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Traveling But Worried About Coronavirus? Here’s What You Need To Know

Whether or not you’re traveling for business or leisure, here’s what you should know about going on trips during this period

In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and China confirmed that there is a coronavirus outbreak. The virus, specifically known at the moment as COVID-19, originated from Wuhan, in the province of Hubei in China. Its symptoms are sore throat, coughing, runny nose, and fever, as well as difficulty breathing, bronchitis, and pneumonia.


At the moment, there are 95,333 confirmed COVID-19 cases, which has resulted in 3,015  reported deaths in China and 267 deaths in other countries, according to the latest WHO situation report dated 5 March 2020. As of March 6, the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) has announced that there are five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, with one resulting in death. It has not yet been confirmed if the fifth case was locally transmitted.


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Should you cancel your travel plans then?

If you’re traveling to Wuhan or any other city in China, then yes. Wuhan has been on lock down since January 23, including 11 other cities in China, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.


Presently, the best advice for travelers would be to cancel any any unnecessary trip to China and its Special Administration Regions (SAR) such as Hong Kong and Macau, as the Philippine government has imposed a travel ban on these destinations. If you’re traveling to China, Hong Kong or Macau for leisure, then it’s best to cancel your plans at the moment. You can always reschedule at a later date when the travel ban has been lifted. Check with your travel agent or airline if they are allowing passengers to rebook or change their flight bookings, tours, and other travel packages in light of the coronavirus situation.


As for any other trips, just keep in mind that 37 other countries apart from China have been affected by this virus. At the moment, 13 European, 11 Asian, nine Middle Eastern countries and one African nation, including Australia, Canada, and the United States, have reported cases of the virus. The Philippines was the first country outside of China to have a reported death caused by COVID-19, but presently, Iran has the most recorded fatalities at 15 reported deaths, followed by South Korea which has 12 and Italy with 11.


While several countries have imposed travel bans on China, the WHO has not recommended any travel ban. However, it advises "that measures to limit the risk of exportation or importation of the disease be implemented, without unnecessary restrictions of international traffic." It also advises the general public to follow the WHO standard recommendation with regards similar outbreaks.


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Travel advice during the COVID-19 outbreak

If you’re traveling any time soon, keep these tips in mind:


  • Avoid crowded places as much as possible. While the exact mode of transmission is still under investigation, COVID-19 is highly suspected to be spread from person-to-person. So it is best to limit exposure to crowds.  


  • Don’t touch any surfaces, as much as possible. These include doorknobs and door handles, elevator buttons, escalator and staircase handrails, etc. Wipe with alcohol and clean any surfaces you may come into contact with.


  • Inside the plane, make sure to clean the armrests, seatbelt, tray table, and even the pockets with disinfecting wipes and alcohol. If you’re going on a short flight, try to avoid using the lavatory for the meantime to minimize exposure to any germs or bacteria.


  • Keep in mind that restaurants are public places, too, and that you should wipe the armrests, tables, and menu, too, as these come into contact with a number of people each day. Better safe than sorry.


  • Throw your used tissues, wipes, and paper towels in the trash bin as soon as possible. Don’t keep them in your pocket, or worse, leave them on a table or chair. Whether or not you’re sick, please try to be considerate of others.


  • If you have a cold or cough, do take note that airports and airline are strictly monitoring any ill passengers. Many airports, in particular, have installed thermal imaging cameras to scan and monitor passengers getting off from flights. Be aware that you may be pulled aside and questioned if you’re not well, so make sure to see a doctor for a medical clearance that you are well enough to travel.


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Cancelled trips and travel advisories

Local airlines have addressed the concern of many travelers and have issued their respective travel alerts and flight status updates.


As of February 2, 2020, official flag carrier Philippine Airlines has announced cancellation of flights to/from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, as per the temporary travel ban imposed by the Philippine government. It has also released a Travel Advisory that it has waived the penalties for rebooking, rerouting, or refunding booked flights to and from Xiamen, Jinjiang, Canton, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau purchased on or before January 24, 2020. The travel period for the said booked flights must be from January 24 until February 29, 2020, while the rebooked and rerouted tickets are allowed for travel until June 30, 2020 only.


Cebu Pacific also announced on February 1, 2020 that it has cancelled all flights  between the Philippines and cities in China, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, and Shenzen) from February 2 until March 29, 2020. However, flights between the Philippines, Hong Kong and Macau have been reduced. There is no update as yet regarding cancelling flights to these two destinations.


However, CebPac has offered passengers with booked flights to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Hong Kong and Macau until February 29, 2020 may opt to rebook their flights (within 30 days of original travel date), refund their tickets in full, or “store the value of the ticket in a Travel Fund for future use.” All options are free of charge. The only condition to avail of any one of the three options is that the said flights must have been booked on or before January 24, 2020.


Cathay Pacific has announced that it has reduced its flights to/from mainland China by 50 percent or more, from January 30 to the end of March 2020. It has issued travel restrictions as well between the Philippines and its Hong Kong flights, in compliance with the travel ban imposed by Malacanang. It has also cancelled domestic flights by Cathay Dragon in specific destinations within mainland China for a designated period. 


Incidentally, the airline has also announced that inflight services will be modified in light of the situation in Wuhan. Meal services in First and Business Class, as well as Premium Economy have been simplified, while amenities such as hot towels, pillows, blankets, and magazines will not be offered to passengers. 


All tickets issued worldwide by Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon to and from mainland China on or before January 28, 2020 may be rebooked, rerouted, or refunded, also free of charge. All flights to and from Wuhan via Cathay Dragon are suspended until March 31, 2020. 


China Eastern Airlines has issued a travel alert regarding rebooking and refund procedures for passengers who purchased tickets to and from Wuhan, China on or before January 21, 2020. The said flights must be operated by China Eastern Airlines as well as code-share flights with MU flight numbers.


For other travel advisories and flight updates, check on the airline's official website.  For updates on the COVID-19 outbreak, check out World Health Organization (WHO) situation reports.


Photos from @chinaxinhuanews, @coronaviruswuhan, and @kevinfrayer for @GettyImagesNews.


Updated: 28 February 2020


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