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Need to know: travel during the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, we know many of your existing travel plans have already been disrupted and that there’s a lot of anxiety and confusion about future journeys. 

As a general piece of advice, we’d advise against planning any non-essential international travel bookings  not only due to the risk of spreading coronavirus through travel, but also due to the ever-changing scenario the world finds itself in today and daily changes in border policy and travel operator capabilities. Whereas measures have been put in place to contain the virus in the short-term, the longer-term picture is much less clear and it’s worth keeping this in mind and consider what may possibly happen when making any future arrangements.

To help with any questions you may have, we have pulled together this guide of frequently asked questions, which we’ll be updating as the situation becomes more clear. If you have any concerns, please do seek official advice from the CDC as well as through contacting your airline or travel operator.

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Where should I go for official advice about travelling during COVID-19?

All US travelers should visit the CDC website and the US Department of State website for comprehensive and day-by-day travel advice. There’s also a detailed Q&A on the WHO website as well as regular resources and up-to-date maps and information.

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Should I travel right now?

It’s almost universally advised not to undertake any non-essential international travel currently, with the US State Department recently issuing guidance recommending Americans to reconsider any international travel. As a first step, always make sure to check the official travel advice in regards to the country you are travelling and do your research in regards to whether the situation may change. Make sure to check the CDC’s latest recommendations by checking their list of destinations with travel notices here.

The World Health Organisation are stressing that ‘it is prudent for travelers who are sick to delay or avoid travel affected areas, in particular for elderly travelers and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions.’ Also note that all countries are currently screening new arrivals at their borders with some introducing mandatory quarantine periods and many restricting entry to those who’ve recently been in areas with high occurrences of cases of coronavirus, such as China, Italy and Iran.

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I have essential travel coming up which I can’t cancel or I’m travelling to a low-risk country. What should I do?

If overseas travel is absolutely essential, here’s some important information from the CDC to follow:

  • Avoid contact with sick people.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.

  • It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

The WHO also have helpful guidelines here:

  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions. Hand hygiene includes either cleaning hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub. Alcohol-based hand rubs are preferred if hands are not visibly soiled; wash hands with soap and water when they are visibly soiled;

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue and performing hand hygiene;

  • Refrain from touching mouth and nose;

  • A medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms, as there is no evidence that wearing a mask – of any type – protects non-sick persons. However, in some cultures, masks may be commonly worn.

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My flight was cancelled. Will my airline give me a refund?

Many airlines are offering more flexible options for changing already-purchased tickets, especially if you are travelling before Easter. However, there are some inevitable variations, so the best thing to do is to contact your airline in the first instance and understand your options. Some airlines are currently offering refunds on flights to and from China, Italy and India, as well as other cancelled flights.

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Will my travel insurance cover me?

Travel insurance purchased before the outbreak could very likely provide cover for some out-of-pocket losses. And if you have made alternative travel plans, then your existing travel insurance may be able to be transferred to your new destination. In both cases, refer to your policy documentation and contact your insurer. 

However, insurance purchased since then (late January) is now unlikely to cover for monetary losses related to coronavirus.

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The US government has banned travel from Europe – what does this mean for me?

The US government has banned inbound travel from 26 mainland European countries known as the Schengen Area. These are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to these countries. These restrictions also now apply to travel from the UK and Ireland, as of Monday 16 March.

US citizens and residents can leave these areas and return back to the United States, but they may be subject to health monitoring upon return for 14 days.

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I’ve got travel plans for later in 2020. Should I cancel/change them?

The situation is still uncertain and many flexible journey options being offered don’t apply to trips after mid-April. Make a decision based on your emotional and financial investment in the vacation – either hold tight and see what happens (the mid-April point will most likely move back with most airlines and operators) or cancel your plans.

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I’m already abroad - what should I do if I need to self-isolate or stay in quarantine?

If the local authorities advise quarantining you, make sure to follow their advice. Make sure to also contact your airline or travel company as soon as possible to update them on developments and to discover if alternative travel arrangements are possible. 

If a resort, city or town where you’re staying is particularly impacted, you may need to be prepared to remain in your accommodation for up to 14 days and take tests for the coronavirus. It is advisable to be prepared to travel to hospital if you do test positive for coronavirus, in particular for any older travelers and those with underlying health problems.

If you are already experiencing symptoms, the WHO advises that travelers should stay at home until they recover.

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I’ve got domestic vacation plans - should I cancel them?

The President has advised that restricting US domestic travel could become a possibility should the situation become worse. There is currently a one-mile containment zone in the New York suburb of New Rochelle and many events are being cancelled across the US, with many attractions, such as museums and theme parks, set to close. Make sure to check official websites before planning any trips or visits.

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Can I take a cruise?

Many governments are advising residents not to take cruises, with the CDC advising that cruises can ‘promote the spread of respiratory viruses’ and recommending that ‘travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel at this time’.

Many cruise liners have added additional pre-boarding health screenings and man have changed routes if they were previously visiting COVID-19 hot spots such as Italy, Iran, Japan and China. Some cruise liners have also temporarily suspended operations, while many ports across Asia and affected countries have either closed or reduced arrivals.

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Can I still book future vacations?

The situation continues to change on a daily basis. Many airlines are offering incentives for future bookings before the end of March for travel up to February 2021 – although the reality is that we simply can’t guarantee at present how long travel disruption may go on for. With changes in travel insurance, any booking at present has an element of risk with it, unless an airline or travel provider is able to offer any particular guarantees with regards to the changing COVID-19 situation.