Since reports of the coronavirus surfaced in late December, more than 90,000 people have been infected and over 3,000 have died around the world.
As the virus continues to have a global impact, travelers need to be aware of what it means for them, and adequate safety preventative measures.
I myself am traveling from the U.S. to Ireland in a few days, and while the outbreak has not warranted me to cancel my travel plans (and I’m not going to a high-risk area), I wanted to know what I needed to know.
Here is the low-down on traveling right now.
What are the affected areas?
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that “affected areas” are considered those countries, provinces, territories or cities experiencing ongoing transmission of COVID-19, in contrast to areas reporting only imported cases. As of 27 February 2020, although China, particularly the Province of Hubei, has experienced sustained local transmission and has reported by far the largest number of confirmed cases since the beginning of the outbreak, lately the situation in China showed a significant decrease in cases. At the same time, an increasing number of countries, other than China, have reported cases, including through local transmission of COVID-19. WHO is publishing daily situation reports on the evolution of the outbreak.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The first symptoms of coronavirus feel a lot like the flu, including a fever, cough — it’s primarily a lower respiratory virus — general malaise, and possibly gastrointestinal distress.
What can you do to prevent coronavirus?
WHO published the following recommendations for international travelers:
General recommendations for personal hygiene, cough etiquette and keeping a distance of at least one meter from persons showing symptoms remain particularly important for all travelers. These include:
Perform hand hygiene frequently, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions. Hand hygiene includes either cleaning hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub. Alcohol-based hand rubs are preferred if hands are not visibly soiled; wash hands with soap and water when they are visibly soiled;
Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue and performing hand hygiene;
Refrain from touching mouth and nose;
A medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms, as there is no evidence that wearing a mask — of any type — protects non-sick persons. However, in some cultures, masks may be commonly worn. If masks are to be worn, it is critical to follow best practices on how to wear, remove and dispose of them and on hand hygiene after removal (see Advice on the use of masks);
Travelers are also advised to follow proper food hygiene practices, including the five keys for food safety, as well as recommendations to reduce the risk of transmission of emerging pathogens from animals to human in live markets.
WHO also has an informative video Q&A on traveling during the coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak:
What about cruises?
Cruise Lines International Association, whose members include many international cruise lines, said in a statement that its members “have suspended crew movements from mainland China and will deny boarding to any individual, whether guest or crew, who has traveled from or through mainland China within the previous 14 days.”
Each cruise line has its own safety regulations regarding how they’re handling the outbreak, so check with your cruise company asap.
Should I cancel my trip because of the coronavirus outbreak?
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department issued a level 4 — its highest level — warning, notifying Americans that they should not travel to China. The CDC also issued a warning against all nonessential travel to China. However, this does not include Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan.
Travel warnings for Italy and South Korea were increased from a Level 3 to a Level 4 on Saturday, advising Americans not to travel to infected areas.
It’s advisable to monitor the situation in your destination regularly up until the time of travel, and contact any travel providers (airlines, hotel, tour operators, etc.) to ask what health safety precautions they are taking.