The information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing, however the situation is constantly evolving. For the latest updates, please visit our coronavirus customer information page.
It might only be the start of March, but to say 2020 has been an eventful year so far would be something of an understatement.
From the bushfires that ravaged Australia, the increasing political tensions between the USA and Iran, Brexit finally happening and now coronavirus – you would be forgiven for considering never leaving the comfort of your lounge room again.
But now, more than ever, local communities around the world need the support of tourism to help recover from the impact of world events. As Intrepid Travel’s CEO, James Thornton told the NZ Herald, “economies in Asia are dependent on tourism dollars, so when people stop travelling, it can be a huge problem. We need to consider the knock-on effect on restaurants, hotels and other roles for millions of people employed in the wider industry.”
Not only that, there are still parts of our incredible world unaffected by coronavirus and other areas that can – and should – still be safely visited. Let’s be honest, we could all probably use a holiday right now…
So, let’s talk facts.
Is it safe to travel right now with the coronavirus outbreak?
The term ‘coronaviruses’ refers to a family of viruses that can cause relatively mild illnesses, like the common cold. The coronavirus that recently spread from the Hubei region of China – termed COVID-19 – is a new strain of coronavirus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that studies of COVID-19 suggest a fatality rate of 3.4 per cent. This is higher for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, and much lower for children and healthy adults. To compare, SARS – which appeared in 2002 and spread worldwide within a matter of months – had a fatality rate of about 10 per cent.
At the time of writing this article, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that ‘in general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations.’ Basically, that means that unless you have travelled to or from an area where coronavirus is spreading currently, or have been in contact with an infected person, your risk of getting sick remains low.
WHO does not suggest cancelling all travel plans, but rather recommends that everybody – traveller or otherwise – follow basic public health guidelines.
Whose travel advice should I trust?
No matter where in the world you’re based, it’s worth checking your local government travel advisory for the latest travel advice before planning anything. At Intrepid, because we are an Australian-owned company, we refer primarily to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) website. If they set an advisory level for a destination at ‘Do Not Travel,’ we either cancel our planned trips or reroute our itineraries to avoid the areas concerned.
If you have travel plans already booked, reaching out to your airline, travel agent, tour company or other travel specialists to get the facts directly from them is a good way to help you make a decision about what to do. Going down a panic-stricken social media rabbit hole or listening to rumours from your Dad’s best friend’s brother-in-law isn’t advisable.
If I decide to travel, what can I do to avoid getting sick?
WHO’s general recommendations for personal hygiene, cough etiquette and keeping a distance of at least one metre from people are good starting points. Some of their specific recommendations include:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser regularly, particularly after coughing or sneezing. Hand sanitiser is best if your hands are not visibly dirty and washing your hands with soap and water is advised if your hands actually look dirty (but you shouldn’t be skimping on hand washing just because they look clean. Use your common sense).
- Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue and sanitise your hands.
- Avoid touching your mouth and nose at all.
- Practice proper food hygiene and safety – best to give the dodgy-looking street meat a miss!
Interestingly, WHO also says that wearing the medical face masks you’ve seen around is not required unless you are exhibiting symptoms of illness. There is actually no evidence at all that wearing a mask – of any type – protects healthy people getting sick. If you do decide to wear a mask, make sure you check out WHO’s advice for how to correctly wear, remove and dispose of them after use.
So, should I cancel my travel plans, or not?
Probably not! But ultimately, this is a decision that only you can make and one you need to feel comfortable with if you’re going to be boarding an airplane.
When it comes to booking a holiday months in advance, there are always risks associated – even without coronavirus. When it comes time to actually leave home, you can’t guarantee that the country you’re travelling to won’t have been hit by a natural disaster, political unrest or another situation that will make visiting there a little trickier than you originally anticipated. And of course, getting sick while travelling is nothing new – from food poisoning to a lingering cough after a few too many evenings enjoying the local nightlife.
So, as long as you’re comfortable to travel, you should. Just be smart with the destinations you visit, get travel insurance, stay up-to-date with changing situations and quarantine rules, and look after your health and hygiene, both at home and abroad.
For the latest travel information about coronavirus, visit our dedicated page.
Feature photo by Stephen Parry.