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Your Coronavirus Travel Questions Answered

You’ve spent months looking forward to your trip. Flights, accommodation and excursions have been booked and paid for. You’re just about to start packing your bags, restocking on sunblock and plumping your neck pillow, when… Covid-19 brings international travel to an unplanned, unavoidable, screeching halt. So, what now? While serious, the situation may not be as dire as it seems, and may not necessarily entail the cancellation of your trip in its entirety. Here’s the rundown of your rights as a traveller, how to navigate the cancellation and refund process, as well as the answers to some of the most common queries travellers are currently facing.

Countries across the globe have been implementing their own travel policies and preventative measures. It’s important to pay attention to official updates, as these could impact the validity of your travel insurance policies if your actions do not align with governmental mandates. Many individual airlines carry their own set of travellers rights, so reading the fine print on your plane ticket is imperative. Also, be sure to understand the official differences between essential and nonessential travel.

Most countries have advised holidaymakers to reconsider nonessential travel, however, few have initiated a zero-travel policy. While the advisory is not to be taken lightly, technically you can still travel to non-affected areas who are still receiving international visitors. That said, it is very important to stay as up to date as possible on any changes to restrictions, most of which are effective without notice, and to observe strict preventative measures while abroad, such as frequent hand washing and avoiding large crowds or public spaces when possible. Many countries have closed borders to international travellers, but generally, borders have remained open to returning citizens and permanent residents. There is the possibility of quarantine upon re-entry, however, depending on countries visited and length of stay.

Destinations to be avoided and high, medium and low-risk areas fluctuate daily, so be sure to check the status of countries you’ll be visiting, as well as those you may be stopping over in. While many airlines are cancelling flights, particularly from Asia and Europe, there is also a duty carried by service providers to ensure a passenger’s safe return to their home country or country of origin should the passenger not be eligible for a flight refund.

In terms of cancellation, if your government has not issued an official warning for the area to which you plan to travel, then a refund is highly unlikely. Airbnb has put an Extenuating Circumstances policy in place allowing any accommodation provider or customer to cancel reservations between 14 March and 14 April 2020 for any reason without penalty. 86% of cancellations by guests in the past month were able to receive full refunds, however, it is advised that you speak directly with an Airbnb host if you plan to cancel and request a refund.

If you are hesitant to cancel your trip, many airlines, hotels and other facilities are allowing free rebookings should they be shut down as a result of the outbreak. Travel insurers are advising customers to first check directly with airlines and accommodation providers regarding refunds and rebooking, as travel insurance itself rarely accounts for cancellation costs in full.

Overall, the global situation is tenuous, uncertain and subject to drastic and often rapid change in both extent and official policy. As always in times of crisis, the most important weapon is information. Be sure to be attentive to official announcements from both local and international authorities, and consult the World Health Organisation for updates on the spread of COVID-19 and suggested precautions. Most importantly, stay safe and be kind to one another!

Sources: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51615412, https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-travel-questions-advice.html, https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnscottlewinski/2020/03/16/airbnb-responds-to-coronavirus-with-expanded-cancellation-policy/#77422b645522

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Coronavirus: How to Stay Protected When Travelling During the Outbreak

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging international travellers to remain cautious and prioritise their health during the recent outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and more recently Iran and Italy. While many are on edge about the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, a few simple hygiene reminders and awareness of one’s risks can go a long way in reducing further cases. Here’s what you can do if you plan on travelling to or from an affected area, or simply want to reduce the risk of contraction while in international public spaces, as well as what procedures are to be expected while in transit.

Keep Clean

The WHO has promoted sufficient hygiene as the most important way to prevent further spread of the illness. This includes frequent washing of hands, covering one’s mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding contact with one’s own mouth and nose, or those of others. Since this is a virus, anti-bacterial hand gels are not a sufficient substitute for warm water and soap. Surgical Masks have not yet been determined to be effective barriers in avoiding the transmission of the virus, although if you suspect you have caught the virus, it may assist in preventing you from passing it on.

What To Do If You Become Ill

Should you become unwell while abroad, self-isolate, stay indoors and seek medical treatment either through your health insurance broker, or local public health guidelines. It is important you inform any doctor, clinic or hospital in advance of your visit. Only resume travel once you have completely recovered. Should you return home from an affected area, you should monitor your condition closely for at least 14 days post-travel. If you begin to exhibit flu-like symptoms, including; a fever, cough and shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention.

Screening

Some countries have employed temperature and symptom screening procedures at customs controls. Should you be entering a foreign country with screen procedures, ensure that you have permission to do so. Keep up to date with any potential travel restrictions before and during your travels. For example, foreign nationals entering the United States will be denied access if they have visited China or Iran in the preceding 14 days.

Cruise Lines

Many cruise lines with scheduled stops in Asia have had their routes cancelled or modified to prevent contact with affected areas. One may also be denied re-entry to the country of origin if one has travelled in an affected area. These precautions follow the quarantine of the Diamond Princess ship in Japan after 700 passengers were found to have the virus, resulting in at least 5 fatalities.

Flight Cancellations

Many international airlines have halted travel to China, and these cancellations may begin to be extended to other affected areas. Some airlines are offering waived fees in lieu of the cancellations, but it is best to check with your specific airline whether your flight will proceed as scheduled or, in the event of a cancellation, whether you will receive a refund.

Travel Insurance

While airlines and accommodation facilities seem to be doing their utmost to refund any cancelled bookings, a trip cancelled due to the outbreak may not necessarily be refunded in full. Most standard travel insurance packages will not account for the effects of the virus, however, if you have a Cancel For Any Reason policy, portions of your trip may be covered in the event of cancellation. If you have already purchased an insurance package and are concerned about your trip being cancelled, it’s best to contact your broker directly for information about the extent of your coverage.

Ultimately, as with any international crisis, staying up to date with reliable information as it is released is always the best measure. If you can avoid travelling until the outbreak has been contained and the associated risks greatly reduced, this, although not always possible, is recommended. View the WHO complete coronavirus library here.

Sources:https://www.who.int/ith/2019-nCoV_advice_for_international_traffic-rev/en/, https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/coronavirus-travel-advice/index.html , https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/news/499/novel-coronavirus-covid-19-general-advice-for-travellers

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