Travel in the time of the Coronavirus: What to do and Ways to Keep Safe

 

I remember hearing about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around mid-January when I was traveling in Malaysia. Around that time, there was quite a lot of panic across Asia, as it started spreading from China to South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. When I went back home to NYC, despite a few cases that were found on the West Coast, in general, people were slightly on edge but life continued as normal. The outbreak, while heartbreaking to hear about, felt distant, and it seemed like a lot was done to contain the virus and keep it from spreading. It felt like the problem would be resolved in a matter of weeks.

Prices for flights started to drop, and many people talked about taking advantage by doing some traveling. Fast forward to March, the coronavirus is just everywhere now. The WHO has declared this to be a pandemic, as it will continue to spread, affecting everyone in the world, in one way or another. For those who want to keep track of the virus, the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering has this useful global cases map.

There’s a big divide in opinion — on one end of the spectrum, some people believe the media is inciting fear and they don’t actually believe this to be a serious problem; on the other side, people are hoarding basic necessities like toilet paper and hand sanitizer as they prepare for some sort of apocalypse.

While I’m not a medical professional and can’t predict what will happen or do I have insider knowledge of the situation, I have been following the news from various reputable sources multiple times a day. There’s a lot of toxic news and misconceptions spread on social media, but one thing we need to remember is to listen to science, and look at the facts. Get your information from trusted institutions such as reputable health organizations and government sources such as the CDC and the WHO. Do NOT trust everything you read on social media. As I talk about my thoughts and research findings below, I’ll link out to all my sources.

With travel bans, quarantines, and countries urging its citizens to practice social distancing, it feels like non-essential travel is something that should be avoided. What should we do in this case? How can we stay safe? Let’s take a look!

*Please note that most of my information and knowledge is US-based. Every country has their own method of approaching this pandemic and there is not one solution that can be applied across the globe. 

 

 

Should I book that flight?

Although flights have gotten ridiculously cheap, as tempting as it is to book a dirt cheap round trip flight to Europe, I strongly advise against booking new flights right now. As more countries start announcing that they’re closing their borders, traveling puts you at risk of being quarantined in a foreign country, or worse, catching the virus while abroad and transmitting it to others. If you are currently traveling abroad, then yes, I would recommend booking a flight to return home while you still can as countries continue to close their borders.

If you need to stay aboard, make sure you can adequately support yourself as it’s unpredictable how long will be until you can safely return home. Currently I’m abroad as well — although it’s different from an expat living in NYC rather than a traveller. With a steady job and a nice apartment here, I don’t see the need to return home to Canada even as there is talk about Trudeau possibly closing Canada’s borders.

If you must travel for a dire personal reason, I recommend booking a flight that’s refundable, and getting travel health insurance for the duration of your trip. While airlines have mandated strict sanitation policies, I still highly recommend bring disinfecting wipes on board, and wiping down your seat, seat belt, and especially the tray in front of you (according to Forbes, this is the dirtiest thing on a plane. Yes, even dirtier than the washroom!).

 

Should I cancel my already booked trip?

This is difficult to say since it’s hard to predict when this pandemic will end. Some say if we practice social distancing, it can be contained in a matter of weeks. Some fear this may last for months and go well into fall. If your trip is within the next month, I would say it’s best to start reaching out to your airline, hotel and other companies on your travel itinerary to process a cancellation. Luckily, most companies have updated their cancellation policies, making it easier to receive a refund or a rebooking option even for non-refundable bookings.

If your trip is in a few months, I would wait and see what the situation is like closer to the time. I currently have a trip booked to Mexico City at the end of May, and I’ve got Eurocup tickets for a game in Romania. Although I’ve luckily held back on booking my flight to Europe, I had already booked my flight and accommodations for Mexico well before this virus took a turn for the worst.

Sadly, both these trips are up in the air and while it truly sucks, but all we can do is wait to see what happens. With so much groundbreaking news on the pandemic almost daily, it’s hard to say what will happen in a matter of days or weeks.

 

Should I go on a cruise?

I can safely say that anyone planning on taking a cruise right now is out of their mind and the US State Department has warned against taking taking cruises. Coronavirus aside though, I’ve never understood the appeal of cruises, on both an entertainment factor, and one based on morality. Cruise companies are awfully corrupt, and if you’re not convinced of that, you should definitely check out Hasan Manhaj’s perfectly explained episode of the Patriot Act where he speaks on the topic.

 

 

Is the coronavirus really that dangerous?

It depends on the person. Harvard Medical School states that that coronavirus is less fatal than past pandemics such as SARS (11% fatality rate) and MERS (35%), but it’s still more dangerous than the seasonal flu (0.1%).  The coronavirus currently sits at an estimated 3-4% fatality rate.

The virus is not life-threatening to many, particularly the younger population who often show mild to no symptoms when tested positive. However, amongst older people, especially those who have preexisting medical problems, this virus can be extremely fatal.

At the moment, non-essential travel is seen as dangerous, as infected people might not show symptoms and therefore, become carriers of this virus, bringing it to new cities and/or countries, and exposing it to people who are at risk. As of March 15th, 2020, Johns Hopkins reports that there are 5,833 confirmed deaths worldwide, which is nothing to joke about.

It’s deeply unsettling hearing people say, “I’ll be fine, it only affects old people!” Seriously, when I’m old, I definitely wouldn’t want young people to think I’m expendable. Let’s do our part to protect the elderly as much as possible.

 

What can I do to protect myself?

 

 

Wash your hands frequently and sanitize everything

Medical professionals have stated that you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, and to remember to scrub between your fingers as well as your thumbs. Do this whenever you go outside and avoid touching your face.

Sanitize all “high touch” items frequently, such as your phone and kitchen counter, and avoid touching things like doorknobs (try using your shirt sleeve to open doors or use your shoulders to push open a shop door), avoid handshakes, hugs and kissing new people (I can imagine how rough dating must be right now!).

At stores, avoid paying with cash and use the tap option on your credit card to avoid touching any unnecessary things.

 

Work from home

If your employer allows it, I highly recommend working from home as an effort to protect yourself, and to help reduce crowds in public. A crowded subway greatly increases your chances of catching the virus and even if you can avoid public transit, factors such as open offices or large meetings can easily transmit the virus from one person to another.

Not everyone has the ability to work from home, and for those who are able, their absence from being outside during commute hours helps reduce the crowds on public transit and in buildings, making it a safer environment for those who have to travel to work.

 

Practice social distancing 

Social distancing is doomed to be the catch phrase of 2020. It’s a term coined by epidemiologists to refer to the conscious effort to reduce close contact between people in an effort to prevent transmitting the virus. The WHO recommends avoiding large crowds, especially in poorly-ventilated spaces, and staying at least 1 meter (3 feet) from anyone who’s coughing or sneezing.

What social distancing means differs greatly from one person to another. The Atlantic has stated that on Reddit, some people are practicing a “self-quarantine manifesto” where they vow to “#staythefuckhome”. Others, such as NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, has stated that while large gatherings are banned, it is fine for unaffected people to continue visiting bars and restaurants, especially to help support the local economy.

Personally, I feel that while precautions should be taken whenever you leave the house, being outside is much needed to maintain some sanity in life. If you are sick or are part of an at-risk group, you absolutely must self-quarantine yourself at home. For others, as long as you’re healthy, it’s important to leave the house and get some fresh air. While I recommend staying home as a general precaution, I also don’t recommend locking yourself at home. This pandemic can go on for months for all we know. I do recommend avoiding public transit, and places with large crowds – from touristy spots, to concerts, museums, bars and clubs.

Social distancing is also different from self quarantining, and I feel like many people are using these phrases interchangeably, adding to more fear all around. If you’re in self quarantine, that means either you’re sick, exposed to someone who might be, or just came back from a high-risk country. Those who are self quarantined shouldn’t leave the house at any circumstance and avoid all interaction with other people for a period of at least 14 days.

Everyone else should be practicing social distancing, meaning that although you are healthy and not exposed to the virus, you should maintain a safe distance from others as a safety precaution.

In fact, according to MarketWatch, medical professionals such as Luis Ostrosky, a professor and vice chairman of internal medicine at McGovern Medical School in Houston, TX, states that the coronavirus does not appear to be airborne. Instead it travels in droplets. This means that the air is safe to breathe, but you should avoid touching any surfaces outside as much as possible.

What can you do to keep from going insane? Go for a walk in an uncrowded area, if you have access to a car, take a short road trip to a place where you can enjoy some nature away from people. Have some drinks at home or in your backyard, rooftop or balcony with a good book. Chat with your friends and family regularly through Skype or messaging. If you’re able, volunteer to help get groceries for the elderly, as they are the ones that are most in danger when they leave the house.

 

Keep exercising

It’s important to be as healthy as possible to reduce further risk of catching the virus. This includes eating healthy meals, and keeping up your workout routine. While I would avoid group workout classes at this time, I recommend going for a run outside at an uncrowded park, or sticking with your usual gym as long as you sanitize the equipment before and after use.

Luckily I have a gym in my apartment, but for those who don’t and aren’t comfortable going to a public gym, there are a ton of workout videos online that you can do in the comfort of your own home. Buy some workout equipment — this can be as cheap as hand weights (which I have and use often) to investing in something like a Peloton bike to keep your motivation high.

 

Support small businesses

Unfortunately, this virus has the potential to put a lot of small shops out of business. In Chinatown for example, there’s a lot of reports of restaurants losing a lot of customers due to xenophobia. I have been trying to go to a restaurant in Chinatown once a week before the restaurant ban, but now that restaurants are all takeout/deliveries only in NYC and many other parts of the world, I recommend ordering takeout during this crisis a few times a week.

I also recommend purchasing gift cards at your favorite stores to use when you feel safe to eat out again. Every little bit goes a long way.

 

 

What shouldn’t I do?

  • Incite panic by reposting articles from non-credible news sources. There’s a lot of crazy conspiracy theories out there!
  • Hoard hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and other household items. While Harvard Medical School recommends stocking up on about 2 weeks supply of non-perishable food items as a worst case scenario, remember that this isn’t the apocalypse! Hoarding these items forces others to hoard as well in fear that these items will go out of stock. This leaves those unable to buy in bulk at a huge disadvantage. Also these are items that are restocked daily at shops. There’s no need to hoard such vast quantities of these items.
  • Wear a mask if you’re not sick – with mask shortages around the world, it’s important to leave masks for healthcare professionals who need it most.
  • Make your own hand sanitizer – There’s a lot of different articles about making your own hand sanitizer to even suggestions of using vodka to cleanse your hands. The CDC has made it clear that washing your hands with soap is the most effective way to clean your hands so let’s all stick to that rather than mixing chemicals without proper supervision or sanitation inspections.
  • Be racist – there’s been many reports of hate crime towards Asians ever since the coronavirus outbreak. While the virus is believed to have originated from Wuhan, China, that doesn’t mean Asians are more likely to spread this virus. Respect others and remember, we’re all trying to get through this together.

With all of this said, let’s all try to stay safe and try our best to help others out who are in need. Some people are scared of being in a big city like NYC during such a crisis, but I actually couldn’t be more proud to live in this great city, surrounded by amazing people. Ever since the coronavirus outbreak, I feel like New Yorkers have been friendlier then ever, as if every smile is to remind each other that we’re all in this together.

After escaping San Francisco last October, the thought of living there during this pandemic sends chills down my spine. With the amount of mentality unstable people and social justice warriors at every turn in San Francisco on a “normal” day, living there during a pandemic is unthinkable. Luckily that’s not the case!

While it feels like there’s been nothing but depressing news over the coronavirus for weeks now, here are some positive news in the midst of all this turmoil.

 

Positive news recap!

In an effort to help Italy, the Chinese Red Cross has sent a plane filled with 30 tons of medical equipment and a highly experienced staff of 9 of the best doctors in China. Thank you doctors for your heroic efforts! Watch the enduring video of the Chinese medical staff getting off the plane in this YouTube video here.

Across Italy, many Italians sing and clap from their balconies to thank their medics. What a heartwarming sight!

Across Madrid, people stood on balconies and leaned out windows to clap and cheer their doctors and medical workers.

Many countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan have done a great job in containing the coronavirus and they’ve been able to successfully do so in a relatively short period of time.

Above all, I think we should thank all these medical professionals from around the world for all their hard work in saving lives. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives, we forget to show enough compassion to those around the world who might not be as fortunate. As this pandemic continues to play out, we should all continue to be responsible and make decisions to ensure the safety of not just ourselves but to everyone around us.

In the meantime, I hope everyone stays safe, connected, and I’m sending out positive thoughts that this pandemic will be over soon. I hope to see us all booking our next adventure abroad soon!

Until then, I’ll continue to post about my most recent trips to Asia as we continue to dream about happier days.

 

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1 Comment

  1. March 20, 2020 / 6:57 pm

    Luckily, most people who still wanted to travel carelessly can’t do so anymore because nobody will transport them or allow them to enter the country.

    But I am also shocked by the hundreds of thousands who insist on “flying home as soon as possible”. They will all have to go through airports, which are hot spots of infections, when they might be much safer at the holiday destination. I got stuck on Faial, a small island in the Atlantic, for example. I’ll much rather stay here for a few months/years instead of returning to Germany.

    One thing that has become much harder, understandably, is hitchhiking.
    But even there is a solution: pick-up trucks. 🙂
    https://andreasmoser.blog/2020/03/20/hitchhiking-corona/

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