Coronavirus outbreak: Travel and Safety FAQs

If you have plans to travel overseas, particularly to China, South Corea, Iran, Japan or Italy, then you may be affected by the current coronavirus outbreak. Here, travel and safety FAQs about the COVID-19 outbreak.

What is the coronavirus?

A coronavirus refers to a group of viruses derived from animals, which can be transmitted to humans. The name comes from the Latin word corona and refers to the crown shape of the virus under a microscope. The coronavirus spans a family of illnesses ranging from the common cold to the more sinister Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The virus currently causing global panic is a strain called COVID-19 — and it’s never been encountered before.

The origin of the COVID-19 was first identified at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan in central China, which sold meat and live animals, leading many to deduce the infected parties contracted the virus via wild animals at the wet market. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was permanently closed on 1 January 2020.

A police officer stands guard outside of Huanan Seafood Wholesale market in Wuhan where the coronavirus outbreak likely started.

A police officer stands guard outside of Huanan Seafood Wholesale market in Wuhan where the coronavirus outbreak likely started.

Is it safe to travel?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has put on its warning list to avoid nonessential travel, such as China, Italy, South Corea, Iran, Japan, Spain and Germany. Please, follow the link to check the whole CDC warning list.

It is categorically advised against traveling to the Hubei Province, the worst-affected region in the world and the site where the outbreak took place in December 2019. China has placed a lockdown on multiple cities since January 23, shutting down public transportation and issuing quarantine orders.

Many countries have travel restrictions and are placing travelers in quarantine for 14 days if they present symptoms or if they’ve been somewhere it’s spreading widely. Anyone taking a trip should prepare for their plans to be disrupted if the situation changes.

Coronavirus outbreak: Travel and safety FAQs

Coronavirus outbreak: Travel and safety FAQs

Can I cancel a trip I’ve booked because of the COVID-19 outbreak?

Airlines are currently experiences an influx of cancellation requests as coronavirus continues to spread around the world. As the declining demand for travel even domestically hit a fever pitch, most airlines expanded their policies to waive cancellation fees to any destinations. Furthermore, if the airline is obliged to cancel a flight, it’s also obliged to refund your ticket or offer you an alternative flight. This means that even if you are not entitled to compensation, you will at least get a replacement flight or your money back.

Coronavirus: Travel and safety FAQs

Coronavirus: Travel and safety FAQs

What if I booked a flight and want to reschedule it during the outbreak?

Travelers are changing their flight plans as the coronavirus outbreak spreads very fast all over the world, and many airlines are helping them in the process. Several airlines — including American Airlines, Delta, Lufthansa, JetBlue, Air France, KLM, and British Airways — are dropping flight change fees because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Is international travel riskier than domestic travel?

A mentioned before, The CDC has put on its warning list to avoid nonessential travel, such as China, Italy, Sout Corea, Iran Japan, France, and Spain. But that doesn’t mean domestic travel is risk-free. To put things in perspective, the virus is spreading very fast, with case numbers on the rise. The more people getting around the more infections. The better option is to stay in your city and shut yourself away if your country is noticeably affected by COVID-19.

People wearing face masks on the streets of Tokyo

People wearing face masks on the streets of Tokyo (photo courtesy of Victoria’s Travel Adventures)

Should I avoid planes just to be safe? After all, when you fly aren’t you breathing in recycled air?

Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily. Although the risk of infection on an airplane is low, travelers should try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer.

Moreover, airlines have a high incentive to keep their ventilation systems well-maintained. If the HEPA filter is not changed regularly and the system is not maintained well, it puts a lot of drag on the engines, which will increase the fuel consumption, which is quite an expensive proposition.

Another important fact is that the new coronavirus is not airborne. Instead, it’s transmitted through droplets of fluid or mucus that you cough or sneeze out, which generally don’t travel farther than 6 feet. But if those droplets land on a surface that you later touch, you can pick up the virus that way. That’s the reason why it is essential to cough into an elbow and try not to touch eyes, nose, and mouth.

The current situation of the main touristc spots in Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak

The current situation of the main touristic spots in Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak

How clean are planes?

Airline sanitization is also something to consider. Some airlines are stepping up their cleaning game. American Airlines says it is conducting a “more thorough cleaning of all hard surfaces” and removing self-serve snack baskets on some international flights. For planes whose schedules allow, the cleaning policy now includes seats, overhead air vents, bathroom door handles, window shades and luggage compartment handles.

Flights often turn around quickly, which could lead to possible lapses in the cleaning process. Therefore, it’s advised bringing alcohol wipes to clean the areas you personally touch — including your seat belt, tray table, and armrests. In a pinch, squeezing hand sanitizer onto a tissue and wiping down your armrest would probably work.

We really don’t have data about how long the coronavirus survives on surfaces but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that they may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

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