Expert Q&A: Addressing Traveler Concerns About the Coronavirus – ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

By Jesse Sokolow on 24 February 2020
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The daily dispatches from Hong Kong and Wuhan and Beijing about Covid-19, the official name for the novel coronavirus that seemingly sprung out of nowhere in Wuhan, China, are nowhere near an end. Travel is down in some instances by over 90%, and thousands of people are under quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.  This leaves travelers – be they business or leisure – wondering, should I stay or should I go?

The destination almost doesn’t matter: no one expected Italy to face an outbreak that is making headlines and no one is going to get on a cruise ship any time soon.

Frequent Business Traveler and The Travelist asked readers to submit their questions and concerns about travel plans to places far and near in the age of the coronavirus.

Here are their questions and our expert answers.

1.)       I live in the United States and have a domestic trip planned. Is it safe to go?

Several dozen readers asked essentially the same question with different destinations but the answer as of the time of publication is essentially, “Yes, go forth and travel but observe normal precautions such as staying away from sick people (or those who appear to have symptoms) and wash hands frequently (learn how here).

2.)       My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Japan for the sakura or cherry blossom season, but the CDC just raised the travel alert.  Should we go?

A very similar situation is puzzling FBT Editorial Director Jonathan Spira, who is also planning a trip to see the cherry blossoms.  While the CDC did raise the alert level, the Level 2 advisory states that Japan is “experiencing sustained community transmission of respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus,” adding that “older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.”  While there have been hundreds of confirmed infections reported in Japan at the time of publication, the overwhelming majority of them were on the cruise ship Diamond Princess that is docked in Yokohama.

3.)       What about travel to Korea?

As the death toll rose over 600, the Korean government put the country on its highest alert.  “The coming few days will be a critical time for us,” said President Moon Jae-in on Sunday.  The same level of alert in effect for travel to Japan is in effect for travel to Korea so follow the headlines and evaluate your trip as the departure date draws near.

4.)       Can I travel safely to Singapore or Thailand?

While there have been a handful of cases in these countries, the virus does not appear to be spiraling out of control as of the time of publication of this article.  Apply common sense and follow news reports as your date of departure nears.

5.)       Is it safe to fly?

Yes, perhaps more so than taking a bus or train.  On all modern aircraft, passengers breathe a blend of fresh and recirculated air and studies have shown that an aircraft cabin is more germ free than virtually any enclosed space on the ground.  If you find yourself seated next to someone who is sneezing, sniffling, or coughing, ask to be reseated if at all possible.

6.)       I planned and prepaid a trip to Asia and, while my flights aren’t cancelled, I don’t want to go and expose myself and other family members to any risk. Will travel insurance help me out here?

In one word, “no.”  Unless you purchased Cancel for Any Reason coverage, insurance policies won’t cover public health emergencies, which the coronavirus outbreak is.  The same goes for travel insurance offered by charge and credit card companies.

7.)       What if I am not well? Should I travel?

Absolutely not, regardless of the destination.  First of all, the death rate for patients with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus is high only in two groups: the elderly and the sick.  If you are in the first group, choose your destination wisely and, if you are in the second, please stay home for the sake of the rest of us.

Jonathan Spira and Paul Riegler contributed reporting.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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