Can I travel during coronavirus outbreak?
If COVID-19 is spreading at your destination, but not where you live, you may be more likely to get infected if you travel there than if you stay home. If you have questions about your destination, you should check your destination's local health department website for more information.
With summer fast approaching, many families are wondering just how long Coronavirus will remain at the centre of our lives. The outbreak has sickened people worldwide and killed thousands, adding a new layer of anxiety when thinking about potential travel plans.
The disease, which was first identified in China, is now spreading widely in other areas of the world, and scores of people have become infected in the United States. In March, officials at the World Health Organization said the spread of Coronavirus is now a pandemic.
Right now, travelling presents a risk, even in the United States. We know that some U.S. communities are spreading the disease rapidly, but the full extent of its prevalence here is unknown because testing has been limited.
One of the most important things to think about is the well-being of your fellow passengers and family members. Even if you don't fit the profile of someone who is at risk of developing severe symptoms, you might infect someone who is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have posted several factors to take into consideration if you are still considering travel.
You probably have noticed that travelling has become a pretty concerning action in the last couple of months, with the global spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). People are cancelling booked trips and have been warned by health officials to minimize contact with already affected countries.
But do you have an international trip which you booked months ago and have been looking forward to in ages? Or maybe you would like to take advantage of the sudden slash in plane ticket prices these last couple of months. If you have decided to travel, for whatever reason, how can you keep yourself safe from the Coronavirus? And will travel insurance cover you if you do catch the disease while abroad?
Is it Safe to Travel During the Coronavirus Outbreak?
Unfortunately, no one can tell you that travelling during the coronavirus outbreak is entirely risk-free, regardless of your age, health, or travel destination. While the COVID-19 fatality rate appears to be relatively low, and you may even return from your trip unscathed, and in excellent health, there are some things you should consider before you travel:
In a nutshell, no. The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 100 countries and every continent except for Antarctica. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued its sternest warning against international travel, citing the escalating coronavirus outbreak around the globe, increasing travel restrictions, quarantines and airline cancellations. The Level 4 advisory, which means "Do Not Travel," is the highest level, typically issued for war zones but here applied to all international destinations. The State Department also urged those U.S. citizens already abroad to return immediately or prepare to stay outside of the U.S. indefinitely. Even apart from the State Department warning, American travellers won't be welcomed in the growing number of countries that are closing their borders to nonresidents, including Canada, the 26 countries in the European Union and Australia. And due to the high number of confirmed cases on cruise ships, the C.D.C. and the U.S. State Department are advising travellers, particularly those with underlying health issues, to avoid all cruise trips. The C.D.C. also recommends older adults and travellers with underlying health issues to avoid long plane trips.
Countries around the world have imposed sweeping travel bans and advisories to stem the spread of Coronavirus within their borders and beyond. Last week, the United States limited non-essential travel across its borders with Mexico and Canada. It raised its global travel warning for Americans to the highest level, advising citizens to avoid all international travel.
"In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for an immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period," the U.S. State Department advisory warns. Non-essential travel to the European Union was also banned by the European Council last week for 30 days.
The United Kingdom's Foreign Office has also advised against all non-essential international travel for 30 days.
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The rapid spread of COVID-19 around the globe has thrown the international travel industry into chaos. Increasing numbers of travellers are opting to stay home amid fear of exposure to the new Coronavirus, which has spread to 79 countries since late December, claiming more than 3,000 lives and infecting more than 100,000 people globally. The virus, first detected in China's Wuhan and for which there is no vaccine yet, has prompted worries the world over, with governments closing borders with affected countries and barring entry to or subjecting travellers from outbreak areas to lengthy quarantines. This is despite the World Health Organization (WHO) advising against such travel restrictions.
Amid the disruptions, companies are calling off significant conferences, and global sports bodies are cancelling, postponing or relocating key tournaments.
Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like Coronavirus may increase in crowded settings, particularly closed-in settings with little air circulation. This may include parameters such as conferences, public events (like concerts and sporting events), religious gatherings, open spaces (like movie theatres and shopping malls), and public transportation (like buses, metro, trains).
If you have close contact with someone with COVID-19 during travel, you may be asked to stay home to self-monitor and avoid contact with others for up to 14 days after the trip. If you become sick with COVID-19, you may be unable to go to work or school until you're considered noninfectious. You will be asked to avoid
There are some things you should consider before you travel:
Your age: The elderly, especially those over the age of 80, are the ones most endangered for complications of the coronavirus disease, whereas ages 10 – 39 have shown relatively low fatality rates (approximately 0.2%). That does not mean that you have a lower chance of infection if you are younger, only that you have a lower possibility of the disease becoming fatal. You can still become infected and spread the virus around.
Your medical history: People with pre-existing conditions are also more susceptible to become seriously ill from the Coronavirus than those who were previously healthy. If you suffer from any respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, etc., you should reconsider travelling.
The country you will visit: There have been nearly 130,000 reported cases of the Coronavirus worldwide, and the numbers are always on the rise. The majority of the cases are in China, where the virus first originated. Still, there are other "hot zones" with thousands of reported cases as well – most prominent are Italy, Iran, and South Korea. So, as a precaution, the C.D.C. has warned against travel to these countries, unless it is essential. That is not to say that travelling to countries with a smaller number of reported cases is entirely safe as well.
Will Your Travel Plans be Affected by the Coronavirus?
Several countries are taking measures to protect their citizens from the virus. Some have even banned entry or lifted visa exemptions for people travelling from China, Italy, Iran or South Korea. Many U.S. states and regions are closing schools in the midst of the outbreak, and the entire country of Italy has been quarantined until April. So, yes, your travel plans may be affected while the Coronavirus is still actively spreading.
Because there is a lot unknown about the virus, health officials are continually warning against non-essential travel to affected areas, attending large and public gatherings and urging people to stay home as much as possible if they are in an affected zone.
Unlike chickenpox or measles, the virus doesn't appear to be airborne, meaning it most likely does not linger suspended in the air, said Dr Yvonne Maldonado, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist and professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Stanford Medicine.
"I don't know exactly what the mechanism is, but this is really acting like a large droplet transmission," she said, which means you're more likely to get it from contaminated surfaces or people near you. "As you sneeze or cough, these are larger droplets that spew out, and they tend not to travel more than three feet or so."
So if someone on a plane did have Coronavirus, she said, you would need to touch the same surface they felt or sit near them to potentially be infected. The virus is spreading quickly within communities in the United States, and the chance of sitting near someone on a plane who might have COVID-19 will increase as the virus becomes more widespread, Dr Milstone said.
If you do need to travel by plane, it's a good idea to use alcohol wipes to clean tray tables, bathroom handles and other parts of the plane that you might touch that are not regularly sanitized by the flight crew.
If you are an older adult or if you have underlying health problems, the C.D.C. recommends avoiding crowded places and non-essential travel, including long plane trips. The increased restrictions follow the United States' Europe travel ban, announced on March 11, that bars U.S. entry to foreign nationals who have visited much of Europe in the previous 14 days. Flights have been drastically reduced and widespread closures of public areas are in effect. Italy, France and Spain are under lockdown, and the residents of several U.S. states, including California and New York, are under stay-at-home orders.
The WHO is recommending that elderly travellers and those with underlying health conditions delay or avoid travel to areas that are experiencing ongoing transmission of COVID-19. That is because the disease, while mild in some 80 per cent of cases, can be fatal for people who are above 65 years or who have chronic illnesses.
That list of countries experiencing local transmissions is updated daily by the WHO. In Asia, it currently includes China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
European countries on the list are Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Greece and Romania. Three countries in the Middle East are listed - Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.
In the Americas, the United States, Canada and Ecuador have reported transmission of COVID-19 infections. Only one African country is on the list - Algeria.
Australia in the Oceania region is also on the list. Governments have also put out their own travel warnings. But this varies from country to country.
For instance, the British Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to mainland China, two cities in South Korea and the 11 towns in northern Italy that have been placed under lockdown. The U.S. travel advice is more wide-ranging, with travellers told to avoid the whole of mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran unless absolutely necessary.
How are the new global travel restrictions affecting flights?
Under heightened U.S. travel restrictions, announced on March 11 by President Trump, travellers from 26 European countries, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland, are banned from entering the U.S. until mid-April or until the president lifts the restrictions. And now, many countries in Europe, Asia and South America, as well as Australia and New Zealand, are also temporarily banning foreign visitors. Several airlines had already cut transatlantic capacity and are now further reducing capacity worldwide. American Airlines recently announced that it would be cutting 75% of its international flights through May 6. The new travel restrictions created a spike in demand from travellers rushing to get back to the U.S., pushing up fares. And, due to considerable crowds of arriving passengers many U.S. airports—including in Chicago, New York and Dallas/Fort Worth—travellers reported unusually lengthy waits at screening checkpoints.
Health authorities, including the C.D.C., maintain that the risk of infection on aeroplanes is low. That may be even truer as air travel shrinks. According to the latest industry data, the few flights that are operating are averaging 20% to 30% full. That's making it easier to follow social distancing norms; airlines are also cordoning off middle seats, and many passengers find they have a whole row to themselves. Major airlines are drastically curtailing in-flight food and beverage service to limit contact between customers and crew. American, for example, is completely eliminating alcoholic drinks in coach class and Delta is cutting drink service entirely, serving only bottled water.
Still, to be on the safe side, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises travellers to exercise the same precautions they'd follow to avoid catching any bug: Keep hands clean and use antiseptic wipes on any surfaces, such as tray tables and armrests, where germs could linger. Contrary to popular belief, cabin air is less of a concern; virtually all international jetliners are equipped with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, similar to those used in hospital operating rooms, capable of blocking more than 99% of airborne microbes. Cabin air is circulated vertically, from ceiling to floor, and refreshed every two to three minutes.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, medical experts said that most face masks—other than the industrial-strength N95—wouldn't protect you from other people's illnesses; you'll just prevent your own germs from spreading. Keep in mind that the virus spreads by droplets, not the airborne transmission. But now health officials are reevaluating mask recommendations, and a growing number of doctors support wearing masks in public, even if you aren't feeling ill.
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Vacation Rental and Hotel Booking Waivers
Vacation rental giant Airbnb has expanded its extenuating circumstances policy, allowing refundable cancellations for most travellers.All reservations made before March 14, with check-in dates from March 14 through April 14, qualify for penalty-free cancellations. Both hosts and guests may choose to cancel the booking.
Rental company Vrbo has not offered COVID-19-related exceptions but recommends that travellers reach out to homeowners to request fee-free cancellation.
Marriott International hotel company has outlined penalty-free cancellation for rooms, including those that were pre-paid, up to 24 hours prior to arrival for changes and cancellations made by April 30.
Hilton Hotels has a similar policy.
Check with your hotel about modified cancellation and booking policies.
Several hotel chains—including Marriott, Hilton and I.H.G.—are temporarily waiving cancellation and rebooking fees for all properties worldwide. Even if your hotel hasn't revised its cancellation policy in the wake of the Coronavirus, there might still be some wiggle room. It doesn't hurt to go directly to the travel provider if you don't want to travel at all, said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at creditcards.com. "Your best odds of getting a refund is through the supplier," he said.
What about cruises?
There has been concern that cruise ships might aid the transmission of viruses since passengers are isolated together in an enclosed environment.
In March, the State Department advised Americans against travelling on cruise ships.
"U.S. citizens, particularly travellers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship," the State Department wrote in an alert posted to its website. "While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities."
Princess Cruises has suspended global operations from March 12 to May 10, and Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival have suspended outbound cruises for about a month. Viking is temporarily suspending operations of river and ocean cruises from March 12 to April 30. Virgin Voyages has postponed the maiden voyage of its first cruise ship, Scarlet Lady, until August.
Hurtigruten, which is known for its sailings in the Nordic region (including the Norwegian fjords), has suspended all sailings valid through the end of April.
The U.S. State Department issued an advisory on March 8 warning against cruise travel.
"U.S. citizens, particularly travellers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship," the warning reads.
Cruise website Cruise Critic is regularly updating its website with information and links to individual cruise line policies.
In the event the cruise line itself cancels a voyage, passengers are typically given a full refund and often credit for a future departure. And now many cruise lines, including Viking and Norwegian, are extending similar policies to most if not all of their voyages. "Some lines have begun offering cancel-for-any-reason policies," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, the chief content officer of Cruise Media. "Travelers who want to cancel an existing booking will either get a refund or 100% credit for use on another trip."
What Can I Do to Keep Myself Safe From Coronavirus During my Travels?
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), to keep yourself safe if you travel during the COVID-19 outbreak, you have to:
- Wash your hands frequently. This is, without a doubt, the most crucial thing you can do to minimize your risk of contracting the coronavirus disease. And not just a quick rinse – wash your hands with soap for at least 20 to 30 seconds any chance you get – especially after being in public or travelling via public transport. If you are travelling by plane, wash your hands after leaving the airport. If you don't have access to soap and water, then rub a hand sanitizer gel with at least 60% alcohol content on your hands and wrists. But remember that hand sanitizer is not as effective as a thorough wash with soap.
- Do not touch your face with unwashed hands. If you have been in a public place, don't touch your face unless you have thoroughly cleaned your hands. The novel coronavirus can live in surfaces for hours after it has been affected by an infected person, and can infect you if you touch your mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Keep your distance. If you notice someone is coughing, sneezing, or showing symptoms similar to that of the flu or a cold, make sure to stay at least 1 meter (3 feet) away from them. You can become infected by their airborne respiratory (cough or sneeze) droplets.
- Clean frequently-touched objects with a cleaning spray or wipe. If you will stay in a hotel or hostel while you are abroad, make sure you book somewhere where you know it will be clean. Even so, it doesn't hurt to check-in with the staff and management to see whether they have cleaned your room thoroughly – or maybe also giving frequently-touched objects a sweep with a disinfectant yourself.
- Avoid crowds – especially in closed spaces. If you are travelling to a country with a high number of coronavirus cases, it is best if you stay away from any place where there is a large number of people.
- Do your research regarding the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the country you are visiting. See what the health and government officials are advising in that country and follow the same rules. If they recommend staying away from crowds or a particular region, then you should do the same.
- Wear a mask and seek medical help if you develop symptoms. If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing, wear a mask so that you don't risk infecting other people and seek medical help immediately.