WHO Says Risk Of COVID-19 Is Now 'Very High At A Global Level'
Here’s what travelers need to know in light of the current outbreak.
The coronavirus outbreak has left people around the world wondering whether they should cancel or postpone pending travel plans. If you’re one of the many people feeling anxious about an upcoming trip, remember that while your decision to stay or go should always prioritize safety, you should remain up to date on the latest developments of COVID-19.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person. Around 80% of people recover without requiring special treatment. The virus, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, has since spread to 53 countries. Of the roughly 84,000 reported cases, China accounts for over 78,800. Older people and those with preexisting conditions – including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes – are the most likely to develop a severe illness as a result of COVID-19.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been over 2800 coronavirus-related deaths as of February 28, and Johns Hopkins University reports over 36,000 recoveries worldwide. The fatality rate in Wuhan is between 2% and 4%, and 1% elsewhere. While these statistics significantly lower than two other recent coronavirus epidemics – SARS, identified in 2003, has a fatality rate or 10%; MERS, identified in 2012, has a fatality rate of 35% – the transmission rate of COVID-19 is significantly higher, meaning more people are likely to get sick.
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Where should I avoid traveling?
Cases of COVID-19 have spread across six continents. Those with the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 are people in China or those who have recently traveled there. Health care workers and close contacts of the sick have the highest risk of infection. People who’ve returned from China more than 14 days ago and are asymptomatic are not infected and cannot spread the virus.
To avoid infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends forgoing all non-essential travel to China, the epicenter of the outbreak, and South Korea, where the affected areas offer limited access to proper medical care.
There is ongoing community spread of COVID19 in Italy and Iran. Older people and people with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel to Italy and Iran. More info: https://bit.ly/2uB0W19
The CDC also recommends a high level of caution for travel to Italy, Iran, and Japan, where the outbreak has recently escalated. For travelers to these locations, checking advisories issued by each country is imperative. In Italy, for instance, 11 towns in the Lombardy region near Milan are under quarantine, and Venice’s cancellation of Carnival has turned the bustling city into a ghost town. However, nearby cities like Florence are still safe to visit, and most of the country has been unaffected by the outbreak.
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Who should avoid traveling?
Elderly travelers or those with compromised immune systems should reconsider travel at this time. According to a study of 72,000 COVID-19 patients in China, the elderly and sick people were most susceptible to contracting severe cases of the coronavirus. The CDC says those with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes are at a higher risk of serious illnesses. While the CDC doesn't have data on the susceptibility of pregnant women to complications caused by COVID-19, pregnant women were shown to be at risk during previous coronavirus outbreaks.
Where can I find up-to-date travel information concerning COVID-19?
Regardless of location, it’s always wise for travelers to consult the websites of their intended destination for advisories and cancellations. The CDC regularly updates their site with health-related travel recommendations; the New York Times has an interactive map tracking the global spread of the outbreak. WHO is a treasure trove of information that offers regular updates on the status of COVID-19 cases around the world and answers questions for people concerned to travel during the outbreak.
Should I cancel my travel plans?
The trajectory of the outbreak is ever-changing, and for many, that may make the uncertainty of future travel difficult to plan. For those who’ve already booked trips to an affected area, check the cancellation policies for upcoming reservations. If there are cancellation windows to avoid payment penalties, mark them in your calendar and reassess the situation once it’s time.
Many airlines around the world are discontinuing flights to China, with US-based companies like United, Delta and American suspending travel to the region through the end of April. Be sure to check your airline’s policy concerning travel waivers and rebooking flights. US carriers JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have announced plans to waive cancellation fees for new flight bookings for travelers who change plans due to the coronavirus.
The CDC recommends travelers reconsider cruise ship voyages to or from Asian countries. If you’re planning a trip with Norwegian Cruise Lines, don’t worry – the company is canceling or rerouting all cruises to Asia through the summer season. For others, the Cruise Lines International Association, which accounts for 90% of all ocean-based boats, has enhanced screening measures for passengers and canceled or rerouted Asia-based excursions.
If you’ve yet to book travel for 2020, arm yourself with travel insurance. A “Cancel For Any Reason” (CFAR) travel insurance policy ensures travelers receive 50-75% of a trip’s prepaid costs in the event a cancellation isn’t covered under standard protections.
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While CDC considers #COVID19 a serious situation and is taking preparedness measures, the immediate risk in the U.S. is considered low. Everyone should always take simple daily precautions to help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. https://t.co/NNMC0gfoz7 #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/BuZyhpGvZV — CDC Travel Health (@CDCtravel) February 14, 2020
At the moment, any travel includes some risk of contracting COVID-19. While many countries have not yet reported COVID-19, that could change quickly, and high-traffic areas such as airports and train stations pose higher risks. Remember to wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. But that’s just business as usual.
WHO Says Risk Of COVID-19 Is Now 'Very High At A Global Level'
The World Health Organization says the risk that COVID-19 will spread and have a global impact is now "very high," raising its assessment for the coronavirus disease that's now been found in more than 50 countries.
As of Monday, cases of COVID-19 had been found in just 29 countries. But thousands more diagnoses were confirmed this week, including two spikes that were tied to Italy and Iran.
"Outside China, there are now 4,351 cases in 49 countries, and 67 deaths," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing Friday morning. "Since yesterday, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Nigeria have all reported their first cases."
Tedros said, "We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level."
Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said he's encouraged by signs that the coronavirus can be contained – and he cites that as one reason the outbreak shouldn't be called a pandemic.
The new risk assessment, Ryan said, "is not in order to alarm or scare people. That is to get countries to understand" that when they get their first case of the coronavirus, they have the ability to control its spread.