Coronavirus: how is the pandemic affecting travel?

We round up the facts and figures to help you evaluate the travel situation during the global Coronavirus outbreak.

Thursday, March 12, 2020,
By Sarah Barrell
Empty airport
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that Covid-19 could cause airlines to suffer a loss of up to $113bn (£87bn) this year.
Photograph by Image: Getty

What is the current advice? 
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all but essential foreign travel. The ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has seen a number of countries impose unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. For travellers already in a foreign destination, it’s important to remember that all countries may restrict travel without notice. For  FCO updates, go to: gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice 

What do travel restrictions look like? 
In an effort to contain and delay the spread of the virus, an increasing number of countries are closing their borders and many airlines have reduced their services or grounded their fleets. Numerous borders and transport hubs have introduced screening measures and entry restrictions, including temperature checks and questions on travel and health history. If you’ve recently been to a country affected by the coronavirus, entry or transit to certain regions may be problematic and you may be required to enter a period of quarantine. The World Health Organization (WHO) has regular updates on recorded virus cases at: who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

For UK government travel advice, go to: gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus 

Will travel insurance cover cancelled trips? 
This will depend on where you’re travelling to, when you booked and what the official FCO advice is for that destination. If the FCO has advised against all but essential travel to the area, you may be able to make a claim, but, as always, it’ll depend on your specific insurance policy. Many insurers are restricting cover for new agreements. As ever, make sure your policy includes medical evacuation and repatriation, in case you fall ill while travelling.  

If you’ve booked a package holiday, your tour operator and/or insurer should be able to assist with rebooking travel and covering costs. Check for a ‘disruption to travel’ clause, which could also come into play if you find yourself having to enter quarantine while travelling. Your rights can depend on airline choice and policy small print, so read carefully. ABTA, the UK’s largest travel association, has regular updates for those travelling with its member operators. For more details, see: abta.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak 

What about rebooking flights and hotels?  
Some airlines are waiving the usual rebooking fee and allowing customers to rebook flights to and from certain affected destinations. Many hotels are allowing rebookings, too, although reservations terms make some bookings non-refundable, particularly if done through a third-party operator. It’s always worth contacting the hotel directly to see if they can assist. 

What if my airline goes bankrupt? 
Times are tough for the aviation industry, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that Covid-19 could cause airlines to suffer a loss of up to $113bn (£87bn) this year. After the recent collapse of Flybe, it seems other airlines may follow suit. If your flight booking has ATOL protection (mostly applicable to package trips or linked hotel-and-flight bookings), you’ll be refunded if your airline collapses and offered an alternative if stranded abroad. 

Airline failure is rarely covered by insurance policies. However, if you’ve brought flights worth more than £100 on a credit card directly from an airline, you should be able to claim a refund under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. 

What do we know about the virus?

While we’re still learning more about how the virus behaves, it’s most likely spread through respiratory droplets. Covid-19 can cause symptoms similar to pneumonia. The most common signs are a new, continuous cough and a fever of 37.8C or higher. People who have fallen ill have also reported breathing difficulties. 

People of all ages can be infected. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease) may be more vulnerable to serious complications.  

According to the WHO, the fatality rate for Covid-19 is around 3.4% — higher than seasonal flu (0.1%) but lower than SARS (9.6%).  Here's what coronavirus does to the body. 

What are the recommended protective measures? 

Keep clean: Wash hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water, then rinse thoroughly and dry with disposable paper towel where possible. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth as this can transfer the virus. 

Keep your distance: Cover your face when you cough or sneeze, avoid crowded areas and keep 6ft away from others. 

Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell. 

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This article will be updated as the situation changes and develops.

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