Holidays in the COVID-19 Pandemic

I wish that getting out of this pandemic was as easy as playing Two Point Hospital where a giant magnet pulled off a pan stuck on a patient’s head to get rid of the pandemic! I’m sure many of us would be fed up with the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many would simply be looking forward to daily routines and especially going away somewhere nice on holiday after being “imprisoned” in their own homes for such a long time!


So I’m going to talk about how we could still have our holidays while we’re stuck in this pandemic! 


The most obvious way out of the COVID-19 pandemic is with a vaccine, but many keyworkers already travel to work and their children already go to school. So can we go on holiday whilst we’re still waiting for a vaccine? 


My microbiology professor writes in his blog [1] about how “We need neither vaccine nor herd immunity” to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. He discusses how virulence management strategies and evolutionary dynamics could inform public health measures. He explains how highly virulent SARS-CoV-2 strains are more likely to be detected and quarantined, whereas milder strains implicated in asymptomatic transmission are more likely to escape detection and spread in a population [2]. Over time, natural selection is more likely to favour a mildly virulent strain to exist in a population, and considering it is a pandemic, this should be the case all over the world.


So in addition to all the precautions (hygiene measures such as handwashing) and adaptations (Infection Prevention & Control measures such as distancing) that we already follow, maybe with an approach furthering more common sense, we could have our holidays after all? 


When we go on holiday, we tend to book into a hotel. In a hotel room, you are most likely to come into contact with surfaces such as wood (furniture), fabric (carpet and bedding), and plastic, ceramic and metal (bathroom). While it is obviously difficult to clean mattresses and pillow/duvet fillings/casings, bathrooms can be cleaned with strong detergents to get rid of SARS-CoV-2 particles.


The Lancet paper [3] discusses how SARS-CoV-2 is inactivated on most surfaces such as wood, fabric and glass after 2-3 days. Further, we need to bear in mind that the research focuses on surfaces smeared with the virus, whereas it is possible to thoroughly clean all bathroom surfaces. This means that after thoroughly cleaning a hotel room, it should be possible to safely re-book the room for another hotel guest after 3 days. 


This is indeed what some hotels such as the Hilton chain [6] have done to stay in business during the pandemic. However, Hilton was accommodating medical workers while the UK was in lockdown and passing through the peak of the pandemic.


Considering that the UK has moved from COVID-19 Alert Level 4 to COVID-19 Alert Level 3 [7] on 19th June 2020, restrictions can be further relaxed [8]. This may explain why Accor [9] has decided to leave the rooms empty only for 24 hours (rather than 3 days like Hilton) between bookings.


A lower alert level also means that public health measures can be balanced with business needs to restart the hospitality sector.


Alternatives to leaving rooms empty between bookings could include changing pillows, duvets and blankets (rather than only the covers). However, since it is very difficult to change the mattress, hotels could change mattress covers.


Further simple common sense measures, such as having the windows open and the extractor fan on (but air con off) for ventilation, could help clear away any aerosols.


Finally if there is a choice between two rooms, it would be common sense and courtesy for the hotel to book the room that has been unoccupied for more number of days since check out. These simple, affordable and economically viable measures would help to make hotel accommodation COVID-secure and give hotel guests extra confidence in staying in the hotel. 


Prior to checking into a hotel, whilst having an instant PCR test to show if SARS-CoV-2 is present in your nose/throat is more ideal, it certainly is not practical. Even if a guest submits a sample a day before checking in so that the results are ready in time before checking in, anything could happen in the interim after submitting a sample. Further, since antibody tests do not detect SARS-CoV-2 itself [4], they have limited benefit in diagnosing an active infection.


The next best practical and inexpensive alternative is to follow simple practices such as checking temperature [5] prior to check in using a non-contact thermometer.


Lastly, if hotel guests are unable to check into a hotel due to any sickness, insurance companies should be more than willing to help out in the interests of public health. After all, pretending one is fine and checking into a hotel when they are in fact unwell would only help to spread whatever they have caught. Surely nobody wants that, because we are all in this together.


Since not all hotels are open for keyworkers, safely reopening hotels for holidays would be a brilliant decision to help restart the UK economy and also give us all a much needed break! The announcement on 23rd June 2020 that hotels will be allowed to reopen from 4th July 2020 is very welcome news indeed!


And with that, I hope you all have a nice holiday! 



Kavita Kulkarni Frary, Conservative Party member and activist in West Suffolk


Follow Kavita on Twitter here!



I am writing this in my personal capacity as a Member of the Conservative Party with the West Suffolk Association. The scientific concepts and ideas that I have discussed should not be construed as policy/strategy/advice/guidance. I have a background in Microbiology and I have recently developed an interest in Public Health Policy.



References 


[1] Watve M. Covid 19: We need neither vaccine nor herd immunity. My science, My way. WordPress.com Blog (published 27-May-2020). Available online at: https://milindwatve.home.blog/2020/05/27/covid-19-we-need-neither-vaccine-nor-herd-immunity/ [accessed 06-Jun-2020]


[2] Watve M. Evolution of virulence and the ethical dilemma raised by Covid 19. My science, My way. WordPress.com Blog (published 13-Apr-2020). Available online at: https://milindwatve.home.blog/2020/04/13/evolution-of-virulence-and-the-ethical-dilemma-raised-by-covid-19/ [accessed 06-Jun-2020]


[3] Chin AWH, Chu JTS, Perera MRA, Hui KPY, Yen H-L, Chan MCW, Peiris M, Poon LLM. Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. The Lancet Microbe. 2020;1(1):e10. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2666-5247(20)30003-3 [accessed 06-Jun-2020]


[4] Mallapaty S. Will antibody tests for the coronavirus really change everything? Nature. 2020;580: 571-572. Available online at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01115-z [accessed 06-Jun-2020]


[5] Wiley M. A 5-star hotel in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has remained open for emergency workers and stranded guests. Here's what it's like inside. Business Insider (published 26-Feb-2020). Available online at: https://www.businessinsider.com/luxury-hotel-still-open-wuhan-china-coronavirus-outbreak-covid-19-2020-2?r=US&IR=T [accessed 06-Jun-2020]


[6] Pflum M. So long, minibar: How the coronavirus will change hotel stays. NBC News (published 21-Apr-2020). Available online at: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/so-long-minibar-how-coronavirus-changing-your-hotel-stay-n1180226 [accessed 23-Jun-2020]


[7] Coronavirus: UK's Covid-19 alert level reduced from four to three. BBC News (published 19-Jun-2020). Available online at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53106673 [accessed 23-Jun-2020]


[8] Coronavirus: How does the Covid-19 alert level system work? BBC News (published 19-Jun-2020). Available online at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-52634739 [accessed 23-Jun-2020]


[9] Partridge J. Minibars and buffets bite the dust as England's hotels prepare to reopen. The Guardian (published 22-Jun-2020). Available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/jun/22/no-mini-bars-or-buffet-breakfasts-as-hotels-in-england-plan-to-reopen [accessed 23-Jun-2020]