Should I Cancel my Travel Because of the Coronavirus?
Dr KK Aggarwal
President CMAAO, HCFI and Past National President IMA
In late January CDC issued a level 3 travel warning, recommending that anyone with nonessential travel plans to mainland China avoid going there. But while the outbreak of COVID-19, is now spilling out into other countries as well. Now we have more new cases outside China than in China.
South Korea, Italy, and Iran have all recently reported large clusters of cases, locally spread from person to person. And we’re now starting to see cases in places near these countries. As on today there are over 82,000 documented cases of COVID-19 worldwide, across 48 countries, with over 2,800 deaths.
On 25th February the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time. The UN health agency put the number of new cases in China at 411 on Tuesday and those registered outside the country stood at 427.
On 24th February CDC issued another round of travel warnings, with a level 3 alert for South Korea and a level 2 alert for people traveling to Italy, Iran, and Japan.
Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel, to Italy, Iran, and Japan, the level 2 advisory states, while anyone recently returned from these countries in the past two weeks who’s developed fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should seek medical help and tell their doctor about their recent travel.
Unless the CDC issues a travel advisory for the area you are planning to visit, there is no reason to cancel any plans at this time. But you should in general follow a good hygiene during travel. Avoid touching your face with your hands, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and wash your hands correctly and frequently—with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at 60 percent to 95 percent alcohol.
World Health Organization advises against implementing travel restrictions in general during an outbreak, including during this one.
Those who are against the travel restriction do so for one, the fear and economic damage these restrictions create can unintentionally worsen the situation, making countries more reluctant to report cases within their own borders. They can also make people prejudiced toward the residents of affected countries or of their neighbours who hail from there.
By the time an outbreak is visibly spreading, travel restrictions may not help stop it—at most, they might buy a country some time. There is “limited research to support the use of travel bans to minimize the spread” of MERS, SARS, Ebola, and Zika, four other infectious diseases that have caused large outbreaks in recent years, with SARS and MERS being caused by coronaviruses, too.
At a certain point, it becomes less about trying to stop an outbreak from entering a country and more about doing what we can to mitigate the damage it causes, goals that tend to require different strategies.
Earlier today, CDC officials warned that the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. is almost certainly inevitable.
On Monday, the World Health Organization declined to declare the outbreak a pandemic for now, noting that some countries seem to have been able to stop the local spread of the disease.