You probably have noticed that traveling has become a pretty concerning action in the last couple of months, with the global spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). People are canceling booked trips and have been warned by health officials to minimize contact with already affected countries.
But do you have an international trip which you booked months ago and have been looking forward to in ages? Or maybe you would like to take advantage of the sudden slash in plane ticket prices these last couple of months. If you have decided to travel, for whatever reason, how can you keep yourself safe from the Coronavirus? And will travel insurance cover you if you do catch the disease while abroad?
Is it Safe to Travel During the Coronavirus Outbreak?
Unfortunately, no one can tell you that traveling during the coronavirus outbreak is entirely risk-free, regardless of your age, health, or travel destination. While the COVID-19 fatality rate appears to be relatively low, and you may even return from your trip unscathed and in great health, there are some things you should consider before you travel:
- Your age. The elderly, especially those over the age of 80, are the ones most endangered for complications of the coronavirus disease, whereas ages 10 – 39 have shown relatively low fatality rates (approximately 0.2%). That does not mean that you have a lower chance of infection if you are younger, only that you have a lower chance of the disease becoming fatal. You can still become infected and spread the disease around.
- Your medical history. People with pre-existing conditions are also more susceptible to become seriously ill from the coronavirus than those who were previously healthy. If you suffer from any respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, etc, you should reconsider traveling.
- The country you will visit. There have been nearly 130,000 reported cases of the Coronavirus worldwide, and the numbers are constantly on the rise. The majority of the cases are in China, where the virus first originated, but there are other “hot zones” with thousands of reported cases as well – most prominent are Italy, Iran, and South Korea. So, as a precaution, the CDC has warned against travel to these countries, unless it is essential. That is not to say that traveling to countries with a smaller number of reported cases is completely safe as well.
Moreover, chances are you will have to go into self-quarantine for two weeks after returning from a high-risk country, even if you are not infected.
Will Your Travel Plans be Affected by the Coronavirus?
Several countries are taking measures to protect their citizens from the virus. Some have even banned entry or lifted visa exemptions for people traveling from China, Italy, Iran or South Korea. Many US states and regions are closing schools in the midst of the outbreak, and the entire country of Italy has been quarantined until April. So, yes, your travel plans may be affected while the coronavirus is still actively spreading.
Because there is a lot unknown about the virus, health officials are constantly warning against non-essential travel to affected areas, attending large and public gatherings and urging people to stay home as much as possible if they are in an affected zone.
But if you decide that you do want to travel – either because you want to take your chances, you’re traveling to a low-risk location, or the trip is essential – you have to make sure you take the necessary measures to protect yourself and others.
What Can I Do to Keep Myself Safe From Coronavirus During my Travels?
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), to keep yourself safe if you travel during the COVID-19 outbreak, you have to:
- Wash your hands frequently. This is without a doubt the most crucial thing you can do to minimize your risk of contracting the coronavirus disease. And not just a quick rinse – wash your hands with soap for at least 20 to 30 seconds any chance you get – especially after being in public or traveling via public transport. If you are traveling by plane, wash your hands after leaving the airport. If you don’t have access to soap and water, then rub a hand sanitizer gel with at least 60% alcohol content on your hands and wrists. But remember that hand sanitizer is not as effective as a thorough wash with soap.
- Do not touch your face with unwashed hands. If you have been in a public place, don’t touch your face unless you have thoroughly cleaned your hands. The novel coronavirus can live in surfaces for hours after it has been touched by an infected person, and can infect you if you touch your mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Keep your distance. If you notice someone is coughing, sneezing, or showing symptoms similar to that of the flu or a cold, make sure to stay at least 1 meter (3 feet) away from them. You can become infected by their airborne respiratory (cough or sneeze) droplets.
- Clean frequently-touched objects with a cleaning spray or wipe. If you will stay in a hotel or hostel while you are abroad, make sure you book somewhere where you know it will be clean. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to check-in with the staff and management to see whether they have cleaned your room thoroughly – or maybe even giving frequently-touched objects a sweep with a disinfectant yourself.
- Avoid crowds – especially in closed spaces. If you are traveling to a country with a high number of coronavirus cases, it is best if you stay away from any place where there is a large number of people.
- Do your research regarding the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the country you are visiting. See what the health and government officials are advising in that country and follow the same rules. If they advise staying away from crowds or a certain region, then you should do the same.
- Wear a mask and seek medical help if you develop symptoms. If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing, wear a mask so that you don’t risk infecting other people and seek medical help immediately.
Will Travel Health Insurance Cover me for Coronavirus?
Whether your travel health insurance will cover you for coronavirus depends on two main factors: where you are traveling to and when you purchased the plan. As you may know, travel insurance plans are divided into health insurance and trip insurance.
- Travel health insurance offers coverage for any accidents or sudden illness that happens while you are abroad. It will cover things such as doctor visits, hospitalization, emergency services (ambulance), and prescription drugs.
- Trip insurance includes coverage for other travel-related problems. For example, prepaid expenses such as flights or hotels or expenses related to lost luggage may be fully or partially reimbursed. Depending on the plan, you may also be covered if you cancel your trip.
Will travel insurance cover you if you get sick with coronavirus?
If you are in a foreign country and you become infected with the coronavirus, your travel health insurance plan could cover you only if you arrived in the country before there was a coronavirus outbreak.
If travel advisories have issued warnings against traveling to a certain country (such as Italy or Iran), and you travel there anyway, if you get sick with COVID-19, your travel health insurance will not cover any of your medical expenses related to the disease.
Your travel health insurance company will also not cover your medical treatment and expenses if you travel from a country with a high number of coronavirus cases.
Will travel insurance cover you if you cancel your trip due to coronavirus?
At the moment, travel insurance companies do not cover coronavirus as a reason for canceling the trip. The only way your travel insurance company would cover trip cancellation due to coronavirus fears or because there was a coronavirus outbreak in said country is if you purchase a “Cancel For Any Reason Plan”.
As the name implies, this plan will cover lost expenses due to trip cancellation whatever the reason is, including a coronavirus outbreak. If you don’t have this type of insurance, then if you cancel your trip because you are scared of the coronavirus, you will have lost any prepaid expenses you have made.
Will my Flight be Cancelled due to Coronavirus?
Many countries are restricting travel to infected countries in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease. This means that yes, many flights are being canceled, especially those to and from China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea.
Whether your flight has been canceled depends on where you are traveling to and from where. You should check with your airline and the advisories and measures your country has taken.
For example, on March 12, the US restricted travel to EU countries and entry will be denied to anyone traveling from there within the 30 days following the day after the announcement (from March 13). The ban excludes the UK and Ireland.
Will I Have to Pay for Cancelling my Flight due to Coronavirus?
This depends on your airline. However, because the number of booked flights has decreased in the past couple of months, many airlines have waived cancellation or change fees for travelers who have booked their flights recently. This is done in an effort to remove the uncertainty of booking a flight ticket.
But again, this includes only certain airline companies, such as American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, Air France, and KLM, etc. Make sure you ask your airline about the change and cancellation fees before you book.
Please note: The numbers and statistics were accurate at the time this article was published. Please make sure to check with the health authorities and travel advisories before making any decision to travel internationally.