As the novel coronavirus (recently renamed COVID-19) continues to spread, we are getting questions from readers as they plan their trips. In the 30 years I’ve been a travel journalist, I’ve watched viral epidemics come and go, affecting people’s perceptions of huge swaths of the world. I was in Hong Kong in 2003 at the start of the SARS outbreak (the first pandemic of the 21st century), and I was in Panama during the Zika outbreak, and in between I watched MERS and Ebola alarm travelers to the point where they avoided entire continents. Perhaps the trickiest part of the timeline of a new epidemic is now, soon after its start, when there are still so many unknowns.
At the moment, people are asking whether they should cancel their trips to Southeast Asia, Singapore, and Japan. Different travelers have different perceptions of the risk, as well as different levels of risk tolerance, so it’s a highly individual decision. Two things I can tell you are that epidemics eventually go away (so, if deciding to cancel a trip means forfeiting prepaid funds, ask whether some portion of those payments can be applied toward a future trip) and that there are always parts of the world where your risk is small.
What’s been fascinating to me is to see some people cancel their Southeast Asia and Japan trips, while others, within just the past few days, have initiated planning such trips for the Christmas/New Year’s break and next winter, figuring that by then things will be under control. These travelers are not paying large nonrefundable deposits now; rather, they’re positioning themselves so that, at the time when large nonrefundable payments come due, they will already have the itinerary and prime accommodations and experiences they want in place. To have such a head start is not a bad strategy, given the pent-up travel demand for Asia that is likely to occur once these areas are perceived as safe again.
So that your risk perception as regards COVID-19 remains well informed, we’ve pulled together reliable coronavirus updates to check before you make any big decisions:
Centers for Disease Control
The CDC has put together a coronavirus education hub on its website; it includes a situation report, info for travelers, and a list of its most recent articles.
World Health Organization
The WHO also has a dedicated section. Here, you’ll find user-friendly, easy-to-digest tools, including a video explaining what we know about the virus, an FAQ of the most common questions, and a mythbusters page, as well as deeper dives into global research, WHO’s travel advice, situation reports, and the latest news.
The New York Times
In addition to staying on top of the daily virus news with these live updates, the Times has created an interactive map that tracks the confirmed cases of COVID-19. It’s updated often and it serves as a good snapshot of what’s happening each day and as context for the news.
CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association)
CLIA is the cruise industry’s trade association and includes more than 50 cruise companies. Its website has a cruise-specific FAQ, which includes info on topics such as embarkation restrictions and how passengers are being screened. They’ve also posted a statement outlining rules that CLIA members will be following (e.g., which passengers should be denied boarding), and it is updated regularly.
Squaremouth and Insuremytrip.com are websites that allow you to compare travel insurance policies and prices. Both have posted information about the intersection of travel insurance and COVID-19. Squaremouth has an interesting FAQ that addresses common concerns, such as whether you are covered if you contract the coronavirus while traveling or if your itinerary changes because of the coronavirus affecting your destination. Insuremytrip.com has a similar page of info. For additional general intel on insurance, bookmark our article “How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It.”
COVID-19 has seriously affected cruise ships and cruising in general: quarantines, ships being rejected from ports, health screenings for passengers. Cruise Critic is keeping on top of it with this mega-article that explains the bigger issues and then lists specific cruise-ship policies and cancellations, organized alphabetically by cruise line.
U.S. State Department
The State Department’s current level 4 alert for China (which means do not travel to the country) should not be ignored. You’ll find the specifics of the alert here, and you can search for information on other countries’ travel advisories here. Canadian travelers can find info from their government here.
Many airlines (including Delta, United, Japan Airlines, and British Airways, to name a few) have clearly marked alerts right on their website homepages. They usually outline travel restrictions and affected routes, plus how they’re handling flight changes, cancellations, and fees (frequently waived). Check with your airline to get information specific to your travels.
This article was originally published on February 14, 2020, and was updated February 21.