Coronavirus: Should you cancel your travel plans?

Author
Natalie Brown, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 2 Mar 2020, 11:59AM
Travellers passing through New Zealand airports are being advised how to contain the virus. (Photo / Jason Oxenham)
Travellers passing through New Zealand airports are being advised how to contain the virus. (Photo / Jason Oxenham)

Coronavirus: Should you cancel your travel plans?

Author
Natalie Brown, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 2 Mar 2020, 11:59AM

As efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus around the world intensify, holiday-makers have been left wondering whether they should cancel or postpone pending travel plans – and if they do choose to go on a trip, what to look out for.

The viral outbreak that began in China two months ago has infected more than 80,000 people globally and killed more than 2900, with confirmed cases in at least 45 countries.

Holiday-makers are being forced to navigate flight disruptions, travel bans, city lockdowns and quarantine rules.

If you're about to head overseas – or have a trip planned – here's what you need to know.

Where should I avoid travelling?

People with the highest risk of exposure to coronavirus are those in China or those who have travelled there recently.

While there are travel warnings for a growing number of countries hit by the virus, China is currently the only country with a "do not travel" warning in place for New Zealanders.

According to the SafeTravel website, New Zealanders are also advised to "avoid non-essential travel" to Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea, and for the rest of the country to "exercise increased caution".

Travel to countries with a high number of cases - such as Italy and South Korea - is still open at this stage, but is being monitored.

Iran which has also seen a substantial outbreak has an updated travel advisory, with MFAT telling New Zealanders to "consider leaving while commercial options are available."

What's happening with flights?

Airlines are cutting back their flight schedules in response to falling demand, particularly for flights in the Asian region.

Travellers have been advised to factor in changes to their arrival and departure times, as well as any delays caused by virus screening at airports, and to check if their flight is still departing as scheduled.

Some of the changes you may face:

-Air New Zealand, China Southern, Sichuan Airlines, Air China, Hainan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have all reduced or stopped flights to China.

-Air New Zealand has temporarily suspended its Auckland-Seoul route from March 8 to June 30.

-Air New Zealand is also reducing its Auckland-Apia services from six to three per week, in response to a directive issued to all airlines by the Samoan Government

What measures can I take before I travel?

If you're travelling with young children or babies, or if you're pregnant, you should consult your doctor before heading overseas. You should also see your doctor if you have a chronic health problem or weak immunity.

You should also check with your airline, travel agent, cruise line and travel insurance company to work out what your options are if things change – and check with your insurance company to see if you're covered.

When should I book a trip overseas?

The virus outbreak is expected to take months to play out, so if you're booking a flight for later in the year you need to consider what might change between now and then.

This, as well as that new outbreak locations are being reported all the time, makes it difficult to discern when exactly you should head overseas.

If you've already booked a trip, keep the phone numbers for your bank, insurer, airline, travel agent and accommodation provider handy so you can check your booking is solid if need be.

What happens if I cancel my trip?

Travellers need to be aware that their insurance company is unlikely to provide cover if their holiday is not directly affected, director of Compare Travel Insurance, Natalie Ball, told news.com.au.

"In most cases, travel insurance does not cover for fear or changes of mind," Ms Ball said. "As well, many insurers exclude cover for pandemics and epidemics; events known in the mass media; and anything that you were aware of that may give rise to a claim at the time of purchase."

Ball said travel insurance policies vary, so you may be entitled for compensation should there be a "do not travel" warning for the country you are visiting.

"This would largely depend on which insurer you bought your policy with and when you purchased your cover. All customers are always entitled to lodge claims for formal review which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis."

She recommended that travellers contact their agent or service provider if they do want to alter their trip, and to stay up-to-date as the situation continues to evolve.

Can I still travel through transport hubs in Asia?

The rules for exit, entry and transit through airports can change at short notice, but currently travellers are still able to travel through the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong airports.

Expect to be screened for coronavirus, and also prepare for the possibility of being quarantined, depending on where you've come from.

Hong Kong airport, all departing passengers will undergo temperature checks – which could mean delays getting to your next flight. If you've travelled through mainland China, you'll be quarantined for two weeks, and if you're arriving from Korea, you won't be allowed to enter Hong Kong.

As for Singapore, you'll have to undergo a temperature check on arrival at Changi or Seletar airports.

In Malaysia, travellers are being told to wear a mask at all times, and anyone who has a cough or fever will be taken to hospital on arrival.

I've recently travelled abroad, what should I do?

New Zealanders returning from overseas travel, even via areas currently unaffected, are being advised to report any illness experienced within a month of returning to their doctor.

It's important to tell them you have been outside of the country recently.

There is a free healthline for advice on: 0800611116.

-With additional reporting via news.com.au