What you should do if you have an Upcoming Travel To Country Affected By Coronavirus Or COVID-19?
Here are some general tips to stay healthy while traveling. First off, I want to express my solidarity with those directly affected by the coronavirus. I can only imagine how scary and frustrating it must be, and I empathize with those who are in or close to the epicenter of the outbreak.
Secondly, I want to say that while the coronavirus is spreading and is considered a major health threat, it’s important to have some perspective on it, especially those of us in areas that have not seen an outbreak.
According to the CDC, more people are infected every year by the influenza virus, also known as the flu. During the 2018 to 2019 flu season, the CDC estimated that 35.5 million people were infected with the flu and over 34,000 people died. And it wasn’t even a severe flu season.
I say all this because there is a lot of fear and anxiety generated by all the news of the coronavirus. And while I don’t disagree that it is a serious medical threat, it’s important to understand that the common flu is more likely to cause harm and disrupt your travel.
Of course, it’s what we don’t know about the coronavirus that makes it so scary. Scientists are learning more about the virus every day, including effective treatments. But not knowing how the virus is mutating or exactly how it spreads makes many people uneasy, and I don’t blame them.
So, what if you have a trip planned soon to China or other areas experiencing cases of the coronavirus? Should you cancel your trip? Does your credit card or travel insurance cover a disruption caused by an outbreak?
Should you cancel a trip to China?
The answer is, yes. I would avoid a trip to China or even one that routes through an airport in China. Part of it is because the State Department has issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory for the country. Secondly, if you do travel to China, you’re likely going to have issues entering other countries, or even returning to the US without additional screening and potential quarantine. For me, it’s just not worth the risk and hassle. Some of you might be less risk-averse, but if you want my honest opinion, I don’t think you should travel to China right now. If you’re in this situation or even have a trip just a few weeks away, you could wait to see if the virus is better contained. Though I suggest contacting the airlines to see what can be done.
Rather than just cancelling or forfeiting your trip, you may have to pay a change or cancellation fee. Though many of the major airlines have suspended or reduced their flight service to China, so it’s likely that the airlines will work with you. You might also consider redirecting your flight somewhere else for now while the outbreak stabilizes. Since many of you that watch this channel are avid travel credit card users, you should be aware that most credit card and travel insurance policies exclude outbreaks. The general rule when it comes to travel insurance is that they will cover what happens to you, but not what might happen to you. American Express and Chase, for example, will not allow you to use the trip cancellation because you are worried about getting infected.
However, if you can get your physician to document that your trip is not medically advisable, you may be able to exercise your travel insurance option. You’ll still have to file a claim and wait for a decision, but from what I have read online, it seems like your best chance of getting your coverage to kick in. Now comes the more complicated scenario.
What about surrounding countries that may be experiencing some localized outbreaks?
This is where it gets a lot more confusing. The answer for this situation is “it depends.” For example, with new cases being detected in areas like Southeast Asia, I know a lot of travelers are worried about it. In fact, just this week, an American passenger from a cruise ship that deboarded in Cambodia was found to be infected with the coronavirus when attempting to connect to another flight in Malaysia, meaning that they may have accidentally spread the virus while in the country.
Again, it depends on how risk-averse you are with your travels. If it were me, I would probably avoid under-developed areas that seem to be experiencing outbreaks. Most of the developed countries in region have the infrastructure and protocols in place to screen for the virus and quarantine if necessary.
But I’m less confident about some developing countries that may just lack the infrastructure and organization to control the situation. I know the risk of contracting the virus is low, especially if you’re traveling outside of China. However, I worry that if an outbreak worsens, then you may have problems re-entering your country of origin or face a quarantine.
If you decide that you don’t want to travel to your destination, it may be harder to get a refund on a flight. Though there is the possibility of changing flights. Also, keep in mind that you can often cancel flights if your itinerary has changed, especially if the schedule shifted by more than two hours. The rules are different for every airline, so you’ll want to research your airline’s policy and see if others have similar experiences and data points to share online.
Lastly, if you’re scheduled for a cruise, you’re more than likely safe. There’s a lot of coverage of cruise ships in Asia with infected passengers which might lead you to believe that cruises are dangerous. However, when you consider how many people take cruises every year and the number of cruises out there, it’s safe to assume that cruising is safe. And if you happen to be scheduled for a cruise in Asia, then you might want to contact the cruise operator to see what precautions are in place.
Cruise companies seem to be well prepared for these types of situations. Also, since many ports in Asia are turning away cruise ships, I wouldn’t be surprised if the companies decided to refund or reschedule passengers onto trips elsewhere.
And if you’re still traveling or planning to travel and wondering how you can reduce the risk of infection, here are some health and safety tips to keep in mind.
- Consider booking fully refundable tickets:
While this is usually not the most cost-effective solution, it might be worth considering if you are planning a trip in the next couple of months. I don’t typically recommend booking these types of tickets because of the price, but in this scenario, it may be worth the extra cost. And if you happen to be flying business or first-class, you’ll likely have an easier or less expensive experience trying to change your flight. It varies by airline, but most major airlines will allow business and first-class passengers to change their flights for free or a lower price than economy passengers. It might be something to consider if you’re debating between an economy or a more premium class seat.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to change or cancel plans:
If you think you’ll need to alter your travel itinerary, I would do sooner than later. You’ll likely find more options available, especially if you decide to reroute your trip to another destination.
- Practice good sick hygiene and sanitation:
Airports and airplanes aren’t the cleanest places in the world, so make sure you wash your hands regularly and cover any coughs and sneezes. It probably goes without saying too, but you’ll want to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to reduce the chance of infection. Also, you probably don’t need to wear a face mask. Most doctors seem to agree that just washing your hands is the most effective way to reduce infection. I personally like to also wipe down my tray table, headrest, and armrest with sanitizing wipes when I get to my airplane seat. It may be overkill, but I’ve been doing it for years. I just want to minimize the chance of getting sick when traveling, especially when I’m using precious vacation time from work. Also, the wipes come in handy whenever I visit a public bathroom where there isn’t running water or soap.
- Get up to date with your immunizations:
Again, you’re much more likely to contract the flu when traveling, so I think it’s a no brainer to get the flu shot every year, especially if you’re a traveller. Even if it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be 100% resistant to the current strain, it’s been shown to help those that contract some version of the influenza virus with their recovery. And if you’re traveling to a developing country, make sure you review the recommended immunizations. Some of the immunizations require a lead time to be effective, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. I recommend visiting the CDC website and seeing what immunizations are necessary and talking to your doctor about any potential risks.
- Sign-up for the Smart Traveller Enrolment Program (STEP):
Also known as STEP. This is a free service provided by the State Department that keeps you up to date with any hazards or notices when traveling abroad. I used it years ago when I was in Southeast Asia and got a notification from the State Department of a potentially violent protest in the capital of Cambodia due to a political assassination. The program can also help the local embassy contact you in case there is an emergency or situation where you need their help. I think it’s a great service, and one that you should use if you’re a US citizen.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an outbreak affect travel. Even just a few years ago, a lot of travellers were worried about the zika virus in tropical locations with mosquitos. Now it seems like no one is talking about it. I expect that the coronavirus will eventually be contained as well and that scientists will find standardized effective treatments for the virus. Though if you’re someone who has an upcoming trip that is affected by the outbreak, I empathize with your situation. But I encourage you to see it as a potential opportunity to travel somewhere where there is less of a threat. I know it’s cliche, but traveling isn’t about the destination, but instead the journey. Ok, I know that was super cheesy. But it’s true. Have your travel plans been affected by the spread of the coronavirus or another outbreak? If so, how are you dealing with the situation? travel safe and travel smart.
Below is the WHO link to
Here is An interactive web-based dashboard to track Coronovirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE in real time.