Coronavirus and Travel: Myth vs. Fact

by  Anne Roderique-Jones | Feb 29, 2000
Woman in airport
Woman in airport / evgenyatamanenko/iStock

Editor’s note: This post is being continuously updated as new information becomes available. It was originally published on February 28, 2020.

As more people become impacted by the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s raising questions and concerns for travelers around the world. The news surrounding the virus has resulted in a lot of misinformation about the outbreak; on January 30, Facebook announced that they would remove content with false claims or conspiracies. During this time, it’s important to check reliable sources, such as the WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), for up-to-date and accurate news. Below, we’ve used these sources to separate the myths surrounding coronavirus from facts. 

MYTH: All travel to Asia is now off-limits.

FACT: Check the CDC website for alert “levels.” For example, Japan, Italy, and Iran have been issued with a Level 2 warning, which means that older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel. Hong Kong is at a Level 1 and South Korea currently registers as a Level 3 country. Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan are at risk of community spread, which means that people have been infected with the coronavirus (including those who are unsure of how or where) and the extent of the spread is not sustained or widespread enough to currently meet the travel health notice criteria. There are constant changes, but not all countries have been affected in the same way. WHO has been issuing daily updates about the spread of Covid-19 and the status of cases.

MYTH: Airlines, cruises, tours, and hotels are cancelling all upcoming travel. 

FACT: There are plenty of flights, tours, and cruises planned. And while some cruises have been canceled, there are sailings (in Asia and worldwide) happening from spring onward. First, check the CDC website, where you can search for a country based on travel safety. At this point, they’re only recommending avoiding all non-essential travel to China (excluding Hong Kong) and South Korea on account of the coronavirus. As far as Italy, the CDC recommends extra precautions, like washing your hands for 20-second (at least) with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% to 95% alcohol. Also, consider staying home if you have a chronic illness, or for nonessential travel. 

MYTH: All international flights are being canceled. 

FACT: Airlines are continuously monitoring travel restrictions, including Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines, which have temporarily canceled all of their mainland China flights due to the outbreak. Carriers have also rescheduled dates to align with capacity needs. And while some airlines have suspended or pulled back flights, check with your carrier for information. Bloomberg reports that carriers such as United Airlines will be redeploying their largest aircrafts to North America -- you’ll likely find some larger, wide-body aircrafts on some domestic flights. While flying, take the recommended precautions above. 

MYTH: All travel insurance covers the coronavirus. 

FACT: Actually, standard travel insurance does not cover losses caused by a global health crisis -- including COVID-19, even if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues an official alert. There are options that might include this coverage. If you’re considering a cancellation, read your policy thoroughly. As a rule, fear of travel during the outbreak is not covered under most policies. In general, insurance purchased after the coronavirus became a risk will not cover a claim arising from the virus. For coverage, it’s recommended that travelers purchase the CFAR: a cancel-for-any-reason rider. Note that this plan can be significantly more expensive and often only reimburses up to 75% of your covered loss. 

MYTH: You must wear face mask while traveling to prevent the coronavirus.

FACT: According to the WHO, healthy people only need to wear a mask while taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection. They report that wearing a mask is only effective when used in combination with frequent hand-washing and that it must be worn correctly and disposed of properly. Masks should also be worn if you are coughing or sneezing. And all travelers should practice these basic practices to fight transmission of the virus: 

  • Hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Staying home when you are sick
  • Disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces--this includes airplane seats and tray tables 

For more in-depth information, you can read up-to-date information on the coronavirus here

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