Editor’s note: This article was last updated on March 11 2020. Whilst we endeavour to remain as accurate as possible with any new developments, please be sure to check government advice in your local area for the most up-to-date travel guidelines relevant to you.
Coronavirus. It’s all over the news and our social media feeds. But what does it really mean for those of us who love to travel the world? Before we launch into the grit of it, let’s begin with some perspective.
Yes, COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) can be a serious condition. It’s clearly not something to take lightly. But neither is it a reason to panic, no matter what levels of hype you pick up on in the media and beyond.
The vast majority of those who have been affected by coronavirus to date have made a fast recovery, without need for special treatment.
Below, we’ve listed the information we have on the situation (11 March), to give you the tools you need to decide if and how you travel. The situation is fluid, so please also check your own government advice and national guidelines, too, before you make any decisions.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a new strain of flu-like illness first identified in Wuhan city, China, in December 2019. It can affect your respiratory system.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Symptoms of coronavirus include a cough, a high temperature and shortness of breath. Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have coronavirus, however. Cold and flu symptoms are similar.
If you’re worried that you have coronavirus, you should stay at home and seek medical advice from your local healthcare service. Use the phone to contact them: do not go to a healthcare centre, pharmacy or hospital.
How is coronavirus spread?
As it is a new illness, it’s not yet clear how exactly coronavirus is spread, but it’s thought that it occurs in a similar way to other viruses: via coughs, sneezes or contact/surface transmission.
So, coronavirus can be carried from person to person, but whether you pick it up from someone else depends on a number of factors, including how close you get and how long you spend together (age and health also play a role here).
It’s also possible that the virus can live on surfaces for a few hours, or possibly a few days, depending on things like surface material and weather.
The way that coronavirus spreads explains why health authorities recommend that people suffering from it be isolated, either at home or in hospital, to prevent the risk of spreading it.
And it also shows the importance of good hygiene measures like washing your hands regularly, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs with a disinfectant wipe.
How does coronavirus affect people?
The only large-scale study of coronavirus carried out so far, by Chinese scientists, shows that more than 80 percent of cases are mild. Some of those suffering from it may never show symptoms.
This means that although the virus can pose a serious risk to certain at-risk groups – including the over-70s and those with pre-existing conditions – the majority of those affected by coronavirus to date have only had mild symptoms and make a full recovery.
Should I change my travel plans because of coronavirus?
According to WHO, you should not change your travel plans if you have planned to travel during this time. Evidence shows that restricting the movement of people during public health emergencies is not effective in most situations.
However, if you’re already unwell, are elderly, suffer from a chronic disease or an underlying health condition, you should avoid travel to areas particularly affected by coronavirus.
In addition, airlines and travel companies around the world are also making their own decisions on travel to outbreak areas. This in turn is based on government advice – which varies from place to place.
So, before you make a decision to travel, it’s important to check national guidelines in your home country, along with advice from your airline and travel company (if relevant). Be aware of what restrictions countries have put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and plan your trip accordingly.
As a UK-based company, Flash Pack follows advice from the Foreign &Commonwealth Office (FCO).
You can check how coronavirus impacts Flash Pack itineraries on our travel alerts page, along with any other events that may affect international travel with us.
What precautions should I take before I travel?
There are a number of steps you should take before travelling abroad in the current, fast-changing situation. These include:
- Check with your airline for any potential changes to service, rerouting or cancellation.
- Check with your travel insurance provider for any changes to your policy and ensure that you are adequately covered.
- Check your own government’s travel advisory body website for travel updates.
- Read and process the “prevention” section of WHO’s COVID-19 page.
- Purchase hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes for use during your trip.
- Review your own health. If you’re feeling unwell or have a pre-existing health condition, check with your doctor before travelling anywhere.
How can I protect myself from coronavirus while travelling?
First: stay informed. The situation with coronavirus is changing daily, which means you should stay up-to-date with the latest travelling advice issued by your government and make the decision to travel accordingly (links below).
Secondly, use common sense. You can take preventative measures here, just as you do with any respiratory virus such as flu. This means staying aware and following good hygiene steps (below).
There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus, so the best way to prevent infection is to be alert and take precautions.
Coronavirus travel advice: general tips
The UK’s National Health Service has put together this page of advice, with information on how to avoid spreading or catching coronavirus that includes:
- Wash your hands as often as you can. The NHS has a great video on how to do this. Use soap and warm water and wash for at least 20 seconds (the length of singing the “Happy Birthday” tune twice over). Remember to wash between your fingers and under your fingernails.
- If you cannot wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser gel that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue (rather than your hand), then throw the tissue in a bin.
- Don’t touch your face – especially your eyes, nose or mouth – if your hands aren’t clean.
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are coughing or seem unwell (stay at least a metre away if you can).
- Carry a pack of disinfectant wipes with you, so that you can wipe down surfaces you come into contact with as you go.
Coronavirus travel advice: at the airport and on the plane
Take the same basic hygiene steps as above: wash your hands whenever you can, and take a bottle of hand sanitiser with you wherever you go.
Remember, airports around the world are being briefed daily on the coronavirus risk, so this isn’t just on you. They’ll be carrying out their own stringent hygiene and prevention measures. You may also find that you are thermal screened at some border control exit and entry points.
Once on-board your plane, practise good hygiene in the flight cabin (just as you would anywhere else), and use disinfectant wipes to clean down surfaces such as your tray table and armrest. A 2018 study by Penn State University shows the chances of catching an illness on a plane are relatively low.
Should I wear a face mask while travelling?
WHO says a face mask is not required if you’re not showing symptoms. And there’s no evidence that doing so will protect you, as a non-sick person.
Face masks are more effective if worn by someone who has coronavirus, or healthcare professionals. But they’ll make little difference if you are simply travelling from A to B.
Coronavirus travel advice: when you’re abroad
The best way you can protect yourself in your destination country is to continue practising good hygiene (as above) and stay tuned for any updates on the country you’re in.
Carry hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes with you wherever you go. If you feel unwell, stay indoors and keep your distance from other travellers. Try and avoid moving around until you’ve sought medical advice.
What should I do if I get sick when travelling?
If you develop symptoms of coronavirus or any other respiratory disease while you’re travelling, immediately stay indoors and avoid other people.
Contact your doctor or a local health authority by phone and follow their advice. You can also reach out to your nearest embassy for advice and relevant contacts. If you’re travelling with a company, or on an airline, you should report your symptoms to whoever is in charge.
Don’t wait around to seek advice, or try to take matters into your own hands. Seek direction from a doctor or another healthcare professional on how to proceed.
To be on the safe side, avoid other people as much as possible, and try not to move around in public until you’ve received medical advice.
Coronavirus travel advice: will I be covered by travel insurance?
The reality is, most travel insurance companies will not cover the cost of trip cancellations based on the fact that you’re worried about catching coronavirus. Similarly, most will likely not cover the cost of flight delays or cancellations that occur due to coronavirus.
The reason for this is that coronavirus is classed as a known risk. Insurers reason that travellers who’ve purchased cover in the past six weeks would have already been aware of the spread of the virus.
One exception may be if you have a pre-existing medical condition and a letter from your doctor advising you not to travel.
Cancellation cover is also related to national government advice. So if you’re travelling somewhere that has since been subject to a national advisory, your insurance may cover cancellation costs. Equally, if you choose to travel to an area that the government has advised against going to, any medical and assistance cover you’ve purchased may be void.
With all this in mind, it’s very important to check the small print of your policy with your insurance company before you travel anywhere. Relevant wording is likely to be listed under a “travel disruption” or “cancellation cover” section. The travel experts at Flash Pack can help you with this process if you’d like us to.
If your trip may be affected by delays or cancellations, it’s also worth checking with travel providers directly. Hotels and travel companies understand this is a stressful, uncertain period for travellers and many are showing flexibility in these exceptional times.
If you’ve yet to sort your travel insurance, it’s a good idea to purchase insurance with generous travel disruption cover that extends to unforeseen expenses. You may find a “cancel for any reason” premium policy that will cover you in the event of any kind of cancellation, including coronavirus-related issues. However, be aware that many insurance companies will no longer provide cover for claims relating to coronavirus (even if a few weeks ago, they did).
What should I do if I’m returning from an affected area?
WHO says that, as a traveller returning from affected areas, you should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days and follow national guidelines of the country you’re based in.
If you start developing symptoms, you should contact your local healthcare provider, preferably by phone, and relate your symptoms and travel history.
What can I find the latest government advice on coronavirus?
Travel advice and national protocol related to coronavirus varies from country to country.
- UK citizens should check here
- US citizens should check here
- Australian citizens should check here
- New Zealand citizens should check here
- German citizens should check here
How does coronavirus affect my Flash Pack trip?
The safety of our travellers is our top priority and we are closely monitoring the ongoing coronavirus situation.
For all Flash Pack trips, if the UK’s FCO advises against “all but essential travel”, we will either reroute or cancel a trip and contact all affected customers.
Please visit our travel alerts page for updates on any travel restrictions.
Can I change my Flash Pack trip?
Yes. During these uncertain times, we understand the need to be flexible. We’ve dropped our trip transfer fee for bookings in March. This means you can change your trip, for any reason, up to 90 days before your scheduled departure date. See more info here.
What should I do if my flight to a Flash Pack trip is cancelled?
If your flight is cancelled due to coronavirus, you should contact your airline and travel insurance provider to discuss your travel options. Many airlines are rerouting flights to avoid affected areas.
If your journey is rerouted or you book new flights, you should contact your Flash Pack Trip Expert with your new estimated time of arrival so an arrival transfer can be organised.
If your flight is cancelled and you are unable to join the adventure, you should email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your cancellation.
How do Flash Pack cancellations and refunds work?
If a trip remains scheduled to run as normal and you choose to cancel it, our usual terms and conditions will apply.
Anything else I need to know?
The best thing you can do is stay calm and informed, and follow all advice issued when it comes to hygiene and travel alerts.
It’s always good to talk, so if you’re concerned about anything coronavirus-related (or beyond), please do get in touch. You’ll need to bear with us as we’re getting a lot of inquiries right now, but rest assured: we are here for you.