- Right to the Point: Many travelers have concerns for travel in Asia due to the coronavirus outbreak, and rightfully so. Take precautions as necessary, as we don’t know the full extent of the outbreak and it the news gets more serious each day.
China Eastern has become the first major Chinese carrier to suspend flights to and from the United States because of the escalating Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
All three US carriers have announced suspension of flights to Mainland China.
Non-US citizens returning from Hubei province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to a 14-day quarantine. Foreign nationals, other than immediate family members of U.S. citizens, who have traveled to China in the previous 14 days will be denied entry into the country. The temporary measures take effect February 2nd at 5pm.
Americans who’ve traveled to any other parts of China in the previous 14 days prior to arrival in the US will be subject to a health screening upon entry and asked to self-quarantine for up to 14 days.
Experts within China are stating they believe the “peak of the epidemic (has) already arrived” and it could be over by the end of March. But let’s take that optimism with a bit of skepticism.
A few months ago, I had made plans to travel to Asia and through three countries for an early January 2020 vacation. Originally, I set out to see for myself what Hong Kong was like since the protests had begun in mid-2019. I expected to learn how tourism and visitor prices were affected by the Hong Kong protests.
What I did not expect was the coronavirus to be a major concern. In fact, like most travelers, I hadn’t even heard of the coronavirus when I booked my trip.
However, the virus quickly took center-stage. In fact, I unknowingly crossed paths with carriers of the virus. Perhaps by luck, but also quite possibly by taking a few precautions, I was able to complete my trip without contracting the virus.
Shanghai Airport Screening
Many airports have instituted stricter screening measures to reduce the spread of the virus. There were temperature sensors monitoring each passenger passing through airport queues. We wore masks through the Chinese airports until we were required to remove them for immigration and passport control.
In all my years of travel, I have never seen so many people wearing masks. I often see a few on airplanes traveling to or from Asia, but on this trip I would estimate more than 80 percent of the passengers were wearing masks. That certainly is an indication of how concerned the public is about travel in Asia due to the coronavirus outbreak.
For the first time ever, even during boarding and disembarkation, I saw a few flight attendants wearing masks. Of course, during in-flight service they were without masks.
A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous. Over the past decade there have been outbreaks of a variant of the coronavirus. It first appeared in Saudi Arabia, then other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
However, in early January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified a new type: 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China. This is the virus that is associated with China; specifically the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.
The disease can be transmitted by both animals and people making it much easier to spread. The Wuhan coronavirus case was identified in Wuhan in mid-December 2019. It has been traced back to a market in Wuhan which sold live animals and seafood.
Since the coronavirus outbreak started, 2,128 people have died (most of these deaths have all occurred in China) and more than 75,727 confirmed cases have been reported across the globe. So far, most of the deaths have involved elderly people with other conditions. This has even spread internationally as there have been at least 12 confirmed cases reported in the United States and now a total of more than 27 other countries outside China have reported incidents of the virus.
For current statistics, you can check out this live map produced by John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE)
The virus can be spread by both animals and people. That’s why the market in Wuhan offered a prime opportunity for the coronavirus to spread since live seafood as well as animals were being sold. Selling live wildlife at a market is described by experts as a perfect incubator for novel pathogens. Disease scientists believe the coronavirus may have jumped from the host species, bats, to snakes, and then to humans at the beginning of this coronavirus outbreak. However, this hasn’t been fully confirmed.
According to the CDC, these locations have confirmed 2019-nCoV Cases
74,578 Mainland China
82 South Korea
65 Hong Kong
9 United Arab Emirates
1 Sri Lanka
A couple of days after I passed through the West Kowloon train station of Hong Kong, I learned that a person who had contracted the coronavirus had boarded a high-speed train from Wuhan to the same station I had also transited trains one day earlier.
That person then went on to the Hong Kong airport and flew to Manila, Philippines where a huge search began for the man and his family.
That’s just an example of the bigger problem. A person travels in Asia, contracts (or becomes a carrier for) the coronavirus and then travels to another destination far away and furthers the outbreak. No place is really “safe.” So I am happy to continue my travels, with my personal protections in place.
For me and my wife, we wore an N-95 mask in crowded places. That included airplanes, queue lines for immigration and passport control in the airports, buses, rail and subways. In addition, we carried small travel bottles of hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes to ensure our hands were germ-free and contact surfaces we came into contact with were cleaned. That gave us a great sense of safety.
What If You Already Have Travel Plans To or Through China?
Travel in Asia is still very affordable and offers some great destinations, despite the outbreak.
Recently the China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) issued a statement requiring airlines to take the coronoavirus outbreak seriously. For those passengers who have already purchased flight tickets to or from Wuhan and choose to cancel their trip, airlines should process these refund requests free of charge.
If you had plans to travel within China, you should be eligible for a full refund on the following airlines as of 1/27/20: Air China, Capital Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, Chengdu Airlines, China Airlines and Mandarin Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, China United Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, Lucky Air, Hainan Airlines, OK Air, Scoot, Shandong Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Spring Airlines, Suparna Airlines, Tianjin Airlines, West Air, Urumqi Air and Xiamen Air.
The three major US airlines (American, Delta and United) have also issued travel waivers; although most of those are for a short timeframe moving forward. Some airlines, are issuing waivers through Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG)). In other cases, you may be able to speak to your airline’s representatives and get a waiver, but that will be on a case-by-case basis.
United Airlines announced Tuesday that canceled flights from February 1 through February 8 between the US and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. On Wednesday, British Airways suspended all direct flights between Britain and China. Other airlines that have temporarily suspended flights to China include Air Canada, Air France, EgyptAir, Lion Air, Lufthansa, and Turkish Airlines. Meanwhile, airlines such as AirAsia, Delta, Singapore Airlines, Finnair, China Airlines, EVA Airways and Silk Air have announced that they will reduce capacity on many routes to China.
At the same time, the Allied Pilots Association (APA) filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, and wants pilots to stop flying to China immediately.
If a person does contract the virus, there are no specific treatments for coronavirus infections. Most people will recover on their own, according to the CDC. Treatment involves rest and medication to relieve symptoms. A humidifier or hot shower can help to relieve a sore throat and cough. The most susceptible to the virus are those with a weakened or compromised immune system. That is why children and the elderly are at greatest risk.
Will Credit Cards or Travel Insurance Help?
In most cases, your trip insurance provided by some credit cards would not pay for claims caused by an epidemic, pandemic or outbreak of infectious disease. Even standalone health policies often have clauses that exempt them from covering these outbreaks.
I recommend you check your policies terms and conditions to understand your coverage. That said, I would not expect your credit card’s trip cancellation to cover your costs if you voluntarily cancel your travel plans.
Two Disneylands Closed: Both Shanghai and Hong Kong
Disney has closed both the Shanghai and Hong Kong Disneyland Parks. They are trying to prevent the huge number of international interactions that could result from so many citizens of various countries coming into contact and then flying back to their respective nations.
We were in the Hong Kong Disneyland as recently as January 22nd and I have to say I have never seen a Disney Park so uncrowded. It was an easy walk onto almost every attraction!
Travelers have valid concerns regarding travel in Asia due to the coronavirus outbreak.
My biggest concern is with China not being forthcoming in terms of the outbreak numbers. Obviously, news today travels at the speed of the internet and people travel nearly as quickly. Therefore the potential for any disease to spread quickly has increased as transportation has evolved. It’s a downside of progress.
Keeping this in perspective, more than 15 million people (in the United States alone) have contracted the flu with more than 20,000 deaths worldwide, yet that has not impacted any travel on such a scale as we are seeing with this coronavirus.
In summary, I do think this is becoming more serious by the day. For me, I would not hesitate to fly through most Asia airports, although I would avoid the Hubei province. Travel is a personal decision for most. Each traveler needs to look at their own specific circumstances and then adjust their travel plans accordingly.
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