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Travel And The Coronavirus: Here's What You Need To Know

Travel warnings are increasing as coronavirus spreads across the US and abroad.

Since it first appeared back in December last year, COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has continued to spread across the world.

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Given the global reach of the virus, it's natural to be a little concerned about traveling. We've already started to see the impact of the outbreak on the travel industry, from deserted tourist hotspots and flight and cruise ship cancellations to increased government warnings and company-imposed travel restrictions.

So what does that mean for travelers? Should you postpone your trip? Or cancel it altogether? If you have existing travel plans or are considering booking travel in the near-future, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Refer to the US Department of State travel advisories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel notices before deciding whether to cancel, postpone, or continue with your travel plans.

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The CDC has three levels of travel notices and has issued the following in response to the coronavirus outbreak:

"Warning Level 3: Avoid all non-essential travel" has been issued for China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea (note that non-essential travel includes layovers at airports).

"Alert Level 2: Practice enhanced precautions" has been issued for Japan, recommending that people who are have increased risk, such as older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, speak with a healthcare provider and potentially reconsider travel.

"Watch Level 1: Practice usual precautions" has not been issued for any destinations at this stage. For this level notice, the CDC does not recommend travelers postpone or cancel trips.

The State Department has four levels of travel advisories and has issued the following in response to the coronavirus outbreak:

Level 4 "Do Not Travel" warnings for China, Iran, and the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy.

Level 3: "Reconsider Travel" warnings for South Korea, Mongolia, and Italy.

Level 2: "Exercise Increased Caution" warnings for Macau, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Check the CDC's travel notices and the State Department's travel advisories for the latest updates.

2. Be aware that increased restrictions have been placed on travelers entering the US from China and Iran.

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Foreign nationals who've visited China or Iran in the past 14 days will not be allowed to enter the US. American citizens and lawful permanent residents (and their families) who've been to China in the past 14 days can enter, but they'll be redirected to a US airport that has a CDC quarantine station for heath screening. Travelers may also have additional restrictions on their movement for 14 days from the date they left Iran or China. Check the CDC for more info.

3. If you've traveled to a high-risk country, you may be asked to stay home 14 days (from the time you left the high-risk area) to monitor your health and practice "social distancing."

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According to the CDC, "social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding local public transportation (e.g., bus, subway, taxi, ride-share), and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others. If social distancing is recommended, presence in congregate settings or use of local public transportation should only occur with approval of local or state health authorities.”

Congregate settings include public places like shopping malls, stadiums, movie theaters, workplaces, and schools.

Monitoring your health involves taking your temperature twice a day with a thermometer to check for fever, and watching out for coughing or trouble breathing.

4. All travelers should take routine precautions, including avoiding contact with sick people, cleaning your hands often, and avoiding touching your face (particularly your eyes, mouth, and nose).

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cleaning your hands regularly means washing with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) and drying your hands thoroughly, or using hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.

Here's a guide for how to properly wash your hands, plus a few songs to sing while you do it. And here are some tricks to help you stop touching your face. (Because we know it's very hard!)

5. Wearing a face mask while traveling has not been recommended by the CDC as a way to protect yourself from coronavirus.

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The use of face masks is only advised for people who are already sick, or those who are going to be in close contact with someone who is sick.

6. When it comes to airplanes, the safest place to sit is the window seat, since you're least likely to come into contact with an infected passenger (as if we weren't all fighting over window seats already).

CDC / Via cdc.gov

Staying put and minimizing your movements around the cabin could also reduce your chances of coming into contact with infectious diseases. In addition to taking the above routine precautions, sanitizing your seat area with antibacterial wipes can't hurt either.

According to the CDC, the risk of infection on airplanes is generally quite low because the air filtering and circulation systems make it hard for many viruses and germs to spread.

7. Cruise ships can pose more of a risk, since big groups of people from all over the world are put in frequent, close contact with one another.

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Since numerous destinations within Asia are experiencing coronavirus outbreaks, the CDC has recommended people reconsider traveling on a cruise ship to or within Asia. Check the agency's website for more information about cruise ship travel in Asia.

8. If you're booking travel, opt for transport and hotels with flexible cancellation policies.

For the next 2 weeks, there’s no change or cancellation fees* with any of our fares. Applies to bookings made 2/27-3/11 for travel through 6/1/20. Details > https://t.co/Z2MO9WX3Zz

Some US airlines, including Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue, and United, have announced they'll be waiving change fees for flights booked within certain periods. Be sure to check with your airline carrier website and read the T&Cs before booking.

When booking accommodations, choose hotels with refundable rooms or home rentals with relaxed cancellation policies.

9. Be prepared for some big public events to be cancelled or tourist attractions closed.

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Major attractions in Japan including Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, and the Tokyo National Museum are currently closed. The Louvre museum in Paris also closed for two days this week amid staff fears (it's since reopened to the public). Many major events — both public and corporate — have also been canceled in response to the outbreak.

10. Read the fine print on travel insurance.

Thinking about purchasing travel insurance for an upcoming trip abroad? #ProtectYourTrip and ask these questions when comparing policy options. https://t.co/BDsvv2bMnI

If you paid for your trip on a credit card, you might already have travel insurance — but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be covered if you decide to cancel your trip.

According to Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison website, travel insurance providers are now considering the coronavirus a "foreseen event" — meaning standard policies provide little (if any) coverage related to the outbreak. For that reason, if you decide to purchase coverage, it's important to choose a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason.

11. Tempted by all the cheap flights you're seeing everywhere? If you choose to book, know the risks.

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As of right now, the coronavirus outbreak has not been declared a pandemic by WHO. Though cases have been reported on every continent (except Antarctic), the CDC and the State Department have only issued coronavirus-related travel warnings for a handful of countries and regions.

"There’s still a lot we don’t know, but every day we’re learning more," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a media briefing on March 5. Given the many unknowns, it's hard to predict what the situation will look like in the future. If you do decide to pounce on a cheap plane ticket, be aware of the potential risks. Check the airline's change policies, book refundable accommodations, decide if it's worth investing in a comprehensive travel insurance policy, and most importantly, practice routine precautions, stay informed, and monitor the CDC and State Department for travel warnings updates.

Overall, the two most important ways to be safe are to wash your hands (properly!!) and to stay informed.

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