February 27th Update: Cases have gone global, with more infections outside of China than in. Germany, Italy and the Canary Islands are suffering particularly bad outbreaks.
It’s one of the scariest thoughts in the world: a virus that springs up with more questions than answers that’s capable of killing healthy people, by person to person contact. It’s not alarmist, it’s just fact, and it’s something travellers now face with the newest strain of China’s Coronavirus outbreak, which has now claimed over 3000 lives and infected over 80,800 people.
Even then though, it hardly pales in comparison to the common flu we’ve all known for decades, which has killed 15,000+ people in the United States alone, with hundreds of thousands more hospitalizations. That’s more than 5x the impact of Coronavirus, so keep the fear mongering in check.
Travel warnings continue to mount, so here’s what you need to know about the Coronavirus virus, where it is and what you can do to avoid it as best you can, in these uncertain times…
For travel to most parts of the world, it’s business as usual and airlines are not offering waivers – but if your travel plans involve China or South Korea, or flight connections in either, governments are urging against non essential travel and flights are being suspended. You may also find yourself in quarantine.
China has confirmed that the Wuhan Coronavirus, a respiratory virus, can be spread by person to person contact, as feared by many around the world, even before symptoms are realized.
In short: someone might not look sick, but could still spread the illness and incubation periods, which are the time it takes before someone feels the effects can be weeks.
This doubles down on a fear that China has not been entirely forthcoming with the origins or timing of the virus, and that the spread is vastly under reported…
The coronavirus, believed to have spread from contact between animal and human in Wuhan fish and meat markets in mid December 2019 is now a greater concern, with the knowledge that it can indeed be spread via human to human contact and may not be immediately visible via symptoms.
This makes anyone travelling by air more susceptible than originally thought, thanks to the uncomfortably close quarters and shared air. Airlines have suspended many flights to China, even postponing certain services to South Korea and Hong Kong too.
Making matters worse, proper systems weren’t put in place until it was far too late, based on initial belief that humans could not spread it between each other.
China has quarantined the entire city of Wuhan, but more than 5,000,000 people already fled the city and cases have been confirmed in other provinces outside of Hubei.
Coronavirus has spread to the far reaches of the globe, including USA, France, Germany, UK, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and virtually all major cities in China. Again, it’s nowhere near as deadly as the common flu, as numbers currently stand so even though it’s new, and sounds scary – the mortality rate is extremely low.
People are afraid of the unknown, or the new.
Health officials around the world are now screening passengers in airports for symptoms. 300+ people have died, and 80,000+ are believed to be infected thus far. Case surges have occurred in Italy, Spain, Germany and New York in recent days.
The worry is that with so many people boarding flights from infected areas to far reaches of the globe, the virus could spread much further. The virus is already more than triply worse than the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, which tragically killed over 700 people.
Chinese officials have admitted that nearly a month lapsed between initial outbreaks in Wuhan and adding infrared temperature screening at airports to look for infected travellers. Tragically, the Wuhan doctor who attempted to Chinese authorities and was thwarted by Chinese police has died from the illness. The head of Wuhan hospital has died in the infection.
What Are Symptoms Of Coronavirus?
According to the CDC (Centres For Disease Control), Coronavirus symptoms are flu-like, with fever, muscle pains, headache, cough and sore throat. The incubation period can last over a week, so it’s possible that you won’t feel anything for days after contracting the virus. In other words: don’t get off a flight and just assume it’s something else if you feel unwell in the imminent days afterwards.
If you have been in Asia or any countries with significant outbreaks in recent weeks, be extremely cautious if you develop any symptoms and register your worries with health professionals for your sake, and the sake of others.
Better safe than sorry.
What Countries Are Doing About Coronavirus
Countries are imposing alarmist quarantines to limit outbreaks, including holding passengers arriving from certain countries for up to 14 days of observation upon return from certain areas. This is arguably more troublesome for a healthy traveler than the virus itself.
All countries around the world have added additional healthy scrutiny to passenger screening on arrival, in hopes of curbing as much spread as possible, while also limiting flights to and from China.
The United States has raised China to Level 4 out of 4 on its US Travel Advisory list, telling potential travellers to not to travel to China travel until further notice. To put that travel warning into a greater perspective, Pakistan and the Sudan are now more advised than China. Only Afghanistan, Syria and a few other countries share 4/4 travel advisory status.
The United Kingdom has also raised its travel advise, stating that all non essential travel should be avoided. Following that advice, Both British Airlines indefinitely suspended all China services.
Cruise lines Crystal and Royal Caribbean have gone as far as to ban all Chinese, Hong Kong and Macau passport holders, which seems like a line too far.
Up to 600 people have been infected while stranded on a cruise ship off of Japan, which has been quarantined.
In short, there’s no way to prevent spread entirely, but efforts are already in place all over the world to limit the spread. There’s no way to guarantee safety, but travellers in other regions, even as close as Southeast Asia have not been encouraged to reconsider plans.
China and Hong Kong have suspended classes for many schools and amusement parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong have also been temporarily closed. China has also suspended hundreds of train lines throughout the country, after it emerged that a fatality had reached Beijing. Additional cuts have been made to public transportation.
With up to a 10+ day incubation period, it’s not easy to detect the virus in the short term, which makes the challenge more difficult.
One of the few downsides to travel, is that you’re often in closer contact, in more enclosed spaces than usual with others. If you have planned travel within China, or are in an area which receives large numbers of flights from Wuhan, extra care should be given to personal hygiene, avoiding skin to skin contact and potentially using a mask or clothing accessory to cover your respiratory tracts.
If you’re flying, wearing a scarf or hooded sweatshirt and using it to cover your nose and mouth whenever someone sneezes has been proven to significantly reduce the chance of airborne spread illness.
Most major airlines hve suspended all flights to mainland China and other airlines are expected to follow, with countries now strongly advising against non essential travel.
If, however, you have pre-existing health conditions, you may want to take more care than usual.
Most deaths related to Coronavirus thus far have been in China, but with more and more global cases in the USA, Europe and Middle East, this is far from an Asia centric issue anymore. If you’re worried about Coronavirus, practice good hygiene, because it’s already reached most of the world.