A Coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, has become a worldwide health crisis, but what is Coronavirus exactly? Should you be worried about it and how will the Coronavirus outbreak affect your travels?
As Novel Coronavirus, or COVID 19 (also referred to as 2019 nCoV) continues to spread throughout China and other parts of the world, travellers are increasingly concerned about whether the outbreak will affect their plans or put their health at risk if they do decide to travel.
But what is the actual truth behind the media reporting? Will the Coronavirus outbreak affect your travels? Is it safe to travel to China or Asia? Will COVID 19 actually put you at risk? Get all the up to date, expert information you need right here.
What is a Coronavirus?
A Coronavirus is basically a very common family of viruses that causes a variety of infections in the nose, sinuses, upper throat and upper respiratory symptoms such as a common cold or flu.
The absolute majority of Coronaviruses are not dangerous.
On occassion however there have been more serious strains of Coronavirus, including the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012 and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. These are both types of Coronavirus.
What is different about this Coronavirus outbreak?
Known as 2019 Novel Coronavirus (alternatively COVID 19 or 2019 nCoV), this outbreak began in Wuhan, China in early 2020 and was identified by the World Health Organisation as a new strain of Coronavirus. It was declared a public health emergency by the WHO on 29th January 2020.
Is the Novel Coronavirus being transferred from human to human?
Yes. As of the 23rd January 2020 China’s National Health Commission confirmed human transmissions of the Novel Coronavirus.
Where is the Novel Coronavirus spreading?
As of 19th February 2020 There are over 70,000 cases of Novel Coronavirus and 1,868 deaths worldwide as a direct result.
To put this into a little bit of perspective, over 29,000 people a year die from respiratory diseases including influenza (the flu), pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma every year in the UK alone according to Public Health England.
Starting in Wuhan, China, the virus spread to 13 provinces as well as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. Confirmed cases have also been confirmed in the USA, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Europe and the UK. In addition to this there have been confirmed deaths in Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan and France among others.
In the majority of cases the confirmed deaths from this strain of Coronavirus have been in those who already have preexisting health conditions and were already more susceptible to a flu like virus.
As of 22 February 2020, Italy, Iran and south Korea had implemented lockdowns in certain regions, with many countries and airlines reducing or stopping flights into those countries due to a large and sudden surge in cases.
Conversely, mainland china has started to see a slowdown of cases.
Daily updates for confirmed cases in the UK can be found on the UK governments official public update page.
What are the symptoms of a Coronavirus?
In the majority of cases they are the same as any cold or flu. Common signs include:
- Tiredness or lethargy.
- Difficulty breathing.
- High temperature.
In more sever cases then pneumonia can occur as well as sever acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. It is rare, but if symptoms are serious enough then it can be potentially fatal, especially in the particularly vulnerable such as children, the elderly and those with pre existing or long term conditions such as COPD or the immunocompromised. In this respect it is no different than a flu outbreak..
Is there a vaccine for Novel Coronavirus?
No. This is a new strain of Coronavirus and therefore there is no vaccine for it yet.
Is there a treatment for Novel Coronavirus?
Treatment for Novel Coronavirus is not specific but instead treats and manages the symptoms, much like in a common cold or flu.
Antibiotics are of no use and antiviral medication used for some flus are not appropriate either.
How can Travellers protect themselves from Coronavirus?
At the moment the current best practice advice from the World Health Organisation, the CDC and the NHS is to take basic precautions for your own health the same way you would to protect against any illness. That means:
- Maintain basic hand hygiene and wash hands regularly with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and before and after eating, as well as using alcohol hand gel in between washes when travelling.
- Maintaining safe food practices and avoiding any potential hazards.
- Ensuring your travel vaccinations are all up to date, especially the annual flu vaccine.
- Avoiding contact wherever possible with anyone showing any signs of coughing or sneezing or any other respiratory illness.
- Be extra cautious when travelling through areas known to be affected and take extra precautions such as using a mask, using a disinfectant wipe to clean surfaces on flights or carry and clean your own metal cutlery or chopsticks for eating at street food stalls.
- Try and avoid any large gatherings of people wherever possible in areas that have been affected, such as festivals.
- Avoid wet markets or markets trading in wildlife.
Should travellers worry?
No. Prepare yes, be cautious, yes, but not worry. Coronavirus (COVID 19 or 2019 nCoV) is most dangerous to those who are at high levels of risk anyway, very young children, the elderly and the immunocompromised. The vast majority of travellers are likely to be impacted on a much milder level if at all.
The spread of the virus throughout Asia and the Middle East, as well as potentially further afield. means that various health organisations are likely to take extra precautions.
China itself has limited travel into or out of Wuhan, essentially placing it in quarantine, and has since put similar limited measures in place for a few other cities, namely Huanggang, Ezou, Chibi, Huangshi and others, all in central China’s Hubei province, which no has a complete do not travel advisory.
The current advice from Public Health England and the UK Foriegn and Commonwealth office has raised the risk level from ‘very low’ to ‘low’ for everywhere outside of mainland China, but as of 28th January the FCO has placed an ‘all but essential travel’ restriction on mainland China, not including Hong Kong or Macau.
Outside of mainland China the general advice is simply to stay vigilant and adopt good hygiene practices.
How will Novel Coronavirus affect my travels?
As of 28th January the FCO has placed an ‘all but essential travel’ restriction on mainland China, not including Hong Kong or Macau. All travel is completely advised against for Wuhan and Hubai province as it remains on lockdown.
Any traveller heading to or currently in mainland China are advised to change plans or leave as soon as possible.
If you are travelling anywhere else at all, including Hong Kong and Macau, your plans will not be affected much as there are currently no restrictions on travel to any other country. There is no need to cancel or change plans.
As of 22 February 2020, Italy, Iran and south Korea had implemented lockdowns in certain regions, with many countries and airlines reducing or stopping flights into those countries due to a large and sudden surge in cases. It is an ongoing question as to wether other countries will issue travel advisories too but it is unclear as of yet.
If you do decide to change your plans however, many airlines, including United and America Air from the US and Singapore Airlines among others, have issued statements allowing passengers to cancel flights or change plans without penalty or charge. Some airlines have attached conditions to these however. If you do plan to change or cancel your flight it is advised to check the statements from your specific airline.
If you were planning to attend any Chinese New Year celebrations in China, many celebrations have been put on hold indefinitely until the situation has been resolved and all but essential travel is now advised against for all mainland China. If you were planning on celebrating anywhere else that has been affected but celebrations are still going ahead such as Singapore, then there are no limitations on your travel, but it still may be a good idea to avoid some of the crowds.
As of 26 January, China has also banned the trade in wild animals at all markets, restaurants or services that traded in game meat or wildlife until the Coronavirus has been eliminated and contained. This is because there is evidence to suggest that the outbreak started at the Huanan seafood wholeasle market that also traded in wild animals. Whilst I would personally never recommend going to markets or restaurants such as this as a tourist anyway on ethical grounds, it is not a bad idea to avoid any wildlife markets or restaurants engaging in the unethical wildlife trade in other countries too if you did plan to visit any, just as a precaution.
You may come across heightened screening procedures at some airports, but these are generally unobtrusive and mostly involve scanners determine the body temperature of travellers.
As always it is strongly advised to get comprehensive travel health insurance, but that is no different to any other trip. Remember, the risk to most general travellers is still pretty low, but it is still sensible to reduce risk even further and follow the basic health precautions stated above. Other than that be careful,but don’t let it ruin your plans to much.
Stay prepared, stay healthy and stay safe.
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.