Travel in the time of coronavirus

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Mar 02 2020 08:48 AM

By this time each year, our vacation plans are usually set. We would have already picked a new country to explore or an old favored place to revisit, bought tickets at one of the travel expos, and made hotel reservations during weekend promotions.

But with the still uncontained threat of coronavirus, we dared not make any commitments. Even here in Manila, we are avoiding crowded places and staying home as much as possible.

So it was quite a shock to discover a long queue in a travel agency last Saturday, mostly families and some with young children planning their summer trips and applying for visas to Japan. 

Also known as COVID-19, coronavirus has now killed patients in Asia and on three other continents. Based on the interactive map of US-based John Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the global death toll is rising each day and is now climbing towards 3,000. Apart from China with over 66,000 reported cases, South Korea and Japan are hardest hit with over 3,000 and 240 cases, respectively.

Japan responded swiftly to contain COVID-19, and many public venues for events, including museums, art galleries and tourist attractions, are now temporarily closed until mid-March. This preventive measure to help minimize the spread of the virus is comforting, not only for the visitors but also for the venues’ employees. 

Curious to know the reason behind their bravery to travel at this time, I quizzed some of the applicants lining up for visas. They all confirmed that they bought their plane tickets before the COVID-19 scare (it’s never a good idea to buy tickets ahead of securing travel visas). One said he can only take a vacation during the Holy Week break so he is really hoping COVID-19 will be contained by then and his family can enjoy Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Another said their family reunion was planned a year before and they not only have non-refundable tickets but also fully-paid hotel rooms and tour packages.

I admit I will tend to err on the side of caution and just take all these travel payments as a loss. But if you must travel during an epidemic or pandemic crisis, here are some tips that may help you and your family come home safe.

#1 Sign up for alerts on your travel destination.

Visit the official website of the country you are visiting to receive updates on how they are managing COVID-19 and policies being put in place. You can learn about places that remain safe as well as places best to avoid. This can also help you decide day to day, if you should still go ahead.

#2 Just keep washing.

Nearly all the global public health sites will tell you that one of the best ways to contain a virus is to wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Make sure to do this after you touch public surfaces like staircase handrails or elevator buttons. Do this too when you come into contact with someone who has been coughing.

#3 Avoid contact with sick people.

To stop the spread of COVID-19, public places are doing random body temperature checks and refusing entry to visitors with fever. But in any crowded place, when there are people around you who are coughing or sneezing or looks unusually pale, best to keep your distance for now.

#4 If you fall ill, stay back.

If you or any family member becomes sick while traveling, remember that the random body temperature checks may also inconvenience you so best to stay back at your hotel. Wear a mask if you are the one sick or taking care of someone who is. Focus on getting better or you may have a problem getting through the airport when it’s time to go back home.

#5 Buy medical travel insurance.

With heightened health alerts, consider buying travel insurance that includes emergency medical assistance. I would recommend one that covers medical treatment, medical assistance (in case of pre-existing illness), hospital stay reimbursement, even emergency medical evacuation. Medical expenses may be expensive where you are going or in times of pandemic scare so your travel insurance will be a great help if needed.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.