How coronavirus is impacting travel amid deadly outbreak

The Independent has received an unprecedented number of questions about the Wuhan Coronavirus – also known as 2019-nCoV.

The UK today declared coronavirus a “serious and imminent threat to public health”, as the virus was confirmed to have killed 900 people and sickened thousands more.

These are the answers to some of the questions received so far on Monday morning, 10 February. The identity of the enquirers has been withheld.

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Given the extremely low number of cases in both Singapore and Thailand, relatively to the population, it is extremely unlikely you would ever encounter anyone with the virus.

Even in that vanishingly small event, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration specifies that “walking by the person or being briefly in the same room” does not constitute a risk.

All you need to do is keep away from anyone who looks unwell, and practise scrupulous hand hygiene – which of course you should always do on a cruise ship because of the ease of infection onboard.

How dangerous is it to be on a flight with someone who has the coronavirus?

Allow me to break down the air travel process into its components. Arguably the riskiest place is at the airport prior to departure. Each day thousands of people from all over the world converge with a multiplicity of germs. Research in Finland found that the trays used at security checkpoint are the most dangerous items in an airport, and you should certainly wash your hands immediately after handling them. Be aware, too, of other surfaces frequently touched by passengers – and wherever possible use contactless payment rather than handling cash.

Don’t stand in a queue with lots of people you don’t know; hang back during the boarding process. Being among the last onboard the aircraft will enable you to identify any fellow passenger who appears unwell. It is not unreasonable to report any concerns to cabin crew so they can investigate further. 

The US Centers for Disease Control has researched the likelihood of infection spreading from another passenger as “medium” if you are seated on an aircraft within six feet of a traveller “with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection”.

This distance correlates approximately with two economy-class seats in each direction.

Passengers in the same or adjacent rows sat further away have a low risk; everyone else is categorised as “no identifiable risk”.

On arrival, again be circumspect about queues; you might want to wait in a corner until most fellow passengers have been processed through passport control. And if you are being fingerprinted, bear in mind that thousands of others have deposited their microbes on the glass – so again, wash your hands scrupulously.

We are due to cruise to southeast Asia in two weeks’ time, taking in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. What would be your advice?

Evidently you have an appetite for risk, or you wouldn’t have signed up for such a voyage – given the hazards that prevail on cruise ships and the land-based threats in southeast Asia.

My advice is the same as at any time: on the ship, keep washing your hands and don’t dwell around someone who looks ill. On land, beware of mosquito-borne insects, terrible driving and animals – don’t go near them.

My wife and I are in the final stages of planning a self-organised four-week fly-drive holiday to the southern states of USA. A hypothetical question: if, because of coronavirus, the USA closed its borders, would we be able to claim on our travel insurance, for all our losses (flights, hotels and car hire)? Is there any add on to an existing travel-insurance policy that would give us more protection for this sort of instance?

The USA has imposed a complete ban on non-American travellers from China in a bid to restrict the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. It is extremely unlikely that it would bring in a similar rule for travellers from other countries, including the UK.

Were that to happen, though, you would be expected to mitigate your losses as much as possible: since flights would presumably end, the airline would need to provide a full refund. Reputable hotels and car rental firms would normally recognise the extraordinary situation and also hand back your money.

Travel insurance should cover any residual losses, but it is not the place to start.

I am going to Japan in the last two weeks of March with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. I am waiting to hear about flights changed from Gatwick to Heathrow because of the coronavirus. I have immediate travel plans in Japan that tie in with the original arrival and day of return. Where do I stand if the rearranged London-Tokyo flights mess up those plans? 

Cathay Pacific is trimming its schedules as demand for flights to and through Hong Kong dwindles. But as with any flight cancellation, the airline should be able to offer appropriate flexibility to allow you to proceed with your plans.

The British male feared to be a “coronavirus super spreader” had travelled on easyJet from Geneva to Gatwick. Did the plane need to be decontaminated?

I put your question to easyJet and this is the response: “As you would expect, we have worked closely with Public Health England (PHE) and they have not required us to do anything differently.

“We would follow any advice as required and they have advised the risk is very low. Our aircraft are cleaned every day and it is worth noting we were only notified by PHE 10 days after the flight, late on the evening of 6 February.”

I have a flight to Vietnam booked for 14 March. Is it wise to go at this time, with the virus in mind?  Will I get a refund if i decide not to go? No insurance arranged yet.

If I may say so, it was an interesting choice to book a flight to a country with a wide range of risks and not to take out travel insurance at the same time. However, in terms of the coronavirus it will make no difference, because insurers will not pay out for what is simply termed “disinclination to travel”.

Were there to be a significant risk to British travellers, the Foreign Office would advise against it and you can try to reclaim your outlay (starting with the airline, which will probably refund fares). But as that is a very unlikely outcome, all I can do is wish you and the other travellers who have been in touch a very happy journey.

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