Coronavirus and Travel Safety:
How to Stay Safe in a Disease Outbreak
The year 2020 is off to a rocky start… One month into the new year, we’ve had to deal with natural disasters, political conflicts, deaths and just recently, a virus outbreak. We still don’t know a lot about the novel coronavirus (nCoV) that has claimed over a thousand lives (mostly in Hubei, China). The virus has so far spread in places outside China including Europe and the US.
Given the pandemic situation, it’s natural to feel a bit scared and worried. Should I postpone travel plans? How safe is it to hop on an airplane or go abroad? We’ll answer these questions and more below.
What exactly is the novel coronavirus (nCoV)?
A novel coronavirus or nCoV is a new strain of human coronavirus. It was first identified in Wuhan, China although the exact source is still not known. It is different from the SARS and MERS coronaviruses but all three belong in the same group.
The symptoms of nCoV are similar to other flu-like viruses:
• Shortness of breath
• Sore throat
• Fatigue (or general feeling of being unwell)
It’s important to note that the virus spreads through human to human - for example, when someone sneezes or coughs and passes on the droplets to another person in close proximity.
How to travel safely during a virus outbreak
It could take years before a vaccine for the nCoV can be developed. That’s why taking extra precautions is very important, especially if you’re traveling. Here’s a few tips:
Before You Travel:
1. Stay informed - Read the latest news and be updated on the most recent travel advisories about your destination. The US State Department advises against non-essential travel to China. Other countries including Canada and Australia have imposed similar travel restrictions.
Majority of the confirmed cases are in Hubei, China and a few surrounding cities. There are 12 confirmed cases in the US, 8 in the UK and 7 in Canada. The risk of acquiring the infection, outside of China, is low. However, we still need to stay updated about the virus, whether it spreads or becomes controlled, over the next few weeks to months and how it can affect our current or future travel plans.
2. Get the flu shot - It won’t necessarily protect you from the coronavirus. But it’s ‘added security’ especially for vulnerable individuals. At the same time, it’s easier to rule out the other viruses included in the flu shot in case you do get sick.
3. A strong immune system is the key - There’s no vaccine or cure (yet) so the best weapon against the virus is your body’s own immune system. Load up on healthy, nutritious foods, get enough sleep and exercise. You can also boost your immunity by taking vitamins or supplements before your trip.
4. Talk to your doctor - People who are at a higher risk - elderly, pregnant women, children, immunosuppressed - should consult with a doctor before pursuing travel plans.
Airplane Travel / Flying:
1. Check if your flight is cancelled - Three major US airlines have already suspended flights to and from China - American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. If you have flights to or from China (or even a layover), best to check your airline’s website for more info regarding refunds, flight changes, etc.
2. Be prepared for rigorous screening - Allot extra time for airport screening. Most airports have stepped up their screening processes like adding thermal checkpoints and interviewing international passengers about their travel history.
3. Pack your own ‘Hygiene Kit’ - Use our TSA Approved Toiletry Bag to pack your own sanitizing and hygiene products. Place the pouch in your carry on or airport tote.
Don’t forget to bring the following:
☑ Travel Size Alcohol
☑ Face Mask (Optional)
4. Reduce your risk of getting sick on the plane - Some of the things you can do:
• Choose a window seat - According to this study, passengers in a window seat have the lowest risk of getting infected (i.e. being in contact with other passengers).
• Clean surfaces around your seat - Wipe down your tray table, arm rests, seat belt buckles, etc. as soon as you get on board. Use sanitizing wipes + alcohol!
• Make sure your area is well ventilated - Position the air vent so that it blows air away from you (in front of your head) and hopefully, directs the viruses and bacteria away.
• Bring your own blanket and pillow - In flight amenities like blankets and pillows are often reused.
• Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Health Practices for Your Destination:
1. Wash your hands often - Good hand hygiene can prevent the spread of infection. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds then drying them using tissue. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol.
2. Avoid touching your face - Most viruses and bacteria enter the body through mucous membranes like the mouth, nose and eyes.
3. Sneeze or cough in tissues or into your elbow - These will keep your hands germ free! Also throw away the tissue immediately after using it.
4. Avoid high risk areas (i.e. wet market, farm, etc.) - Avoid visiting places where you’ll be in close contact with live animals. If you can’t avoid them, wear a face mask and wash your hands immediately after.
5. Use a face mask properly - It’s not necessary to wear a face mask all the time but there are times when it’s required. For example, when you’re feeling sick and you don’t want to risk infecting others, a face mask is super helpful. Or if you’re constantly exposed to infected patients (i.e. working at the hospital). Also, there’s a right way to wear and remove a face mask.
6. Don’t consume raw meat products - Exercise caution when handling raw meat products, don’t forget to wash your hands before and after to avoid contamination!
7. Hydrate - Drink a lot of water and avoid beverages like soda, coffee and alcohol.
8. Be prepared - Bring your own First Aid Kit. Don’t forget to pack a thermometer, pain reliever meds and lozenges. If you’re not feeling well, cancel any travel plans and consult a doctor!
Going Back to the US:
1. Return restrictions - If you’re an American citizen returning to the US from China, you will be re-routed to 1 of the 20 airports including JFK, SFO, LAX, etc. without any additional cost. These airports are better equipped for epidemic emergencies. Travelers from China will be subject to screening and close monitoring (self quarantine) for 14 days. Travelers from Wuhan will undergo mandatory quarantine as well.
2. Monitor your health closely - The incubation period for the virus is from 2 to 14 days after exposure. If you experience any of the symptoms within that period, call your doctor immediately.
On tours, flights, accommodation and travel insurance
Already booked a tour or paid for a hotel reservation? If you want to cancel any travel plans, the best thing you can do is contact your agent and see what options you have. Most airlines have already announced that they’re waiving change fees and offering full refunds for flights into China.
Travel insurance is more tricky. If you’ve purchased a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) upgrade, you can receive a reimbursement around 50% to 75% if you cancel your trip. However, most insurance policies don’t cover epidemics or pandemics as valid cancellation reasons.
If you do get sick while traveling, your policy will cover any emergency medical expenses or evacuation situations. Still, it’s best to read your policy to know what are the inclusions and the exclusions.
The key takeaway from all this? Don’t panic and be updated about the latest epidemic updates. You don’t need to cancel travel - if it’s outside of China. But you do need to be more cautious and be flexible in your travel plans. Basic healthy habits like hand washing and covering your nose when sneezing are very important. Stay healthy and travel safe!