New SARS-like virus spreading in Asia
New SARS-like virus spreading in Asia

What travellers need to know about coronavirus

As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread throughout China and around the world, here's what travellers need to know.

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS AND WHERE DID IT START?

The novel coronavirus is a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This particular strain has never been seen before, with Chinese authorities identifying the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei Province as the starting point of the outbreak.

On February 11, the strain was officially named COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) saysan animal at Wuhan's seafood and wildlife market was most likely the "primary source" of the outbreak. Since the initial transmission from animal to human, it has been spreading through person to person contact.

WHERE HAS CORONAVIRUS SPREAD?

WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern" on January 30.

It has spread throughout China, reaching most of the country's major cities, and Hong Kong. The virus has also spread to other countries, including Australia, USA, France, Japan, South Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Italy.

 

 

 

 

TRAVEL TO CHINA

Since February 2, the Australian Government's travel advice for the whole of China is "do not travel". The latest information is available at the Smartraveller website.

 

TRAVEL WITHIN CHINA

Authorities in China have placed strict restrictions on domestic travel, Chinese travel agencies have been told to halt all group tours, and many public events have been cancelled. Hubei Province has been placed on lockdown, with movements restricted, and transport cut in and out of the province.

 

TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF CHINA

The Australian Government has upgraded its travel advice for not only the whole of China (with a "do not travel" warning in place since February 2).

On February 23, it also upgraded its advice for travellers to Japan and South Korea to "exercise a high degree of caution", based on advice from Australia's chief medical officer, "due to the heightened risk of sustained local transmission of coronavirus".

On February 25, the advice for the Lombardia and Veneto regions of Italy was also upgraded to "exercise a high degree of caution". The advice for the rest of Italy remains "exercise normal safety precautions".

The latest country-by-country information is available on the Australian Government's Smartraveller website.

Airports around the world have stepped up their screening procedures to detect passengers displaying symptoms of coronavirus. If you are considering travelling to any destination with detected cases of the coronavirus, there are precautions to follow to protect against infection.

 

The coronavirus outbreak is believed to have started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The coronavirus outbreak is believed to have started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

 

TRAVELLERS COMING BACK INTO AUSTRALIA

Under Australian law, airlines must report to officials any passengers showing signs of infection. According to the Smartraveller website, "planes reporting ill travellers are met on arrival by biosecurity officers who make an assessment and take necessary actions, such as isolation and referral to hospital where required".
The Australian Government also asked anyone returning from China to self-isolate for 14 days.

 

IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL IN AUSTRALIA?

As coronavirus continues to spread around the world there are many uncertainties when it comes to travel and booking holidays for the year ahead. But when it comes to travelling within Australia, the overwhelming message is that holidaying at home is "business as usual."

In fact, there's never been a better time for a domestic holiday. Not only is it a safe option (the chances of an outbreak in Australia are very low), but looking to the year ahead, it's set to be a very affordable option, too, as airlines and tourism operators release deals and discounts to encourage domestic travel at a time when - due recent bushfires, as well as the coronavirus - tourist numbers have the potential to plummet.

 

IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO BALI?

A Chinese tourist who spent time in Baliin the past weeks was diagnosed with coronavirus. However, it is unlikely the tourist was infected while in Indonesia.

Bali Health Agency spokesman Ketut Suarjaya told The Jakarta Post there was an eight-day gap between the tourist's flight from Indonesia to Wuhan and the day when the man's coronavirus symptoms began to appear.

"Since the tourist returned to their hometown on January 28 and the first symptoms of the disease appeared on February 5, it is very likely the infection occurred on mainland China," Mr Suarjaya said.

He added: "Bali is safe from the coronavirus and we are always ready to welcome visitors."

The Australian Government has not changed its travel advice for Bali.

The advice for Indonesia remains at "exercise a high degree of caution".

This warning is due to the constant "high threat of terrorist attack and violence" in the country.

Travellers to Bali should always be diligent when it comes to personal safety and be aware of strict local laws.

However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, Indonesian authorities are now denying entry and transit to any foreign nationals who have been in mainland China during the last 14 days. Indonesia has also stopped direct flights to and from mainland China.

Travellers heading to Bali should be aware that if they do fall sick there, medical care facilities are of a generally lower standard than in Australia. More information can be found on the Smartraveller website.

 

CORONAVIRUS AND CRUISE SHIPS

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted cruises around the world, as countries close their ports to cruise ships, trying to prevent the deadly virus reaching their shores. These port closures, as well as the uncertainty around further travel restrictions, have major cruise lines cancelling scheduled Asia cruises, changing their itineraries, and deploying their ships elsewhere around the world, including Australia.

Meanwhile, passengers have been evacuated from the Diamond Princess after being quarantined on board since February 3. The ship, docked at the Port of Yokohama in Japan, was in lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak was confirmed by the ship's operator Princess Cruises when 10 people on board initially tested positive to the virus. That number continued to rise into the hundreds, making the ship the largest concentration of the virus outside China.

 

 

 

HONG KONG

The Australian Government's advice level for Hong Kong was already sitting at "exercise a high degree of caution" due to issues of safety in relation to the city's ongoing violent protests. The Hong Kong Government has activated its Emergency Response Level in relation to the coronavirus. Smartraveller advises that passengers arriving into Hong Kong may undergo temperature screening at all border control points, and any visitor with symptoms may be taken to hospital for further testing. If authorities suspect a traveller is infected, they need to stay in hospital or be quarantined. A dedicated web page has been set up by the Hong Kong Centre for Health and Protection.

 

QANTAS, JETSTAR, VIRGIN FLIGHTS TO CHINA / HONG KONG

Qantas has suspended its two direct services to mainland China (Sydney-Beijing and Sydney-Shanghai).

The airline has also announced its flights to Asia, including Hong Kong and Singapore, will be cut by 16 per cent until at least May.

Jetstar will also cut its flights to Asia by 14 per cent, affecting flights to Japan and Thailand.

Qantas and Jetstar domestic services will also be reduced in response to weaker demand due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"We know demand into Asia will rebound. And we'll be ready to ramp back up when it does," said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce in a statement.

Meanwhile, Virgin Australia has cancelled all its Hong Kong flight routes.

Late last year the airline announced the suspension of its Melbourne-Hong Kong service due to protests and civil unrest (effective from February 11), but it has now also cancelled its Sydney-Hong Kong service (effective from March 2).

"With a decline in demand following ongoing civil unrest, and growing concerns over the

coronavirus outbreak in the wider region, we have made the decision to withdraw services," saya Virgin Australia Group chief commercial officer, John MacLeod.

He added "the decision to withdraw from the Hong Kong market has been a difficult one".

 

OTHER AIRLINES

Air New Zealand has also suspended its Auckland-Shanghai route until March 29. Other airlines have also cancelled flights in and out of China. Travellers should contact their airline or travel company for information about changes to particular flight services.

 

DOES TRAVEL INSURANCE COVER CORONAVIRUS?

Yes and no. What it mostly comes down to is the date the holiday bookings were made and whether they were booked before or after the coronavirus outbreak occurred. While most travel insurance providers are reviewing the individual circumstances of each customer, here's some general advice to consider.

 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW IS IT TREATED?

Symptoms of coronavirus include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, fever, and difficulty breathing. For those with weakened immune systems there's a chance the virus could cause a lower, and much more serious, respiratory tract illness like pneumonia or bronchitis.

The WHO advises that anyone experiencing any of these should seek medical care early and share their previous travel history with their health care provider.

Australia's Smartraveller website also advises to ring ahead of time to explain the situation, so doctors are aware of what to expect. There is no vaccine for this coronavirus strain and no umbrella treatment. instead, symptoms are treated individually.

 

HOW TO PREVENT INFECTION

WHO says transmission of the coronavirus can be reduced by following this advice:

- Clean hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.

- Cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or flexed elbow.

- Throw tissue into a closed bin directly after use

- Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.

- Avoid unprotected contact with live wild or farm animals.

- Wash hands after: coughing or sneezing, when being in contact with a sick person, before, during and after food preparation, before eating, after toilet use, when hands are visibly dirty, and after handling animals or animal waste

- In areas experiencing outbreaks, consume only thoroughly cooked animal products.

- When visiting markets: Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth, avoid contact with spoiled meat, and avoid contact with stray animals, waste, and fluids.

The Smartraveller website also advises travellers to monitor their health closely, to follow local advice, and to see a health care professional immediately if feeling unwell.

 

 

 

DO SURGICAL MASKS PROTECT AGAINST CORONAVIRUS?

There is no evidence that wearing surgical masks prevents the spread of infection. Picture: Chris Pavlich
There is no evidence that wearing surgical masks prevents the spread of infection. Picture: Chris Pavlich

The Smartraveller website states "it is not known whether wearing a face mask will reduce your risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus".

Macquarie University health systems professor Janaki Amin has also said the masks do not protect from the virus. "Masks used for the spread of infectious diseases are to stop infected people spreading it to others, not to protect you from infection yourself," Dr Amin told AAP.

A more detailed explanation is available here.


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