With news of the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) currently dominating media cycles, many questions have been raised about travel-focused guidance and general safety precautions. The situation related to this outbreak (originating in Hubei province, China) has evolved rapidly – and remains highly fluid – but there are some basic facts that any traveler would do well to know.
Symptoms and treatment
The novel coronavirus is in a family of coronaviruses that commonly cause fever and symptoms of the upper respiratory system. 2019-nCoV is presenting in a manner very similar to other human coronaviruses, including the common cold. Symptoms may include runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, headache and may progress to pneumonia or bronchitis with shortness of breath and easy fatigability.
Those at high risk of developing complications include those with underlying chronic conditions, immunocompromised individuals, and those in extreme age groups (e.g. infants or the elderly). There is currently no cure or vaccine for 2019-nCoV, but symptom relief may be achieved by taking pain and fever medication, using a room humidifier, drinking plenty of liquids, staying indoors and getting as much rest as possible. If symptoms are more severe, people should seek treatment from their healthcare provider.
All travelers who have returned from Hubei Province after December 1, 2019 should seek treatment immediately if they: 1) have any respiratory symptoms or fever since their return; or 2) were in contact with any infected or unwell person during their travel.
On January 24, 2020, the CDC issued a Warning Level 3, to avoid all “nonessential travel to Hubei Province”, and this warning was extended to include “nonessential travel to China” on January 27. Following this guidance comes down to what is considered, “essential travel,” which is a personal (or corporate) choice.
If you do plan to travel, the precautions are the same that I’d recommend to guard against any kind of contagion:
- Travel with antibacterial wipes and wipe down any surfaces you might touch in public places (the tray table on your plane is a key one).
- If you see somebody coughing, or showing other clear, outward signs of illness, avoid them as much as possible.
- Wash your hands frequently, or at least carry and use a bottle of alcohol-based sanitizer… whichever of these you prefer, do it religiously!
- Keep your hands away from your face and mouth.
Anyone unsure as to whether health issues should restrict their travel should consult with their treating physician to address any related concerns.
Travel Restrictions and Bans
At present, no travel ban has been imposed by WHO or CDC, but in addition to the CDC’s warning to avoid all nonessential travel to China, the U.S. State Department, on January 27, issued a separate Level 4 warning to “not travel to Hubei province.”
Only one country (North Korea) has imposed an outright ban on travelers coming from the affected region in China, but because circumstances related to the outbreak are evolving quickly, changes to such policies could be implemented with very little advance notice or indicators.
On January 28, 2020, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to expand coronavirus screening efforts at airports in the U.S., with the list of airports increasing from five to 20. Travelers flying from China to any of these 20 airports will be asked to fill out a short questionnaire about their travel, any symptoms and contact information. CDC staff will also take travelers' temperatures with a handheld thermometer and watch for signs of a cough or difficulty breathing. In the case of travelers who appear sick, the CDC will evaluate them further to determine whether they should be taken to a hospital for further care.
As of January 29, 2020, numerous global airlines had announced plans to scale back – or cancel entirely – their flights into and out of China due to the outbreak. In addition to the impact on direct travel to and from China, this could affect flight schedules for other global destinations.
To stay apprised of the latest updates and guidance: