COVID-19 and air travel: Hay fever sufferers forced to provide evidence for New Zealand flights

Australia's travel bubble with New Zealand has seen tearful reunions fill airports since Monday, but those who suffer from hay fever may find themselves crying for a different reason if they choose to travel without a medical certificate.

Hay fever sufferers or those who have other pre-existing conditions that might produce symptoms similar to COVID-19 are warned they must supply a medical certificate to prove it or risk being prevented from boarding their New Zealand flight.

Australia's airlines also warn travellers against flying if they're unwell. Qantas's website explicitly says passengers should defer travel if they have any symptoms similar to those brought on by COVID-19, including runny nose, cough or sore throat.

That presents a problem for perpetually sniffly sufferers with noses that run because of allergy, not illness.

"If you have any pre-existing condition that explains any symptoms you may have (for example hay fever), make sure you bring evidence of this to avoid being denied boarding. This evidence must be a medical certificate", the New Zealand government's COVID-19 website stipulates.

While you will not be required to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test before boarding, anyone suffering with a new or worsening cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, loss of smell, or a fever may be prevented from getting on the plane.

According to ABS data from 2019, around 19 per cent of Australians have been diagnosed with allergic rhinitis or hay fever, but medical experts say the number is likely far higher.

Professor Sinthia Bosnic-Anticevich from the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney says the spread of this type of allergy has always been difficult to capture as sufferers do not traditionally present to a GP.

While you'd be forgiven for thinking this stipulation will only affect Australians in spring, almost half of hay fever sufferers exhibit persistent symptoms all year.

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"While spring is what's colloquially known as 'hay fever season', almost half of those with it suffer persistently. The only way to be diagnosed is to present to a GP and undergo a series of questions and, in some cases, an allergy test," she said.

"It's treated like a pretty trivial condition even though people can suffer to a debilitating degree. Some people can be missing out on sleep or can't breathe properly and still ignore it."

This leaves many with the dilemma of whether to stay home and cancel a trip because of a runny nose as per the government's travel advice, despite the statistical improbability of having COVID-19 due to a lack of community transmission.

"As the weather grows cooler you're going to see more people presenting with head colds, hay fever and other symptoms that align with COVID-19. If you're in any doubt ahead of your travels, please go to your local GP who can provide a certificate or at the very least speak to a pharmacist," Professor Bosnic-Anticevich said.

While some travel insurers are now offering coverage for COVID-19 disruptions, these typically only apply if you actually contract the virus. The best bet is to book a flexible fare, preferably one that will allow you to change the date of your flight without attracting a fee.

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