Coronavirus. What Is It And How Will It Affect Travel?

Coronavirus Outbreak What Travellers Need To Know

A Coronavirus outbreak now known as COVID 19 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 the Novel Coronavirus, or COVID 19 (also referred to as 2019 nCoV) has now spread to every continent apart from Antarctica, and further outbreak clusters have occurred in Iran, south Korea and Italy, travellers are increasingly concerned about whether the outbreak will affect their travel 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? Will airline cancellations or government warnings disrupt your plans? Is it safe to travel? 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, or influenza. The flu is and of itself a coronavirus.

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 too 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?

Coronavirus Spreading Map

COVID 19 has now spread to every continent with the exception of Antarctica. In the majority of cases numbers are still very low outside of mainland China.

As of the 27th February 2020, mainland China has reported just over 78,000 cases with 2,744 deaths. Outside of China there have been a total of 3,650 cases with 50 deaths worldwide.

Most of these deaths involve those already in at risk groups, such as the very elderly, and often involve other co morbidities, or other illnesses running side by side.

On 27th February 2020 there had been 7132 people tested in the UK with only 15 found to have the Coronavirus strain of the virus. As of yet there have been no deaths in the UK and 8 of the 15 who have had the COVID 19 virus have made a full recovery and have been discharged from hospital.

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.

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. As of the time of this update there were no countrywide government advisories advising against travel outside those specific regions. 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.
  • Cough.
  • Muscular ache.

In more sever cases then pneumonia can occur and much more rarely severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure is possible. 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 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, especially in areas that have been affected, such as festivals.
  • Avoid anyone with obvious signs of a cough or cold.
  • Maintain a distance from people where you can and avoid physical contact where possible.
  • 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.

Mainland China does have an ‘all but essential travel’ warning from Public Health England and the UK Foriegn and Commonwealth office or an equivalent level 4 ‘do not travel’ warning for the US.

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.

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.

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.

This however is not guaranteed. It is vital to remember that when it comes to claiming compensation or insurance, you are extremely unlikely to be successful if you decide not to travel unless the government declares a do not travel warning or the airlines ground planes. Outside of those instances this would be considered a disinclination to travel.

Many festivals, tourist attractions and events have also been shut down or cancelled due to the outbreak as a precautionary measure.

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. Travellers from certain destinations such as China or Italy will be subject to extra questioning and testing, and there are quarantine procedures in place for anyone who is symptomatic.

There is also a risk that wherever you travel that a person may be found to be positive for COVID 19 in your location, and that means there is a risk you may be stuck inside a lockdown or quarantine as has happened to some cruise ships and one hotel resort in Tenerife. The need for flexibility in these cases cannot be understated.

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.

Coronavirus outbreak everything you need to know from a qualified nurse

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.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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76 comments on “Coronavirus. What Is It And How Will It Affect Travel?
  1. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this, I swear I was getting a bit worried with all the news reports this morning. I’m going to Thailand and Japan in a couple of months and the news made it sound like the end of the world

  2. Pat says:

    Shouldn’t they be advising against all travel until it is cleared?

  3. Melanie Hinchliffe says:

    This is getting to be genuinely scary stuff. I would hate to actually be in China right now.

  4. Paul says:

    This is how the zombie apocalypse starts! I’ve seen those films!

  5. Joanne Pullman says:

    Thanks for a balance viewpoint on this, really helpful.

  6. Josie says:

    I am actually really worried about this. I’ve been following the news and I’m debating cancelling my big trip as my flights over and back run through China, the big problem is because it is so late to change the flights now would cost over $3000!

    • Don’t worry too much, follow the official advice which at the moment is only advising against travel to Wuhan in China, take precautions to protect your health (just as you would against any flu virus) and carry on as normal. Keep an eye on the situation of course and reevaluate then if things change but for now just be prepared, not worried.

  7. Carol Marsh says:

    It must be awful for those poor people in the quarantined cities but worth it if it stops the spread of the new virus.

  8. Hailey Chamberlain says:

    Chinese New Year starts the end of this week and millions of Chinese travel within China and internationally. Good luck containing the virus!

  9. Allanna says:

    I think it is a bit too late to fully contain it now. You don’t feel symptomatic before you start spreading the virus, right? Just like the normal flu? So any quarantines or airport checks aren’t gonna help anything. No fever? Okay carry on through and report any symptoms in the next 2 weeks. Great.

    • Well yes but you can never fully contain the spread of a virus like this unless you lock down all travel permanently and that is just not going to happen. I actually think the concerted effort from numerous countries and airlines are doing the best they can.

  10. Kate Russon says:

    This is going to be a really difficult time. Chinese New Year starts today and there is usually a mass exodus of people going home for the long holiday. That means more people massing together at train stations, airports, etc and just carrying and spreading the virus further.

    • Very true Kate, it isn’t the best timing, but there is still only a very small percent who have been affected. It’s a little worrying I know but it is important to keep in perspective too.

  11. Nathan says:

    Great article, the news media can learn a lot from the lack of paranoia here.

  12. Danielle says:

    United and Delta, and I think American too are offering variations of no fees for cancellations or changes m even on code share flights to China

  13. Pippa says:

    Honestly really nervous about this. Flying back to Thailand then travelling through other parts of SEAsia next month and thinking of cancelling the flight, do you think I’m worrying too much?

    • Don’t worry Pippa, I understand the concern but there is no need to be cancelling flights just yet. All the official advice still boils down to just take extra precautions with hygiene but otherwise enjoy your trip. 🙂

  14. Ben says:

    I’m due to travel to the Philippines soon, should I still go? Is travel being banned there?

  15. Rosa says:

    Can it be transmitted through packages sent from China?

  16. Nat says:

    I am in Thailand at the moment but was previously in China before Christmas (Hong Kong and Shanghai. I can’t get an appointment in your travel clinic (it’s all booked up) but I’m really worried. I don’t have any symptoms and I’m not sick yet but what do I do if I get sick?

    • Hi Nat, sorry about the travel clinic, I am adding two extra days this week but the volume of appointments is just overwhelming. To answer your question the best thing to do is first of all take extra precautions around hygiene, hand washing, etc, and then if you do develop flu like symptoms, get a private room, stay in there, avoid contact with people. Rest, stay hydrated and get better. I am assuming you haven’t been to Wuhan during your China trip so your risk levels are still pretty low. If you have any more questions and can’t get an appointment please feel free to email me.

  17. James says:

    I have a question about face masks, I am in Thailand at the moment and there are a lot of people wearing them, should I be wearing one too? Obviously it is a little worrying hearing all of this on the news and seeing everyone in a mask.

    • Honestly James no, not really. Most of these masks you see people wear are basic surgical masks, not the N95s which have a tighter seal, and they are designed to stop large droplets, but still only provide a limited shield. They are generally only useful in a clinical setting where they are part of our PPE equipment, used for short periods and a specific clinical job, and are then disposed of. Used over a long period by the general public they don’t offer much protection at all and could become a haven for bacteria which you are then breathing in. I mean don’t get me wrong if you want to go to a crowded area for an hour or so it won’t do any harm, but dispose of it properly afterwards and make sure your other hygiene methods (hand washing, surface cleaning etc) are on point as they are far more effective.

  18. Louise says:

    Have they banned travel to all of China now? I have just seen the news. What about other parts of Asia.

    • As of a few hours ago Louise yes, the FCO have advised against all but essential travel to all of mainland Chinawith the exception of Hong Kong and Macau, and are advising people to think very carefully about going. At the time of writing no there aren’t any other restrictions on anywhere else in Asia.

  19. Zoe Blundell says:

    It’s a lot worse than they are releasing.

  20. Kate says:

    Any advice for flights from Thailand with a short layover in Beijing now they have said all but essential travel? Should we cancel or change the flight?

    • Well that depends Kate, is it just a short layover in the airport or are you planning onspending a few days there? If it is just a transit stop I can’t imagine their being any problems at all, I’d consider that as ‘essential’ in a way, so just follow the screening rules and stay on top of your hygiene, hand washing, not spreading germs etc and you should be fine in the airport itself. For longer stays however I would now reconsider in light of the changed warning from the UK against all but essential travel. Speak to your carrier and see if they are offering alternative routes.

  21. Andrew Chow says:

    What the most scary part is what will happen in a week as a person looks perfectly healthy but he can pass the virus unknowingly with no sickness symptoms

  22. Jay says:

    Thanks for the rational article on this, everyone needs just the honest facts at the moment. It is a worrying time for a lot of people and the mainstream media are making things ten times worse with the way they are reporting it. Now there are reports of fights breaking out at airports and racist signs with businesses and ports banning or segregating ‘Chinese people’ even in countrys that aren’t affected. Things have gone insane.

    • I’ve seen some of those signs myself, absolutely awful. And you are right it is a serious issue and precautions need to be taken but we also need to keep it in context and be calm and rational about it.

  23. Tina says:

    We have a trip planned to Hong Kong for next month for Valentines. I am thinking we may need to cancel and I am absolutely gutted

    • Currently there is no advisory against Hong Kong at all and no need to cancel plans just yet. For now stick to your plans, be extra vigilant with hygiene and hand washing, not spreading germs etc and you should be okay. Saying that, keep an eye out for any future updates between now and then and plan accordingly.

  24. John says:

    Definitely the start of the zombie virus, I can’t be the only one who is just a little bit excited by that?

  25. Sam says:

    Everyone is always so quick to panic and to overreact. This article is so well done, concise and to the point. Thank you.

  26. Alex says:

    So BA have cancelled all flights now? Does that mean it is getting worse and spreading?

    • No Alex, it means that the situation on the ground has changed, the UK government has reassessed visits to China and decided to advise against all but essential travel to the mainland. British Airways are simply reacting to that.

  27. Kirsten says:

    I wish everyone could see this instead of the mass media panic that tops all the search results. Thanks for actually giving the facts and not hyperbole.

  28. Richard Davidson says:

    Seriously though if it is symptomatic only after it is contagious, what can anyone do? If you are going through an airport and the security ask ‘have you been to Wuhan’ and you go ‘er, no?’ What are they going to do?

  29. Graham says:

    Now its in the UK? And being treated in Merseyside?!? This is spreading faster than the papers are recording

  30. Laura says:

    I keep seeing so many people wear masks, especially airport workers and staff, and it is still a little worrying. Should I be wearing one?

  31. Jim says:

    Glad to see a common sense approach to this outbreak unlike most of the media. It is essentially just a bad flu, calm down people!

  32. Jules says:

    Those normal flu stats really put a lot of this into perspective. Thanks for the honest information.

  33. Pam says:

    What about those two who have just died on a cruise? I’m hearing so many stories about cruises being blocked from ports and quarantined. Its scary as I am due to go on one this summer.

    • That was really sad to hear. Cruises in general are problematic because they can be big floating petri dishes for illnesses, but those who passed were already elderly and had a much higher risk factor anyway. See how things pan out over the next few months.

  34. Natalie says:

    Great post, thank you for this. There is just so much fear about at the moment. I am more in the middle of the road on this, yes it is a bit scary but I think the risk for me is ralatively low (there will never be no risk) so I’m not going to stop travelling, but it is at the back of my mind all the time.

    • So true, and there is nothing wrong with a little caution in the back of your mind, as long as you don’t let it overtake you and become fear. Use that caution to remind you to take reasonable precautions like washing your hands regularly.

  35. invertedlogicblog says:

    Interesting article!

  36. Chloe Gunner says:

    Hope this pandemic ends soon.

  37. Kelly says:

    I think your calm but prepared approach has held up pretty well given all the latest information coming out saying the virus was bad but nowhere near what was feared and many studies showing that the lockdown wasn’t even necessary. I know this went against some of the fearmongering at the time but this is why I love and read your site! Your honesty and willingness to put it out there is amazing.

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