Coronavirus Factsheet: What Travelers Need to Know About COVID-19

Updated 3/24/2020

What is coronavirus?
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a “new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, and has been detected in some countries outside China, including the U.S. and Canada.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The CDC says the virus has “been known to cause severe illness in people. The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully understood. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, including illness resulting in death.” 

How many cases are confirmed?

As of March 18, the coronavirus is impacting people in more than 108 countries and territories around the world. According to Worldometer, there have been 204,044 cases with almost 82,866 recoveries and 8,250 deaths. 

  • China: 81,171
  • Italy: 63,927
  • Iran: 24,811
  • Spain: 39,673
  • Germany: 30,150
  • South Korea: 8,961
  • France: 19,856
  • United States: 46,168
  • Switzerland: 9,117
  • United Kingdom: 6,650
  • Netherlands: 4,749
  • Norway: 2,647
  • Belgium: 4,269
  • Austria: 4,829
  • Sweden: 2,059
  • Denmark: 1,577
  • Japan: 1,140
  • Malaysia: 1,624
  • Portugal: 2,060
  • Canada: 2,091
  • Australia: 2,144

What is the best way to protect against coronavirus?
According to the CDC, “the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.” Other steps can help, including staying home when you are sick, washing your hands with soap and water frequently, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. 

When should I worry?
According to the CDC, the public should “Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19.”

How does it compare to other illnesses? While the coronavirus has grabbed headlines, North Americans are still much more likely to be impacted by the flu than the coronavirus. An article released by Purdue University earlier in February shows that “22 million Americans have suffered from the flu, and that 12,000 adults and 78 children have died during this flu season,” which began in October. 

The CDC has warned, however, that “it’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. In that case, the risk assessment would be different.”

Does the CDC and State Department recommend canceling travel?
The CDC is reccomends travelers avoid “all nonessential travel to” China and South Korea and is telling “older adults and those with chronic medical conditions” to consider postponing to Iran, Italy, and Japan. 

On Feb. 29, the U.S. State Department announced an upgrade in its Italy Travel Advisory due to the ongoing spread of coronavirus. The State Department’s advisory for the country is now at Level 3: Reconsider Travel for the whole of Italy and Level 4: Do Not Travel for the Lombardy and Veneto regions “due to the level of community transmission of the virus and imposition of local quarantine procedures.”

The State Department also has Level 4 advisories for Iran and China due to coronavirus. 

The State Department, on March 8, also wrote in a new warning that “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.” 

How are airlines reacting? Airlines have been recommending that U.S.-bound travelers arrive at airports earlier than usual because of new enhanced screenings that will apply to tens of thousands of travelers a day. They have also been altering China and Italy flight schedules through the spring in response to the spreading virus, while also reducing certain domestic and international routes through the summer.

How are hotels reacting?
Major hotel chains are waiving cancellation fees for guests with plans to stay in China (including Hong Kong and Macau) or Chinese guests planning to travel internationally, through the end of the month.

How are cruise lines reacting?
The continued threat of the coronavirus is forcing cruise lines to cancel and modify Asia sailings into March and April, impacting the $45 billion cruise line industry.

China, a growing market for the industry, was the epicenter for COVID-19, though it has now spread to other countries. However, the World Health Organization said cruise travel remains a “manageable risk” and did not think it was necessary to avoid entirely.

Cruise lines have implemented rigorous cleaning and disinfection protocols onboard ships, in addition to standard sanitization processes. Many have also denied boarding to people who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days of embarkation.

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