Although I am a registered nurse, this article is not intended as medical advice. Please speak to your Doctor if you have concerns or need specific travel health advice.
Coronavirus has been making headlines in every country over the last few weeks. Scenes of commuters being scanned for fever walking through train stations and disinfecting trucks passing through the streets of Wuhan, China is enough to put anyone off traveling.
A Hospital has been built in a matter of weeks indicating the scale and seriousness of the Coronavirus outbreak. Cases are now being transmitted outside of China giving it all the more reason to be cautious and calculate the risk involved before traveling.
Whilst scientists are rushing to develop a vaccine and the countries involved in this are putting stringent infection control procedures and quarantines in place, it leaves the rest of the world asking about their travel plans and safety.
It’s not the first time in recent years when we’ve had a public health scare like this. Take ZIKA, MERS and SARS for example. The question is how does coronavirus weigh up in comparison to these other high consequence infectious diseases?
In truth, the statistics around the coronavirus continue to emerge. However, it has proven to have caused more deaths than SARS. That said, the fatality rate is lower in comparison. In simple terms, it appears Coronavirus is more contagious.
Like most of these infectious diseases, immunocompromised individuals, the young, the elderly and pregnant women are considered higher risk of contracting the virus if exposed.
Traveling During Coronavirus On A Plane, Train or Ship
What is Coronavirus?
There are a number of strains of Coronavirus in animals, in particular cats. Coronavirus is a group of viral diseases including MERS and SARS. However the strain novel Coronavirus has only recently been discovered in humans according to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?
The novel Coronavirus may present with flu like symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever and cough. In the more extreme cases, it can cause kidney failure, pneumonia, respiratory failure and ultimately lead to death in the most extreme cases.
How is Coronavirus spread?
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus is predominantly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. So if someone coughs or sneezes, the droplets can land in the mouth or noses of people nearby.
A very recent study carried out on patients in Wuhan suggests Coronavirus may also be contracted via faeces (Wang, 2020). This adds an additional concern to those traveling when it comes to infection control precautions.
Should I still go on vacation?
We should all be keeping an eye on official advice when it comes to countries that are considered high risk for travel.
This will evolve over time but at the time of writing this post (Feb 10th, 2020) the official advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was to avoid all travel to China.
Neither the World Health Organization or the Gov UK websites are suggesting cancelling travel plans worldwide. There are a list of countries, obviously including China that are considered a risk but neither website suggests tourists shouldn’t visit. Namely:
Republic of Korea
Travelling in a confined space with large numbers of people is obviously the most risky way of doing so. That said, the likely hood is, if you are reading this post you have a trip booked and need to take a plane to get there.
What we have to remind ourselves is the World Health Organization nor the Government Officials have advised against all travel. It is a scary concept to consider traveling when the media are currently running this on every headline.
According to the International Air Transport Association, the risk of transmitting a virus on a plane is much the same as in the movie theatre, bus or subway. They also go on to say, the risk might even be slightly less due to the air filtration systems onboard.
Everyone should have the information and weigh up the risks accordingly. For example if someone is immuncompromised and plans to travel to one of the listed countries that may not be such a good idea.
I always go on a trip prepared with a well stocked first aid kit. If you can manage anything minor yourself, it will save you going to a clinical facility where there is inevitably unwell people. Check out my first aid kit here.
Traveling on a Plane, Ship or Train During The Coronavirus Outbreak
Airports, planes, trains and ships are hotspots for cross contamination of viruses. That said, there are quite a few things you can do to protect you and your family as best you can.
The single most important thing you can do is practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands with warm soapy water and dry thoroughly. There is a technique you can use to make sure you are washing your hands well:
- Wet your hands with warm water
- Add soap
- Rub palm to palm
- Right hand over left dorsam with fingers interlaced (repeat on the other side)
- Palm to palm with fingers interlaced
- Back of fingers to posing hands with fingers interlaced
- Rotational rubbing of thumbs on both sides
- Circular motion of each wrist
- Rinse with warm water from the wrist down until all the soap is gone
- Dry thoroughly
- Alcohol gel the hands
Disinfect Your Space
Wether you are travelling on a train or plane, bring a packet of disinfectant wipes. Wipe your meal table arms rests and any other surfaces you deem appropriate. When wiping there is a special technique that is not difficult.
Start at the furthest corner and wipe left to right working your way down. Never wipe over the same spot, otherwise your just dragging whatever you’ve wiped back!
Most hospitals use Clinell Multi-Purpose Universal Sanitising Wipes, Pack of 200, NHS Approved. They are well researched and clinically proven to kill bacteria.
Be Vigilant Of Others
If you notice someone sneezing or coughing steer well away. If you are traveling, alert the crew and they can potentially speak to the passenger to decipher if they need to be moved away from other passengers.
There is some literature on the world wide web about the safest seats to sit in when it comes to viruses such as flu and coronavirus. Many articles suggest the window seat being the best option when it comes to exposure.
The reasoning behind this is you are not surrounded from every angle by other people. Likewise, you are not next to the gangway where other passengers and crew are walking past continuously.
Of course if you have an infected person in front or behind you, this rules out the window seat being the safest option.
According to the NPR Org you need to be up to 7 rows away from an infected person to reduce the transmission of the virus. That said, there is still a chance Coronavirus could carry in airborne droplets.
It’s all about minimising the chances by doing everything you can, so be vigilant.
Minimize Contact With Crew & Passengers
If you are sitting together as a family, make sure to choose a window seat row and fill it up if there is enough of you. if you need another seat beyond what’s in your row, put one of the adults in the window seat in front or behind.
Visiting the bathroom is going to need a little bit of thinking, especially if Coronavirus can be passed via feces. The main thing is try not to touch many surfaces. Use a disinfecting wipe to lock the door, lift the lid and flush the toilet.
Hopefully the taps will have sensors in which case you don’t need to touch anything. Remember the hand washing technique above and bring a small squirty alcohol gel to do your hands before leaving the bathroom.
Again use something other than your hands to open and shut the door. You will need a second wipe to do this.
As lovely as crew are, they have the potential to be more exposed as they walk through the cabin and have contact with nearly all of the passengers.
If you are incredibly worried, you could bring your own snacks and drinks to avoid concern, this might be of particular importance in some of the hot spot countries.
I appreciate avoiding the bathroom would be a challenge, likewise if you are on a long haul flight you will need to eat and drink. Sitting close to the front of the plane could be a good idea to ensure you are served early on.
Should I wear a mask?
As we know Coronavirus is most likely passed through respiratory droplets. Most of the images we are seeing in the media shows people wearing surgical masks but the truth is, is it really doing anything?
When it comes to Coronavirus in a hospital setting, staff are not wearing surgical masks. They are using heavy duty respiratory masks that are tightly fitted to their face. In addition, they are wearing visors to protect their eyes.
For the most part I would say a surgical cloth mask is going to do very little to protect you as it won’t be tight fitted to your face. That said, if you find yourself in a situation where you are confined on a plane with someone that is coughing and sneezing, it may be better than nothing.
You can buy the tighter fitting masks online, they are called N95 Respirator masks.
Having a mask on standby is not such a bad idea for the hypothetical situation when someone coughing nearby. Make sure to cover your nose as well as your mouth.
Please remember this is not just about you. If you’ve had flu like symptoms, fever, contact with others that have the virus, or have visited the affected areas, you must self isolate.
Going on a trip with others could put them in danger. You could be travelling alongside someone who is immunocompromised.
If you find yourself suddenly sneezing and coughing, do so into a tissue and get rid of it. Do not leave it lying around.
Tips When At A Destination
If you have a holiday booked somewhere that is causing you concern, make sure to implement the infection control tips above on the journey.
If for example you had planned to do theme parks or a city break, consider changing it to something less busy and congested with other people. It doesn’t mean you have to change the destination but maybe you could hit the beach instead.
Opt for smaller more intimate accommodation rather than big resorts where you will end up sharing facilities with lots of others. Maybe an Air BnB? Or rent a villa?
Try to walk or cycle and avoid public transport if you are in a place with known coronavirus. Rent a car rather than using taxis and other transport modes.
There is nothing more important than checking the small print of your travel insurance policy. If you had plans to travel to China for example, some insurers may not refund for cancellations.
Before buying your insurance, use Trust Pilot to check their reviews of people that have put in claims. A policy can look great with lots of cover but unfortunately ‘cheap’ policy insurers will always look for loop holes rather than giving you a payout.
Like I said, read the fine print and make sure you are covered for cancellations related to public health advice and if you became infected and needed treatment.
Declare your pre-existing conditions as Coronavirus could set it off and you may not be covered for that.
Keep A Close Eye On Official Travel Advice
The information in this article may change so please do check the World Health Organization and local government travel page to ensure it is safe to travel to your destination.
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Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post, by using them we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. This article is not intended as medical advice and it is advise you check in with your Doctor if you are concerned. This information was accurate to the best of my knowledge on the 10th of February 2020.