Corona Virus scare-Is it safe to travel?

Corona Virus is gripping the world and is now an international crisis.

Quora and facebook groups are full of questions from people who have booked various international trips, particularly South East Asia and wondering if they should cancel their trips or it is safe to proceed as per plan. Having booked flights, paid for hotels and tours, people are worried about cost of cancellation/loss if they don't travel now.

I am not an expert in medicines or health matters. I don't know a lot about Corona virus except what I can find in media. With information available so far, I have put together my thoughts on upcoming travel.

Can I travel as per plan?
None of us can assure you that everything will be fine if you travel. People affected by Corona virus will not even know they are infected. You will not even realize you are sitting next to a person who is carrying the corona virus. So there is always a risk that you will get infected during your travel. Even worse, you may end up spreading the virus in your home, office or community without even knowing.

When you travel, you will come close with other travelers in airport, in the plane, at immigration counter, at tourist places, in hotels and so on. So irrespective of how careful you are, there is a risk.

So bottomline: Avoid all non essential travel. Even if it means losing some money on tickets and booking, the loss is not going to be as expensive as death.

Will it be safe if I travel with a mask?
Wearing a mask makes you lot safer, but masks are not 100% fool proof. You can't wear it 24x7- have to take it out while having food, drinking water and so on. Also we don't have a way to test the mask for purity, safety- it could be of inferior quality or might be housing pathogens.

My travel is 2-3 months from now. Should I cancel?
If travel date is months ahead, there isn't a need to panic and cancel everything right away. Wait for a month or two, or as long as your airline and hotel cancellation policy allows. It is possible that corona virus might get contained or a medicine is found. If the situation comes under control, it will be lot safer to travel.

My travel is not to China or anywhere in Asia. Should I be still worried?
Yes. The virus is being detected in countries all over the world. While rest of the world is lot safer than China and South East Asia, you might catch the virus at transit airport or destination immigration counter from someone returning from China to that country. So while it is relatively safer, it doesn't ensure 100% safety. Take a call depending on how crucial it is to travel.
Image from Nepali Times.

Unanswered Questions

  • What are the early symptoms- how to tell for sure a person is possibly infected without medical tests
  • All different mediums through which the corona virus can spread- By touch, in air, by contaminated food & water?

How long should we wait?
No one knows. We need to wait till either of the following happens
1. Corona virus stops spreading. Number of new cases and deaths reported begins to drop and we can be sure that quarantine has been successful. Once this happens it would be lot safer to head out.
2. A cure is found. If scientists can find an effective cure or antidote to help affected individuals recover to normalcy then we can feel safer to venture out, knowing that even if we are infected, we can recover.

What if I have a work related travel? Can I refuse?
You can definitely refuse to travel on work citing world wide crisis. Any sensitive employer will understand. Meetings can be done virtually, someone local can travel or non essential travel can be delayed by a month or two till we get better clarity.

Can I fly within India?
Very few cases are reported in India-so risk is very low. I believe it is reasonably safe to travel within India but exercise caution. If no new cases get reported in India over next few weeks, it will be lot safer.

There is always risk in traveling. Aircraft may crash, terrorists may strike, hijack may happen, accidents happen. But probability of these occurrences are one in a million so there is no need to put off travel for fear of these issues. However corona virus case is bit different- we don't know if person next to us is infected, we don't have a cure and the virus is spreading fast all over the world- so the risks are higher and real.

I am still keen to go. Shall I?
If you have a strong appetite for risks or the travel is so important, go ahead and hope for the best. Many airlines are cutting flights to China but flights to other parts of the world are operating. While there is a risk, the probability is low as of now, so you might just get lucky.

Related: CNN- How to protect yourself against Corona virus * WHO Advisory

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