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    10 Mar 2020

    Here’s What Aussies Need To Know About Travelling During The Coronavirus Outbreak

    As the virus continues to spread across Australia and abroad, travel is becoming increasingly complex.

    Since its outbreak in December last year, COVID-19 (previously known as "2019 novel coronavirus") has infected more than 110,000 people worldwide and resulted in over 3,800 reported deaths.

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    To keep that in perspective, it's important to remember that the World Health Organization attributes more than 650,000 deaths to the seasonal flu each year.

    In Australia, we've already seen the knock-on effects of the virus in the form of panic-buying and the spread of misinformation, but one of the biggest impacts has been on the travel industry.

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    From empty airports, to deserted tourist hotspots and severe travel restrictions, global travellers have elected to postpone or cancel their plans en masse.

    But what does that mean for Aussies, who are arguably the world's most frequent flyers? If you have upcoming flights already booked, or are busy Pinterest-boarding your 2020 European summer, here are some things to keep in mind.

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    1. Refer to the Government's Smart Traveller notices and the Department of Health before deciding whether to cancel, postpone, or continue with your travel plans.

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    Smart Traveller (ST) assigns destinations 'levels' depending on their perceived risk to Aussies travelling abroad. The higher the advice level, the higher the risk to Australians' safety. The levels are:

    Level 1: Exercise normal safety precautions.

    Level 2: Exercise a high degree of caution.

    Level 3: Reconsider your need to travel.

    Level 4: Do not travel.

    In light of the coronavirus outbreak, ST has raised their advice level for just six countries: China and Iran to ‘Do not travel’; South Korea to 'Reconsider your need to travel'; Japan, Italy and Mongolia to ‘Exercise a high degree of caution’.

    In most other countries, ST continues to advise Australians to ‘Exercise normal safety precautions’ — which means taking sensible measures to minimise your risk of exposure to Coronavirus, such as practising good hand hygiene.

    2. If you're considering travelling to China or Iran, you should be aware that there are increased restrictions in place for those intent on returning to Oz.

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    Foreign nationals who have been in mainland China or Iran will not be allowed to enter Australia until 14 days after they have left or transited through either country.

    Aussie citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family are able to enter Australia, however, if they’ve left or transited through mainland China or Iran, they must self-isolate for 14 days after departing.

    Check out ST's news & updates for more info.

    3. If you're still in the pre-booking stage, consider transport and hotels options that offer flexible cancellation policies.

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    Some international airlines, including Delta, American Airlines and United, have announced they'll be waiving change fees for flights booked within certain periods. Aussie airlines, such as Qantas and Virgin Australia, have yet to follow suit, but are offering contingencies for flights booked to countries with new immigration restrictions — such as China, South Korea and Iran.

    Be sure to check with your airline carrier website and read the T&Cs before booking.

    When booking accommodation, choose hotels with refundable rooms or home rentals with relaxed cancellation policies, such as Airbnb.

    4. Get up close and personal with your travel insurance terms and conditions — particularly if you booked before Jan 31.

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    Unsurprisingly, travel insurance providers are now considering the coronavirus a "known event" — which means that any standard policies provide little (if any) coverage related to the outbreak. For that reason, if you decide to purchase coverage now, it's important to choose a policy that allows you to cover change-of-mind events — generally referred to as the 'Cancel-For-Any-Reason' add-on.

    However, if you booked your insurance before COVID-19 became "known" (generally speaking, before January 31, 2020) you may be covered for expenses that arise from contracting the disease overseas and for cancellation expenses. The best thing you can do is get on the phone to your insurer and ask the nitty gritty questions.

    Australia's leading consumer advocacy group, Choice, has broken down a lot of the essential info regarding coronavirus and travel insurance here.

    5. If you booked flights directly with Qantas and are no longer able to travel based on restrictions, you may be eligible for a fee waiver.

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    The waiver entitles you to change or cancel any flights without paying an additional fee and is primarily for Aussies traveling between the homeland and mainland China. There are a few conditions, so for the most up-to-date information check out the Qantas Coronavirus Updates.

    6. Rest assured that, even if you decide to go ahead with your overseas travel plans, planes actually offer very hygienic, filtered air spaces that limit the risk of airborne infections.

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    Most major airline cabins, including Qantas, are fitted with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresters) aircraft filtration systems, which filter 99.999% of dust particles and airborne contaminants, such as viruses and bacteria — which ensures the highest possible quality of cabin air.

    These are the same filters that are used in hospital operating rooms, which should assuage your fears of being trapped in a flying petri dish of disease. If you want to go one step further, pack some antibacterial wipes in your onboard luggage to wipe down your tray table, armrests and entertainment monitor & remote.

    7. Not that you need to be told, but the window seat remains king — and the best choice for lowering your risk of infection in the air.

    Qantas / BuzzFeed

    In an aircraft, the "zone of risk" is generally restricted to the people seated in the rows directly in front and behind you, as well as those people in your same row — two seats to either side. What this means is that the window seat is one of the lowest-risk selections, given that there's obviously no two seats on one side of you. This cuts down that zone of risk by up to six people.

    That said, you could end up with an infected-traveller sitting right next to you, so there's no guarantees a window seat will offer you miraculous immunity. All you can do is roll the dice and practise good hygiene while onboard.

    8. Ditch the face mask while traveling, as the Australian Department of Health has not recommended this as a way of protecting yourself from coronavirus.

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    Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who already have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others. If you are healthy, you do not need to wear a surgical mask, as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.

    9. And finally, prepare yourself for the very real possibility that any large-scale events will be cancelled and major tourist attractions might be closed.

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    A number of international sporting events have already been cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus, including Six Nations and Women’s Six Nations rugby matches and the Hong Kong and Singapore Sevens. Ireland's government also cancelled all St. Patricks' Day parades, while Texas pulled the plug on the 34th annual South by Southwest festival.

    Additionally, major attractions in Japan including Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, and the Tokyo National Museum are currently closed. The Louvre museum in Paris closed for two days last week amid staff fears (it's since reopened to the public).

    No confirmation yet on whether Coachella will be cancelled in response to the outbreak.

    At the end of the day, the best thing you can do to safeguard your own wellbeing is to wash your hands often, quit touching your face and stay informed.

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    Don't give into hysterics and, for the love of god, please stop hoarding toilet paper like it's the ultimate vaccine. You can also keep up-to-date with all of our most recent coverage of the coronavirus here.

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