Your complete guide to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak

March 12, 2020

Traveling anytime soon? It can be a little scary now with the coronavirus going around and see ordinary people wearing masks in the airport.

So what do you do to protect yourself while traveling?

The World Health Organization issued some recommendations to travelers during this coronavirus outbreak.

They say travelers who are sick to delay or avoid travel to affected areas, in particular for elderly travelers and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions.

General recommendations for personal hygiene, cough etiquette and keeping a distance of at least three feet from persons showing symptoms remain particularly important for all travelers. These include:

– Perform hand hygiene frequently, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions. Hand hygiene includes either cleaning hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub. Alcohol-based hand rubs are preferred if hands are not visibly soiled; wash hands with soap and water when they are visibly soiled;

– Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue and performing hand hygiene;

– Refrain from touching mouth and nose;

– A medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms, as there is no evidence that wearing a mask (of any type) protects non-sick persons. However, in some cultures, masks may be commonly worn. If masks are to be worn, it is critical to follow best practices on how to wear, remove and dispose of them and on hand hygiene after removal As for any travel, travelers are also advised to follow proper food hygiene practices, including the five keys for food safety, as well as recommendations to reduce the risk of transmission of emerging pathogens from animals to human in live markets.

Travelers returning from affected areas should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days and follow national protocols of receiving countries. Some countries may require returning travelers to enter quarantine. If symptoms occur, such as fever, or cough or difficulty breathing, travelers are advised to contact local health care providers, preferably by phone, and inform them of their symptoms and their travel history. For travelers identified at points of entry, it is recommended to follow WHO advice for the management of travelers at points of entry. Guidance on treatment of sick passengers on board of airplanes is available on ICAO and IATA websites. Key considerations for planning of large mass gathering events are also available on WHO’s website. Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases on board of ships has also been published.

For countries which decide to repatriate nationals from affected areas, they should consider the following to avoid further spread of COVID-19: exit screening shortly before flight; risk communication to travelers and crew; infection control supplies for voyage; crew preparedness for possibility of sick passenger in flight; entry screening on arrival and close follow-up for 14 days after arrival. (WHO recommendations to reduce risk of transmission of emerging pathogens from animals to humans in live animal markets)

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the leading voice of the global cruise industry, has issued these guidelines which are being followed by their member lines – which makeup more than 90 percent of ocean-going cruise capacity worldwide:

CLIA members are to deny boarding to all person who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days* before embarkation.

CLIA members are to deny boarding to all persons who within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected of having COVID-19.

CLIA members are to conduct preboarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any person exhibiting symptoms of suspected COVID-19.

What are the authorities saying about travel in general?

Neither the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control are advocating severe travel restrictions except to/from those countries that are most affected. This is a rapidly changing environment; for the latest travel advisories please visit COVID-2019 Information for Travel.

Cruise ships are operating on normal schedules, except in Asia, where ships have been diverted to other regions. Ports are being monitored continually, and we have seen some changes in itineraries such as to Italy and to some Caribbean nations.

Cruise ship industry response

We have been in the industry for almost 40 years and have experienced similar outbreaks in the past (SARS, Norovirus, Legionnaires disease). The cruise industry has always responded quickly to world events and because of the nature of the onboard environment, has been able to isolate quickly and communicate effectively. For many years now, disinfecting has been a normal procedure for all guest (and crew) and the lines are hyper-sensitive, with enhanced crew training to identify issues immediately.

The cruise industry is unique in their requirement to report illness

Cruise lines are required by maritime law through the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) to report when 2 percent of passengers are ill. No other sector of the travel industry is required to report – and that includes hotels, planes, convention centers, etc. For this reason, we feel that cruising is the safest form of travel during times like this.

According to CLIA, the cruise industry is one of the most well-equipped and experienced when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions of those onboard, with outbreak prevention and response measures in place year-round. Furthermore, ships must be fitted with onboard medical care in the event of illness. Their security and screening systems can prevent the spread by denying boarding to anyone who they suspect is carrying a virus.