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Note: This post has been updated repeatedly since it was first published on March 9, 2020.

It’s an anxious time in the world of travel. Cities and countries are being sealed off, flights are flying half empty or not at all, and conference, music festivals and large gatherings are being cancelled and restricted. What does this mean to you as the infectious coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads in countries around the world?

Colleagues, friends and family members have been asking me that question, so I’ve decided to write this post in response.

I’m not a doctor, nurse or a medical professional. I’m not going to tell you what to do. What I will do is share information from a list of curated sources to help you to make the best decision about what is right for you and your family.

What is the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines coronaviruses (CoV) as a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s and have “corona” in their name because, at the molecular level, they’re shaped like a halo.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. WHO categorized (as of March 11, 2020) that this outbreak can be characterized as a pandemic.

Where to find information about COVID-19

There are a variety of official sources of information about the virus. These sites are being updated on a daily basis as the situation progresses. Stay informed.

The World Health Organization – International UN-based organization

Health Canada – Canada

Centers for Disease Control – United States

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – European Union

Who is at risk of coronavirus

At this time, anyone can be at risk of illness due to the coronavirus. However, children appear to be less affected by the disease. Reports indicate that older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease seem to be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness. Early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.

This may be because as people age, their immune systems change, making it harder for their body to fight off diseases and infection. Many older adults are also more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness.

Health officials are advising people 60+ in affected areas to stay home and ensure an adequate supply of several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time. And to follow basic hygiene practices outlined below.

How to prevent the spread of the coronavirus

All the health organizations and disease centers have advised people to practice basic hygiene and sanitation practices. So do what your mother told you to do: Wash Your Hands. And follow these other recommendations.

  • Wash you hands frequently with soap and water
  • Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing
  • Cough into your elbow or sleeve, not your hands
  • Stop touching your face
  • Sanitize your phone
  • Maintain social distance – at least 6 feet/2 meters from anyone who’s coughing or sneezing
  • Don’t go to work/school/the gym if you feel sick
  • If you have flu-like symptoms, call your doctor to get tested

If you choose to travel – UPDATED

As of March 13th, 2020, the Canadian government has recommended that Canadians not travel abroad or to the United States. On March 20th, Canada closed its border to the United States, except for essential and trade traffic. The Canadian government has urged Canadians travelling abroad to come home. The US Federal Government has declared a National Emergency.

The CDC has issued global level 4 warnings and the US Federal government has requested that Americans return home. Several American states have issued a Stay in Place order for its citizens. Italy has expanded its quarantine zone to include the entire country and limited domestic travel. England, Spain, Peru, Morocco and many other countries around the world have locked down their countries. Others have put in restrictions on public gatherings, schools and operating hours for businesses.

The Canadian government is in line with its international counterparts and has recommended that Canadians travelling abroad return home. Those citizens returning from abroad have been requested to self-quarantine for 14 days. Air Canada and WestJet have severely curtailed their flight schedules, as have United, American Airlines and most US carriers.

There have been many cancellations of sporting events, conferences, school and college classes in nearly every country. The Tokyo Olympic Games have been postponed until 2021. Many cruise lines have halted all operations for at least one month.

Increasingly, reports indicate that travel to certain areas will not be covered by trip cancellation or travel insurance, unless you purchase ‘cancellation for any reason’ insurance. However, such policies are very expensive, and should an area become quarantined or sealed off, emergency medivac service may be impossible.

In Canada, some insurance companies are issuing statements about how they’re addressing this issue. Manulife, Canada’s largest insurer, said that as of March 5, 2020, it will no longer cover trip cancellations due to coronavirus. For the most up to date information, check out the latest updates at the Travel Insurance Association of Canada.

If you must travel, speak to a travel agent or insurance provider about what policy will provide the best coverage for your destination, trip duration and any health concerns you may have.

What am I doing?

With the Canadian government requesting that people not travel outside of Canada and keep social distance at home, I’m heeding that advice and not travelling at this time. I’ve had press trips cancelled and am watching our summer trip plans to northern Italy (on lockdown) shrivel daily. Our departure date for Venice is still 3 months away as of this writing, but it’s not looking good.

At this time, I still have one trip booked to the United States in late May. We’ll see whether it goes ahead. I’m reading trusted government sources and media on a daily basis and keeping myself updated. I’m washing my hands with more diligence. I’m not buying carts of toilet paper.

Stay informed and healthy, and if you’re travelling, happy travels.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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