What Travellers Should Know About The Coronavirus

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The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (as we’re calling it now) is still mainly circulating in China, with only about 2 per cent of its cases in other countries. Still, if you’re travelling you may be nervous about the possibility of coming in contact with the virus. Here are the World Health Organisation’s recommendations for travellers, which they discussed in a recent online Q&A.

You probably don’t need to cancel your trip

Your risk of catching any disease is higher in a crowded place, like an airport, than if you stay home. But the risk of catching COVID-19 is near zero for travellers almost everywhere.

WHO officials recommend checking with airlines, though, since many have suspended flights or reduced how many they are running. And some countries have imposed quarantines for returning travellers, so check the relevant policies.

Some airports are screening returning travellers for the virus, so be aware if you’re flying into one of those. There may be lines.

Don’t wear a mask unless you’re sick

Masks do very little to prevent healthy people from catching respiratory diseases, but they are good for preventing sick people from passing germs to others.

Use the same precautions you would for seasonal flu

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads in a similar way as seasonal flu, through droplets such as the ones that are coughed or sneezed into the air. The same precautions apply:

  • Wash your hands often, including before you eat.

  • If your hands appear clean, you can use hand sanitiser instead of washing.

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it away, or if no tissue is available, cough into your elbow rather than spray your surroundings or your hands.

  • Keep your distance from people who appear to be sick—at least one metre away.

  • To protect babies, keep them close to you and away from others who may be sick.

  • If you are sick, do all of the above and avoid contact with others, as much as possible. Seek medical help if you think you may have COVID-19 or if you are concerned about your health.

The good news is that the virus does not seem to be airborne, so the air circulation on planes is not likely to spread it around the cabin.

Understand that the virus is short-lived on surfaces

If droplets containing the virus get onto a surface, such as a door handle, you could potentially pick it up. That’s why hand hygiene is important.

But the virus only seems to survive on surfaces for less than 30 minutes. That means packages and luggage contents aren’t considered risky.


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