As the Covid-19 coronavirus continues to wreak havoc globally, travellers, expats and tourists must seek advice from their travel operators, hotels and national authorities.
When the coronavirus first made its public appearance on December 31st, 2019, in China’s Hubei province, the reaction was muted and nonchalant.
After all, the world had experienced multiple cases of SARS, bird flu, swine flu and several other viruses in the past – but these outbreaks were always contained with both infection rates and fatalities remaining limited.
But the newly discovered coronavirus (Covid-19) has surprised virologists and government officials alike and has fuelled anxiety amongst Western expats and travellers in China.
The British Foreign Office advised all its nationals they should leave China to avoid Covid-19, amid fears of a travel crackdown by the communist regime. Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged that the 30,000 or so UK citizens that live and work in China to “leave the country if they can”, to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus.
At the time of writing, the most recent advice from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is to discourage “all travel” to Hubei province and “against all but essential travel” to the rest of mainland China.
Separately, there are tight controls on entry and exit to villages and townships across the country and varying degrees of restriction on movement within every province, individual cities and municipalities.
People travelling between Hong Kong and China will need to transit via another country after the Hong Kong government closed all border crossings with mainland China “indefinitely”.
The virus has proven to be extremely contagious with high infection rates, but conversely, the virus is also relatively passive and non-lethal given the sub-5% mortality rate.
Despite reported figures being revised daily, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), confirmed worldwide cases have now surpassed 80,000 with over 2,600 fatalities as of 26th February 2020. The vast majority (>95%) have been detected in China although other countries such as Iran, Italy and South Korea are now also reporting a spike in new cases.
As of today, the WHO said it is seeing more new cases outside China every day than inside. Moreover, the number of reported cases each day in China is now falling away from its peak around 1 month ago. It could well be the case that Chinese authorities are finally coming to grips with the outbreak, although only time will tell how other countries meet the same challenge.
The financial markets have also taken a significant hit although equity declines have been tempered by the fact that Western countries have largely avoided significant numbers of infections and fatalities.
The UK’s FTSE 100 index hit a new one-year low yesterday with other major indices in the US, Europe and Asia also shedding between 1-10% since Covid-19 became a public threat two months ago.
Covid-19 travel advice
Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on both public health systems and forced a global response from health authorities to try to contain an outbreak that has quickly become a pandemic.
For travellers and tourists, the foreseeable future is rather bleak, or rather rosy, depending on perspective.
Each country is taking a different approach and implementing different containment methods. China and Italy have taken the most draconian approach by quarantining entire towns and limiting movement in affected areas.
Strong responses by public health officials have also meant severe disruption to pre-booked travel itineraries with even cruise ships falling prey to Covid-19 and being forcibly docked for several weeks.
Most health authorities including the NHS in the UK have reiterated that “the risk to individuals remains low” despite official risk measures being raised from low to moderate in recent weeks.
According to the NHS, health professionals are working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus and have advised all recent travellers to Hubei province in China, Iran, Northern Italy or parts of South Korea to contact their nearest health professional for further information.
Travellers returning from Northern Italy are being strongly advised to “self-isolate” for at least 2 weeks to prevent further infection.
Tourists planning trips to China, Italy, Iran or South Korea should, therefore, seek the latest advice from governmental authorities in their local country, but also, to check the status of events in the country they are visiting.
Aspects such as health insurance, taking additional cash reserves and staying away from large gatherings will mitigate many of the direct risks to individuals, however, it may also be appropriate to delay or cancel the trip altogether given the rapidly evolving context.
You only need to stay away from public places if you’ve been:
- to Hubei province in China in the last 14 days,
- to Iran, areas of northern Italy in lockdown or “special care zone” areas in South Korea since 19 February,
- to other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath,
- to other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar since 19 February and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath,
- in close contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus.
Importantly, health officials have reiterated that there is “currently no specific treatment for coronavirus” and that “antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses”.
For treatment, patients are being advised to relieve symptoms with bed rest and nutrition while remaining isolated from other people until recovery.