Travelling during the coronavirus outbreak: what you need to know

Written by Life & Style, Travel

Originating in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus is now a world-wide epidemic, and has already affected international travel to and from China. Travellers are therefore being told to be careful as they travel internationally and to avoid high-risk countries.

As the first cases of coronavirus are confirmed in the UK, there has understandably been a heightened tone of panic. So far the number of fatalities for the virus has reached 493, with 24,622 confirmed infections (as of 5th of February 2020). For those who have young children, are old, or are immunocompromised this of course is worrying and brings into question how the UK is handling international travel. Travel appears to be the main way that the virus is spreading internationally, with the majority of confirmed international cases coming from people who had travelled to Wuhan and the surrounding areas recently.

How might I be affected?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao).

Travel disruptions are a given with the magnitude of potential harm from a virus like coronavirus and as such, airlines and tour operators have began to take action in preventing any spread. Unless you are a) travelling to China, or have b) travelled to China recently, your planned trips are most likely going to be unaffected. Trips to China however are now becoming more restricted and even cancelled. The current information from airlines is as followed:

British Airways – flights between the UK and Shanghai and Beijing cancelled until 29th of February; if you were due to fly with BA between now and the 29th of February you are eligible for a full refund; flights after 29th of February are currently not eligible but may become so at a later point; flights to Hong Kong up until the 23rd of February are able to be flown, rebooked, or refunded

Virgin Atlantic – all flights between the UK and Shanghai are cancelled imminently and will continue to be cancelled until at least the 17th of February; flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong between now and the 30th of April can be rebooked before the 31st of May or refunded

Other major airlines – some flights between the UK and various cities in China have been cancelled; check with your providers for more information

Travel Insurance

You should now also be able to claim cancellations on your travel insurance which prior to the UK’s travel warning status, would have been more difficult to do. On the off-side of this however, should you choose to travel to China anyway you may not be covered for any health problems or emergencies whilst you are there and risk invalidating your travel insurance all together. Some insurance providers will allow for a transfer of plan should you choose to rearrange your trip, and some will cover the cost of this however not all. As a rule of thumb, check with your individual provider for travelling during the outbreak.

How can I prevent catching the virus whilst travelling?

Image Credit: Skitterphoto from Pexels

If you are travelling during the outbreak it is essential to keep yourself as safe as possible. If you are travelling to a country with recorded infections it is paramount that you are on top of your personal hygiene throughout the entirety of your trip.

The current advice being given is to wash your hands regularly and avoid contact with your face as much as possible. Face masks have risen in use over the past couple of weeks in the UK (as evidenced by the sky-rocketing prices and general lack of supply) but they do not entirely protect you from infection so do not rely on these alone. Infection can enter your body through open cuts, your eyes, and genitalia, so the major way you can prevent catching an infection is by keeping your hands thoroughly clean.

Also make sure to take your own pillow and blanket, and antibacterial wipes in your carry-on luggage and avoid using airline-provided items to prevent cross-contamination.

How is coronavirus affecting tourism?

The virus has admittedly taken a huge toll on Chinese tourism and looks to continue to for the foreseeable future. With China having by far the largest number of outbound tourists (amassing 150 million in 2018) this will not only be a significant issue in China but for the rest of the world economically. For Chinese citizens already outside of China, the future doesn’t look entirely clear – Japan have repatriated hundreds of Chinese national tourists from the Wuhan area already, but the same isn’t being found in other countries. Travel bans however are just now starting to be enacted with countries such as Australia, the United States, and Singapore banning travel from China.

A worrying concern in travelling is the impact that the virus is going to have for the Tokyo Olympic Games that are set to begin this summer. Virus’s spread very easily in densely populated areas and with influxes of foreign tourists into the already overcrowded Tokyo, it’s easy to see how this could be a major concern for public health. As of now Japan have categorically denied rumour of cancelling or postponing the games until the outbreak has died down, but being much bigger than other cancelled celebrations such as Beijing’s Lunar New Year festivities, this is an increasing cause for concern.

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Last modified: 5th February 2020

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