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Coronavirus Factsheet: What Travelers Need to Know About COVID-19

by Daniel McCarthy / 
Coronavirus Factsheet: What Travelers Need to Know About COVID-19
According to the CDC, travelers should be concerned about coronavirus only “if you were in China within the past 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.” Photo: Shutterstock.com. 

What is coronavirus?

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a “new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, and has been detected in some countries outside China, including the U.S. and Canada.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The CDC says the virus has “been known to cause severe illness in people. The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully understood. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, including illness resulting in death.”

How many cases are confirmed?
As of Feb. 28, the coronavirus is impacting people in 50 countries and territories around the world.

A vast majority of the cases have been found in mainland China (78,832). The rest of the cases are as follows, according to Worldometers:

  • South Korea: 2,337
  • Italy: 655
  • Iran: 388
  • Japan: 226
  • Singapore: 96
  • Hong Kong: 93
  • Germany: 60
  • United States: 60
  • Kuwait: 45
  • France: 41
  • Thailand: 41
  • Bahrain: 36
  • Taiwan: 34
  • Spain: 33
  • Malaysia: 25
  • Australia: 24
  • United Kingdom: 19
  • U.A.E.: 19
  • Vietnam: 16
  • Switzerland: 15
  • Canada: 14
  • Macao: 10

What is the best way to protect against coronavirus?
According to the CDC, “the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.” Other steps can help, including staying home when you are sick, washing your hands with soap and water frequently, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

When should I worry?
According to the CDC, the public should be concerned “if you were in China within the past 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing” — and you should seek medical care.”

The CDC also says “Under current circumstances, certain people will have an increased risk of infection, for example healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 and other close contacts of persons with COVID-19” and that “individual risk is dependent on exposure.”

How does it compare to other illnesses?
While the coronavirus has grabbed headlines, North Americans are still much more likely to be impacted by the flu than the coronavirus. An article released by Purdue University earlier in February shows that “22 million Americans have suffered from the flu, and that 12,000 adults and 78 children have died during this flu season,” which began in October.

The CDC has warned, however, that “it’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. In that case, the risk assessment would be different.”

Does the CDC and State Department recommend canceling travel?
As of Feb. 27, the U.S. State Department has issued Level 2 Travel Advisories, which warn travelers to “exercise increased caution,” for Hong Kong, Japan, and Italy, due to the virus. Those warnings join a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory that it issued for China on Feb. 2 and new, Level 3: Reconsider Travel warnings for both South Korea and Mongolia.

The CDC is reccomends travelers avoid “all nonessential travel to” China and South Korea and is telling “older adults and those with chronic medical conditions” to consider postponing to Iran, Italy, and Japan.

How are airlines reacting?
Airlines have been recommending that U.S.-bound travelers arrive at airports earlier than usual because of new enhanced screenings that will apply to tens of thousands of travelers a day. They have also been altering China flight schedules through the spring in response to the spreading virus.

How are cruise lines reacting?
The continued threat of the coronavirus is forcing cruise lines to cancel and modify Asia sailings into March and April, impacting the $45 billion cruise line industry.

China, a growing market for the industry, was the epicenter for COVID-19, though it has now spread to other countries. However, the World Health Organization said cruise travel remains a “manageable risk” and did not think it was necessary to avoid entirely.

Cruise lines have implemented rigorous cleaning and disinfection protocols onboard ships, in addition to standard sanitization processes. Many have also denied boarding to people who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days of embarkation.

How are hotels reacting?
Major hotel chains are waiving cancellation fees for guests with plans to stay in China (including Hong Kong and Macau) or Chinese guests planning to travel internationally, through the end of the month.

What about travel advisors?
Travel executives speaking to Travel Market Report said that it’s important for advisors to be well-informed during these situations, when the public can get easily overwhelmed and confused by the news. This is key for advisors in providing the best value to their clients.

While advisors should give important information to their clients, executives also said that it’s vital to leave the decision about whether or not to travel up to the client.

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