COVID-19 Information for Volunteers
Can I travel to the ships during the COVID-19 pandemic?
From 1 November 2021, fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents will be eligible for international travel without seeking a travel restriction exemption. Unvaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents wishing to travel overseas (apart from children under 12 and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons) are required to apply for an exemption to leave Australia.
What measures has Mercy Ships taken to mitigate risks of infection for crew and patients?
- Guidelines for quarantine and contact restrictions upon arrival
- Mandatory COVID testing upon arrival, and further surveillance testing as needed
- Mandatory facemask policy and social distancing for both crew, patients, and their caregivers
- Reduction of crew per cabin (maximum of four)
- Limiting or prohibiting guests on board and at programmatic locations ashore
- Reduction in number of planned surgeries and programmatic output for Senegal field service
- Addition of an Infection Preventionist on board
Is the COVID-19 vaccine required before joining?
In order to serve our crew and at-risk countries best, Mercy Ships has adopted the following COVID-19 vaccination requirements for crew.
All persons travelling to, or serving in/on, a Mercy Ships vessel or field location are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a WHO-approved vaccine.
- Two doses of Pfizer (Cominarty), Moderna (Spikevax), AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria), Serum Institute of India (Covidshield), Sinopharm (BIBP), or Sinovac (CoronaVac)
- One dose of Johnson & Johnson
Persons who can provide documentary evidence of laboratory confirmed previous infection with COVID-19 will be required to show evidence of:
- Lab results showing previous infection
- One dose of any WHO-approved vaccine
Will I have to quarantine upon arrival? What about testing?
Quarantine requirements vary depending on where you are joining, where you are coming from, and your vaccination status. All crew must also submit to testing upon arrival and surveillance testing throughout their service.
For anyone required to quarantine, whether in a hotel or on board, we ensure you are properly looked after. Meals, internet, a safe time to take exercise outside, and other accommodations are all considered. Quarantine upon arrival is arranged and paid for by Mercy Ships. Any crew required to quarantine will be monitored by the crew clinic.
For crew serving in the Canary Islands, Spain: Quarantine is not currently required for fully-vaccinated crew. Testing upon arrival is required.
Unvaccinated crew will quarantine in a local hotel for ten days and may come on board after a negative test result.
For crew serving in Antwerp, Belgium:Quarantine is required of all crew arriving from certain, higher-risk countries. Other testing requirements exist by local law, and all crew are required to submit to surveillance testing. Refer to the table in this guide for a breakdown of requirements by the traveller’s country.
For crew serving in Dakar, Senegal: A 48-hour quarantine is required in a local hotel. Testing upon arrival is required.
Will I have to quarantine upon return to Australia?
Please note: Mercy Ships Australia will cover the cost of hotel quarantine for volunteers returning from Mercy Ships service to Australian states that still require this measure.
Will I have to wear a facemask?
Yes, all crew are required to wear a facemask at all times unless inside their own cabin, or sitting down to eat a meal. Masks can also be removed if the crewmember is in an office space alone, with the door closed.
Once back in Senegal, patients and their caregivers will also be required to wear facemasks.
Are facemasks provided? If not, how many should I bring?
Mercy Ships does not provide facemasks to crew, with the exception of one-use surgical facemasks for the medical teams to be worn during the performance of their duties.
Crew should bring at least seven, 2+ layered facemasks that are washable.
Will I have to socially distance from other crew?
Yes, a much as possible, crew are encouraged to maintain a physical distance of 2 meters from other crewmembers. To accommodate physical distancing while not compromising attendance and access, we’ve begun streaming our regular crew meetings to cabins and public areas on board if there is not enough space in the conference room or meeting lounge.
Is there COVID testing offered on board?
Currently, we are able to take test samples that are then sent to a local lab for results. However, we will have the capability for full-cycle testing in Senegal.
Tests are administered upon a volunteer’s arrival, intermittently and as needed for surveillance testing, and before a volunteer departs (as this is often a requirement to travel home).
What happens if a crewmember gets COVID-19 while on board, and where would they be treated?
Any COVID-positive crew will be placed in a designated quarantine cabin or a hotel for a minimum of ten days and will be monitored by our crew clinic team. If someone develops an infection requiring hospitalization, we plan to treat our crew unless their condition requires care that would be better served in a local institution. We are very confident of the capacity and level of care of the facilities in Belgium, Spain, and Senegal should they be needed.
Those identified as close contacts to the COVID-positive crew will be placed in quarantine for 7-14 days and would be tested and monitored during that time. If there was evidence of significant community transmission onboard, additional mitigation measures would be put in place.
Does the Evacuation and Repatriation (E&R) insurance provided by Mercy Ships cover me if I am sick with COVID-19?
All crew are automatically enrolled in an evacuation and repatriation insurance policy through Talent Trust Consultants (TTc). Coverage for evacuation or repatriation due to COVID is included and covered in this policy. However, medical E&R is still subject to the governing travel regulations for any given country – meaning a COVID-positive patient can only be evacuated to a country that is allowing entry to COVID-positive travellers.
Do I have to purchase further insurance?
You must purchase medical insurance to serve with Mercy Ships during COVID-19. It is currently very difficult to obtain medical or travel insurance from Australian insurers as they typically do not offer coverage for countries deemed ‘Do Not Travel’ by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. During the current international travel ban, all countries are considered ‘Do Not Travel’. As such, we recommend that you contact Talent Trust, who you are automatically covered by for emergency evacuation and life-threatening medical costs through your Crew Fees, to take out their Top Up plan.
Does Mercy Ships offer any incentives for volunteers coming in 2021?
We know the last 18+ months have been challenging for many and flying across the world to volunteer may be more difficult than usual! To reduce a few barriers for volunteers this year, we have waived crew fees through mid-2022 for all crew.
Additionally, crew joining the Africa Mercy for our Senegal field service will be eligible for a $600 USD partial reimbursement for travel expenses upon arrival.
- Offer valid for adult crew only
- Offer valid to volunteers who did not have flights paid for/provided by Mercy Ships
Offer valid to those joining the Africa Mercy between 01 December 2021 and 30 June 2022, with a commitment of two or more months.
What COVID-related expenses does Mercy Ships cover for volunteers?
Mercy Ships covers:
- Quarantine expenses in a local hotel upon arrival
- Any testing expenses incurred once on board
Mercy Ships does not cover:
- pre-service testing expenses
- post-service quarantine expenses*
- vaccination expenses
*Mercy Ships Australia will cover the cost of hotel quarantine for volunteers returning from Mercy Ships service to Australian states that still require this measure.
Can I go off the ship for fun? If so, where?
For crew serving in Canary Islands, Spain: Unfortunately, shore leave can be limited and can be limited to certain areas of the island and abiding by all local COVID ordinances.
For crew serving in Antwerp, Belgium: Crew will have shore leave and are free to explore Antwerp and the surrounding areas in their free time, abiding by all local COVID ordinances.
For crew serving in Dakar, Senegal: Crew will have shore leave; however, this will be limited, and subject to change as leadership monitors the local infection rates. In general, these carefully considered locations would not be crowded and represent minimal health and/or safety risks.
How much interaction is there with the local population while in Senegal?
Normally, our crew have plenty of opportunities to interact with the local population of our host country. Of course, this is not a normal year! Here’s how it may be limited in Senegal:
- Day Crew – Mercy Ships typically employs roughly 200 local professionals to come alongside us while in field service, doing numerous different things – translation, cooking, transportation – you name it. We couldn’t do what we do without these dedicated Day Crew. We do plan to hire Day Crew in Senegal; however, we plan to utilise fewer than we would normally. The Day Crew will be performing their typical key functions, and will be managed by each team as usual. However, we will try to reduce interactions between Day Crew and crew while in Senegal. There will be intermittent COVID-19 testing for our Day Crew. Any Day Crew that have contracted or have been directly exposed to COVID-19 will be quarantined in their homes until a negative COVID-19 test can be presented. Any crew identified in subsequent contact tracing will also be informed and quarantined.
- Mercy Ministries – our Mercy Ministries programs allow crew to become involved with initiatives ashore alongside local partners. There will be no Mercy Ministries in this field service as we need to minimise the contact between the local community and our crew. While we want our crew to be engaged in the local communities, our primary goal is the health and safety of our crew, patients, and the population we serve. While opportunities ashore are restricted, we will monitor the local situation and present crew with safe options for community engagement.
- Patient visitations – Access to the hospital wards and our HOPE Centre is likely to be restricted to official business in these areas, but will be adjusted based on the changing COVID-19 situation and the level of crew vaccination.
General shore leave / local interaction – crew will have shore leave; however, this will be limited, and subject to change as leadership monitors the local infection rates. In general, these carefully considered locations would not be crowded and represent minimal health and/or safety risks.
How often does Mercy Ships review their COVID protocols and plans to keep crew and patients safe?
Mercy Ships leadership reviews the protocols, regulations, and guidelines every day. We stay on top of any changes – be it infection rates, international travel issues, guidance from WHO and other trusted organisations, and closer to “home” – what’s going on on board! We weigh each decision and change carefully. Our commitment to keeping our crew and patients safe and healthy is the driving force of all decisions.
Where can I read more about the specific protocols Mercy Ships has developed to protect crew and patients from COVID-19?
After volunteers have received their official offer letters to join, they will be granted access to Navigator, our organisational intranet. All protocols and very detailed information can be found there. Additionally, all volunteers are required to sign a COVID Acknowledgment Form to confirm they understand the protocols, regulations, testing requirements, and risks associated with volunteering during this season.