Protect Yourself Against COVID-19 While Traveling—Here's What You Need To Do
Traveling may be unavoidable for some of us, even during a virus outbreak. So how do you keep yourself safe if you can’t cancel your trip?
The start of the year usually means planning for trips year-round, but this year, news of a virus outbreak, specifically the COVID-19 virus, may have hampered your plans for the year. While there are no explicit travel ban advisories from the World Health Organization (WHO) as yet, several countries, including the Philippines, have imposed strict rules on incoming travelers from China and its Special Administrative Regions such as Hong Kong and Macau.
On February 26, the Philippine government imposed a travel ban for air and sea travelers arriving from South Korea, specifically those coming from North Gyeongsang province, including Daegu and Cheongdo County. The only exceptions to these arrivals and departures are returning Filipino citizens (including their foreign spouses and children) residing, studying and working in South Korea, provided they present a written and signed declaration that they are aware of the risks involved in traveling to the said nation. The same quarantine rules in place at the moment shall apply to Filipinos coming from South Korea.
How to stay safe while traveling
Although the WHO has not imposed a global travel ban, a number of travelers have decided to limit their trips this year, with many companies restricting business travels for its employees. Many airlines have also reduced flights to China, Hong Kong, and other countries affected by the virus.
If you’re still feeling uncertain and remain worried about the COVID-19 outbreak despite the WHO advice, but need to attend to official business elsewhere or out of the country, then just make sure to take the necessary precautions should you need (or want) to travel during this period of the COVID-19 outbreak.
- If you are sick, simply don’t travel. Traveling while you are not feeling well will put you at a higher risk of catching a virus (COVID-19 or otherwise) as your immune system is weak. It’s better to stay home and recuperate before embarking on any trip. You won’t also make other travelers uncomfortable by your (sickly) presence.
- If you are over 65, have a pre-existing condition like diabetes, heart disease, and a compromised immune system, don't travel. Most of the fatalities who succumb to COVID-19 are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, so any travel activity for people who within this age range and have these conditions is highly discouraged.
- If you cannot cancel your trip and must proceed with your plans, check for any travel ban or advisories regarding your destination and your place of origin, as this will help you plan accordingly. Most countries with restrictions on travel during the COVID-19 outbreak have placed a ban against travelers coming specifically from China and its Special Administrative Regions (SARs), but it would be best to check, too, if there are any restrictions on the country you’ll be coming from.
- Get travel insurance. This will help you deal with any problems during your trip such as flight cancellations, illness, and others.
- Strengthen your immune system prior to a trip by taking vitamins and supplements. You may also opt to get a flu vaccine. While a flu vaccine has not been advised for use against COVID-19, it will at least protect you from the more common influenza virus.
- Pack a travel kit containing essentials such as alcohol, disinfectant wipes, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and face masks. Include your daily dose of vitamins and immunity-building supplements, and several Ziploc bags (we’ll tell you later why).
- Practice social distancing. Avoid close contact with people, in particular those who are coughing or sneezing, while at the airport, other transportation hubs, inflight, or onboard any transport vessel. These places are oftentimes crowded, so it’s best to keep yourself protected from unnecessary exposure others who are sick.
- While it may not be necessary, wear a face mask if you are worried about being in a contained spaced. Airplanes have air filtration systems and some airlines do disinfect the aircraft in between flights, but be aware of co-passengers or even flight crew who might be sick.
- Wipe down the armrest, trays, window sill, and remote control or touchscreen before you get settled in your seat in a plane or train,
- Be aware of the surfaces you touch absentmindedly. Examples of these are hand railings on escalators, stairways, buses, trains, airport shuttles, and subways; any door knobs and handles, including those on cars, taxis, and public toilets; elevator buttons and doorbells; luggage trolleys and carts, specifically those in airports and transportation hubs; and airport or train seat buttons. Make sure to wipe them first before touching any of these surfaces.
- Don’t use or borrow the pens in hotels and airports. Just bring your own.
- Avoid touching ticket counters, turnstiles, public telephones, keypads in ATMs, information touchscreens unless you’ve clean it with alcohol-based disinfectant wipes.
At your destination
- Do a thorough wipe down. Using alcohol-based disinfecting wipes, wipe and clean all door knobs and handles, light switches, TV or clock buttons, remote controls for TV sets or radios, and telephone in your hotel room.
- Place remote controls inside a Ziploc bag so you can use them without having to touch them.
- Don’t use the glasses, cups, cutlery and hot water pot in hotel rooms. You don’t know if they’ve been sanitized and washed properly.
- Wipe any surfaces in your hotel room that you plan to use or might come into contact with.
- Eat only at reputable places that observe and are known for proper food handling and preparation.
- Avoid raw or uncooked food for the meantime, as well as food samples in markets and supermarkets which may be exposed to other bacteria.
Post trip advice
- Upon returning from a trip, self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, just to be safe.
- If your country requires self-quarantine for travelers, do so. This is for your own well-being as well as others’.
- If you have any symptoms such as fever, coughing or shortness of breath, within this period, get yourself checked with a physician or at a health facility immediately. Make sure you wear a mask so you don’t infect others.
- If you’re a passenger in a flight with someone with suspected or confirmed as having the COVID-19 virus, you will be contacted by the airline. Should you learn that you were in a flight with a person under investigation for COVID-19, quarantine yourself, inform airline authorities and health practitioners, and observe for possible symptoms.
But most importantly, don’t panic. The World Health Organization, along with many medical professionals and scientists around the world are doing their best and working together to investigate the cause, spread, treatment and prevention for this virus. For now, the least you can do is keep yourself and your family safe by observing proper hygiene and nutrition.
For more information on COVID-19, check out this WHO myth busters Q&A on the virus. Main photo from @SCMP (by Bloomberg) and from Unsplash.