Should You Travel During a Pandemic?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and travel: The situation around the world is changing dramatically. Various governments have changed their travel warnings to restrict travel during this time. To understand how this may impact cover under your policy, please go to our FAQs and select your country of residence.

For the latest travel warnings and alerts around the world, read about lockdowns and border restrictions.

Michael Howard shares his advice on extra travel safety and health precautions you should take during an epidemic or pandemic.

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Crowds of people wearing face masks in Bangkok Photo © Getty Images/Domepitipat

For the latest travel warnings and alerts happening around the world, read about lockdowns, airport closures and border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When something major happens on the world stage, be it an airline disaster, a terrorist attack, or the threat of disease, it's hard to know whether to continue traveling or not. It's always important to keep a healthy sense of perspective and take sensible precautions. But right now, it's also important to bear in mind that this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is not a typical threat.

What we know about COVID-19

The highly contagious 2019-Novel Coronavirus, or “Wuhan Coronavirus,” was first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. On Wednesday 11 March, 2020 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The good news is that the lessons learned from virtually all previous outbreaks (including SARS) and pandemics apply to COVID-19.

The bad news is that COVID-19 is more insidious than some of its predecessors, in that some believe it is aerosol. If this is proven, it could be transmitted by fine particles “hanging” in the air long after the cougher or sneezer has moved on. Keeping a distance of six feet is usually sufficient to protect against the droplets from coughs and sneezes.

Field testing for possible COVID-19 vaccinations is probably more than six months away. Public dissemination of tested vaccinations is probably a year away.

How to avoid catching a virus

Most viruses are spread by infected “hosts” sneezing or coughing contaminated droplets into the air, or smearing droplets onto surfaces that others touch.

Routine handwashing, frequent application of hand sanitizer, and a good supply of hand wipes can effectively limit contact contamination. Good personal habits such as not rubbing or touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth with unsanitized hands or fingers, can go a long way towards avoiding contagion. This is not easy.

You could try applying hot pepper oil or Capsaicin extract to your fingertips. Touching your eyes, mucous membranes, or lips, will cause a burning sensation – often quite painful. It’s a dramatic illustration of how viruses enter the body.

While traveling, be extremely careful about what you touch. Be aware of handgrips, handrails, and poles, in buses, elevators, escalators, shuttles, subways, taxis, trams, trolleys, and stairways.

Face away from strangers that are hacking, sniveling, or otherwise displaying signs of the cold or flu. Avoid touching counters at ticket stands, information booths, airport security corridors, seating areas, and lounges. Wash your hands for a long count to 20. Apply hand sanitizer often, and liberally. Avoid touching your nose, mouth, eyes – in fact, avoid touching your face entirely.

If you can’t do six feet, try to at least keep three feet of distance between yourself and strangers. Often this is simply not possible, but do what you can.

When seated or standing next to someone who is displaying cold or flu symptoms, try to move away.

Viruses are spread through the air you breathe, and the surfaces that you touch. Wearing a face mask, keeping a bit of distance, and frequent use of handy wipes or sanitizers can make all the difference.

What not to do right now during the coronavirus outbreak

  • Avoid travel to places experiencing major outbreaks of COVID-19
  • Avoid large gatherings and crowded public spaces whenever possible
  • Avoid planes, trains, boats, and buses that originate from places with outbreaks of COVID-19. Not forever – but certainly for the foreseeable future. 

Is it safe to travel during a pandemic?

Travelers travel – it’s what they do. But even if you personally are not in a high-risk category, and thus are likely to recover from the virus if infected, you have the potential to infect others. There is also an increasingly real likelihood of being stranded if a country closes its borders or cancels all international flights. Quarantine procedures help isolate recent arrivals from suspect urban centers and countries, and some destinations require negative COVID-19 tests for entry, but still.

If you must travel, personal sanitation and hygiene are essential, and cannot be stressed enough.

If your hotel room, cabin, cubicle, or assigned seating has a remote-control device, place it in a plastic bag – it will still work fine, and you won’t need to worry about whoever used it last. 

Carry your own cutlery and try to drink out of your own reusable water bottle instead of using utensils provided. Wipe down trays, armrests, and counter surfaces.

Follow the WHO’s advice on using face masks, and keep in mind masks are most effective when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning.

Throwing money at travel accommodations through First Class, Business Class – even upgraded Economy, will increase your personal space. If you do travel Economy, do not despair. Many airlines are installing more effective air filtration and filtering systems, so if you can’t afford an upgrade, just apply lots of sanitizer, and put on a face mask. Exercise caution while removing and disposing of soiled face masks (use the elastic bands or strings and avoid touching the pleated front). 

Do not pet or touch animals.

Avoid eating raw or undercooked food when abroad – and avoid “wet markets” where animals are slaughtered, dressed, or butchered. Avoid “finger food” in outside markets, unless you can sanitize your fingers, and reserve “family style” dining for family.

Meeting new people is a big part of travel. Shake hands with enthusiasm if you wish, but inconspicuously apply hand sanitizer before touching your face or food.  Avoid kissing strangers (lips or cheeks or even hands) and avoid affectionate hugging. Embrace travel – not the latest outbreak.

Consult your doctor before traveling. Tamiflu attacks a specific molecule in the influenza virus, and is available by prescription. It can prevent or shorten the effects of many influenza viruses, but has not been proven effective against this latest coronavirus. However, other antiviral medications such as the antiretroviral Kaletra, seem to prevent people from catching COVID-19, and may speed recovery. 

Strengthen your immune system

There are over-the-counter, anti-viral herbal remedies that may strengthen the immune system. These include echinacea, astralagus, dragon’s blood, and garlic, juniper, lemon balm, eucalyptus, and/or ginger enjoy wide followings.

While many herbal remedies have enjoyed popular acceptance in recent years, many within the medical community advise caution – be open-minded, but be smart about it.

And, while you are being smart about it, check your government’s travel advisory before booking a trip or taking off – its advice may affect your travel insurance coverage in the case of an outbreak or increase in risk to your safety.

Wondering how your travel insurance might be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak? Find answers to some of our common questions about COVID-19.

Listen to the World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19

In this episode, we address FAQs about the virus and how it affects your travel and tips to survive self-isolation.

Get a travel insurance quote for Worldwide

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

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11 Comments

  • STEPHANIE MORRIS said

    Does World Nomads basic travel insurance cover travel cancellations by airlines and tour groups due to the Coronavirus?

    Reply

  • Dawn Dangerfield said

    I emailed them with that very question and have not gotten a response. I would really like to know the answer to that question too!

    Reply

  • Christina R. said

    #Metoo

    Reply

  • AIB said

    My upcoming trip to SE Asia involves a few flights with layovers. I noticed one country I'm connecting through will quarantine anyone having traveled to/through another country that I am flying through a week prior. If I am unable to take this leg am I covered for changes to itinerary or loss of trip from that point on? Any suggestions? I know things are changing daily, but would like to know coverage and protocol. Thanks!

    Reply

  • Dani said

    I don’t know for sure but probably not... COVID was declared a global emergency sometime end of Jan. So if you bought your insurance before that date then likely yes, but if you got it after (like me) then then most insurance policies no longer kick in for travel/cancellation stuff. However it still serves as emergency medical insurance abroad. Anyway I’m not an expert so take it with a grain of salt, but that’s what my research found. Stay safe and happy travels!

    Reply

  • Mary B Conrad said

    Although I have a printed copy of my travel insurance purchased weeks ago, it does not show on my account. I have tried to get help via email to coordinate the document with my account and it has not happened and there has been no response. I realize they are probably swamped with inquiries but I am disappointed with the lack of response. I hope if I need help while traveling that this will not be the case as well.

    Reply

  • Jessica Welteroth said

    Guys! Nothing in liason with corona is covered. Basically every private insurance has the same policy btw - I checked (called).

    Reply

  • nan said

    Does it cover QUARANTINE???

    Reply

  • Bernardita CorcillesBer said

    What are the precautionary measure when traveling to philippines.

    Reply

  • Dani said

    Is it safe to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland by train from London in light of Corona virus?

    Reply

  • Mary Jane said

    Great

    Reply

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