The WHO has classified Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a global pandemic.

Find out what this means for travelers.

What you need to know about the coronavirus if travelling

Take sensible precautions when travelling, wherever you are.
Image courtesy: ©testing /

The outbreak of a new respiratory disease, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan earlier this month, is causing quite a bit of alarm for some travellers. Like SARS and MERS, this new type of coronavirus (called WN-CoV at the moment, but expect a snappier name like WuRS to emerge as coverage increases) is spreading quickly via international air travel, with cases already reaching Japan, Thailand, Korea and the United States, and more certain to come.

The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (known as the CDC) has raised its advice from level 1 to 2 (of 3), which is the “Alert – Practice Enhanced Precautions” level. That’s not yet “Warning – Avoid Nonessential Travel”.

Be reassured: authorities have well-rehearsed plans for this kind of thing and are putting them into practice now. Temperature screenings are already routine in some areas, and you can expect the new kind of “fever guns” to be pointed at you at your departure airport, arrival airport, and even perhaps on the aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Indian government has issued an advisory that all passengers arriving from China will be thermal scanned at major airports like Delhi, Mumbai, Cochin, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru to name a few.

Expect airlines to make announcements about the illness, and to exhort anyone who feels ill to contact them. Flying when sick is a bad idea as a general rule, and airlines always have the right to refuse carriage to an ill passenger, but it wouldn’t be surprising  if we see them doing so more at the moment.

So what’s a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that include the common cold, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). What the experts are saying at the moment is that this new Wuhan coronavirus is transmitted in much the same way as the common cold.

While a cold is rarely anything more than an inconvenience, the newer types of coronavirii can be a bit more problematic.

The reality is that the experts say that the precautions you take against getting a cold or the flu when travelling look to also be good against this new kind of disease.

Take sensible precautions when travelling, wherever you are.

Stay away from ill people, and if you get anything more than a mild cold and have been travelling or exposed to large groups of people (in a major world city, say) perhaps go to your doctor.

Consider wearing a mask on public transport and when flying as well, and perhaps bring a little packet of disinfectant handwipes to wipe down the areas you might touch on a plane.

It’s smart to avoid touching your face during and after using public transport, bathrooms.

Don’t travel to — or through — Wuhan

Passengers arriving from China are being thermal scanned at major airports
Passengers arriving from China are being thermal scanned at major airports
Image courtesy: ©Raihana Asral /

If you happen to be travelling to Wuhan, it might be an idea to see whether or not you can think about rescheduling your trip until after the outbreak is over.

Wuhan’s Tianhe International Airport has a number of international flights, particularly on China Southern Airlines, and also with Air China and China Eastern among other carriers. With the number of international flights growing, you may well be connecting through Wuhan to regional destinations or even on the Kangaroo Route from Europe to Sydney.

If you’re booked to fly through Wuhan (look for the airport code WUH on your booking), it might be an idea to see whether you can change your flight.

Under the circumstances your airline may be quietly prepared to reroute you through another city. As ever with this sort of thing, be quietly insistent and ask politely to speak with supervisors.

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