The Novel Coronavirus has shut down multiple cities in China as of today.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, travel to Wuhan—a major domestic and international transport hub—is at a Level 3, which means “avoid nonessential travel.” Chinese officials have closed transport within and out of Wuhan, including buses, subways, trains, and the international airport.
As of early this morning, an additional two cities have been shut down—Huanggang is closing off the city, as well as all rail stations in the nearby city of Ezhou.
Reports indicate that as of Thursday, the virus has killed 17 people and more than 570 have been reported with symptoms across six countries.
Additional outbreaks of the virus have been confirmed in Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea, as well as the United States, which has had one confirmed returning traveler from Wuhan with the virus.
According to the World Health Organization, evidence shows the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan. The market was closed as of Jan. 1, 2020, after the virus cluster was reported on Dec. 31, 2019 to the WHO China Country office.
Michael Kong, managing director of Pacific Delight Tours, who says has consulted with SupChina—who he says is an impartial China news outlet says, “The Chinese government and health officials have taken this very seriously with immediate and aggressive response to curtail spread of the virus. Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, is under virtual quarantine. The isolated cases outside of China (Taiwan, Seattle) had been recent visitors to Wuhan.”
How it Affects Travel
“We haven’t had anyone express fears or change plans about Asia as a whole yet,” says Gary Smith, franchise owner and vacation specialist for Dream Vacations. “China has been a concern for years due to pollution, air quality, etc., and this only adds to concerns.”
In response to the outbreak, the CDC reports that Chinese officials are screening travelers leaving the city of Wuhan. In addition, several other countries and territories throughout the world are reported to have implemented health screening of travelers arriving from Wuhan.
On arrival to the U.S., travelers from Wuhan may undergo health screenings, including having their temperature taken and being asked to fill out a symptom questionnaire. And, travelers with signs and symptoms of illness—fever, cough, or difficulty breathing—will have an additional health assessment.
“The safety and wellbeing of our travelers continues to be G Adventures’ top priority,” says Tim Chan, communications manager for G Adventures. Our local team will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice of the World Health Organization. He adds that, “No travelers or staff have been affected. G Adventures’ tours do not travel to or near Wuhan and while we continue to operate tours in China as scheduled, we will be monitoring the situation closely and notifying clients of changes to itineraries.”
Smith, says the travel restrictions haven’t had any impact yet for his travelers. “We do not do much with travel to Asia,” he adds. “The few questions we have had, we give the advice [on taking the proper precautions]. We never try to scare clients, or falsely reassure them. We stay as factual as possible and give them information, always with safety first.”
During an event held this week at the headquarters of Travel Leaders Group that focused on travel trends, Peter Vlitas, senior v.p. of airline relations for Travel Leaders Group, added that airlines are issuing waivers for those who do not want to travel to Wuhan.
In addition, some hotel chains in the U.S. and U.K.—Hyatt, Hilton, and Intercontinental Hotels—will be waiving all change or cancellation fees for guests at certain locations in China.
Guests traveling from China to a Hilton property may also be eligible for cancellation and modification fees, too.
Kong adds “If there can ever be a ‘good time’ for such an event to occur, it is now, which is very off-peak for overseas tourists. Sadly, domestic China travel has been severely impacted as this is the eve of Lunar New Year when people visit family members around the country.”
What Can You Tell Travelers to Protect Themselves
According to the CDC, travelers can avoid contact with sick people, avoid animals, animal markets, and products that come from animals, such as uncooked meat. They should also wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and used an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t available. Older adults and travelers with other health issues, should discuss travel to the area with their healthcare provider.
Smith, suggests agents, “Monitor the situation as it is developing rapidly; be safe, take precautions, take it seriously, but don’t let it prevent you from doing what you’re going there to do unless advised against it by authorities; follow all governmental advise.”
For those with trips planned to the region, Charmaine Lau, operations manager for Pacific Delight says, “Pacific Delight will closely monitor all news—both media and on the ground sources—for relevant updates on safety and scheduling.” Adding that, “The safety of our clients is #1 of course and we realize that people have concern when they hear the news. But so far, the impact of the virus is very limited. We have clients leaving for China in the near future who had expressed concern but have been reassured by China’s measures. Since none of the tours include Wuhan, they are all traveling as planned.”
What to Look Out For
The clinical signs and symptoms reported, according to the World Health Organization, are mainly fever, with a few cases having difficulty in breathing, and chest radiographs showing invasive pneumonic infiltrates in both lungs.
Kong, recommends travelers should “stay away from large crowds in close quarters such as nightclubs or movie theaters. Open air tourist sites such as the Great Wall or terra cotta warriors should not be any issue.”
WHO recommends, that if travelers notice any symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, to seek medical attention and share travel history with their healthcare provider.
Preliminary information suggests that older adults, and people with underlying health conditions may be at an increased risk for severe disease from this virus.
The situation is still evolving and notices by the CDC will be updated as more information becomes available.
For more information, visit the CDC or WHO. Check out “Ensuring Client Safety,” for tips on how to keep your clients safe during their travels; and click here for info on where you can send your clients safely to in Australia.