Editor’s note: This post is being continuously updated as new information becomes available. It was originally published on February 3, 2020.
As more and more countries become impacted by the outbreak of a new type of coronavirus, it’s raising alarm (and many questions) for travelers everywhere.
The virus was first identified in December in Wuhan, a city in the Chinese province of Hubei. The virus, which causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19, has infected more than 31 million people, and over 960,000 have died. As of March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization has officially characterized the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic.
While it’s known that the virus can be transmitted from person to person, there’s still a lot that remains unclear. However, we do do know that the coronavirus is part of a family of respiratory viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
On March 19, the U.S. State Department has raised its travel advisory to Level 4 urging all Americans not to travel abroad under any circumstance. Most states have issued stay-at-home orders.
Coronavirus Travel Ban and Restrictions
The U.S. government is implementing strict travel restrictions to help contain the outbreak, including temporarily denying entry to most foreign nationals who’ve visited China or Iran in the 14 days before their arrival to the U.S. In terms of a U.S. travel ban, The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel at this time due to the global impact of COVID-19. The CDC has issued a travel advisory urging residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.
Many airlines have canceled flights, and Emirates and Etihad announced that all of their passenger flights would be canceled following new travel restrictions in the UAE. Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines have temporarily canceled all of their mainland China flights due to the outbreak. American is suspending some of its routes (to and from the US), and Delta is doing the same. United is suspending flights between its U.S. hub airport cities and three mainland China cities – Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai.
Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways have all suspended flights to South Korea. US airlines like Delta, American, and United, are waiving cancellation fees.
Travelers with upcoming plans should check with their airlines, cruise companies, travel agents, and/or tour providers for the latest updates, as the situation continues to change quickly. Many airlines are offering refunds and waivers on change fees or credits to use towards future trips.
Even if your flight or cruise is still going to your destination as scheduled, some major tourist sites have been temporarily closed because of the virus. Many events have also been canceled, so be sure to plan ahead.
Taking Precautions Against the Coronavirus
For those who either can't delay their travel to areasheavily impacted by COVID-19, the CDC recommends taking precautions such as discussing your trip with your healthcare provider beforehand. This is especially important, since older adults and those with underlying health issues may be at higher risk of getting the virus. Once abroad, avoid contact with sick people, animals, and animal markets. Also, be sure to frequently (and thoroughly) wash your hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and stay away from sick people. It's also recommended to wear a mask.
If you were in an area where COVID-19 is present within the last two weeks and are suffering from a fever, cough, or have difficulty breathing — all symptoms of the new coronavirus — seek treatment right away (and be sure call ahead to tell medical providers about your recent travels) and avoid contact with others.
As always, it is important to remain vigilant and use preventative measures in order to avoid the flu and other illnesses when traveling abroad. And, while it can be challenging with so many unknowns, try to avoid increased panic or fear. There is still a lot we need to learn about the virus, and this can allow misinformation and rumors to abound.