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?
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.
- 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.
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.
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