be covered for the extra costs of extending your stay as a result of contracting Coronavirus whilst away, but these could have an upper limit. You need to know what yours is.
From what I can ascertain, pretty much everything else connected with Coronavirus and holidays is likely to be excluded on your travel policy. What sort of things might these be? Well, possible scenarios not covered by your travel insurance may be:
• If UK government restrictions on travel are removed but are later reinstated and prevent you from travelling close to the date of departure.
• If the area where you live in the UK or where you are departing from is locked down.
• If the UK government introduces compulsory quarantine for travellers coming back from your holiday location and you no longer want to travel.
• If you arrive at your destination to find all UK nationals are required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival and you wish to cut your trip short.
• If the area you are staying in on holiday is locked down by the local government
• If there is a spike in local cases when you are on holiday and you wish to cut short your holiday.
• If you are required to quarantine in your hotel room by a local government or a public health official, even if you have no symptoms. For example if another guest in your hotel tests positive for Coronavirus or if the Belgian Track & Trace authorities give an instruction for travellers to quarantine in their hotel room. If you are required to go into quarantine whilst you are abroad, you may be covered provided there is no Coronavirus exclusion in your policy. Your insurer may consider additional travel expenses at the end of the quarantined period to allow you to return home.
Iwould also add on a personal note that I am looking forward to when I can take travellers to Belgium again, and always have in mind what Podge used to say, "We'll get there..."
Podge's favourite, Westmalle Triple and its little sister.