State Dept. advises reconsidering South Korea trips: A guide to coronavirus travel warnings


The world has been scrambling to contain the new coronavirus, which has infected tens of thousands of people and killed nearly 3,000.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 13: Passengers check in for Virgin America flights inside terminal two at San Francisco International Airport on March 13, 2015 in San Francisco, California. According to a passenger survery conducted by SkyTrax, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was been named the best airport in North America for customer service. SkyTrax collected over 13 million questionnaires at 550 airports around the world. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As an example of quickly changing circumstances, the U.S. State Department Wednesday raised its travel advisory for South Korea to level 3: Reconsider travel. It had been at level 2 – Exercise increased caution – since Saturday. 

The travel industry in turn faces an unprecedented situation. What is the U.S. government recommending? How can airlines, cruise lines and hotels accommodate travelers? 

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While the coronavirus situation is fluid, the government and the industry are taking and recommending precautionary measures to both assist travelers and stem the outbreak.

Here’s a look at what the U.S. State Department, airlines, cruise lines and hotels are telling passengers amid the coronavirus outbreak. We will be updating this story as we learn more information.

Coronavirus travel warnings from CDC, State Department

The State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are increasingly warning travelers about coronavirus. Here’s a look at the most recent warnings from the CDC and State Department.

China. In January the State Department issued a level 4 travel advisory (“do not travel”) – its most severe warning – for all of China. The CDC recommends travelers avoid nonessential travel to China, a level 3 warning, also its most severe warning. This excludes Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

South Korea. Wednesday’s State Department update comes as the CDC is warning against travel to South Korea because of the large number of cases there. On Monday, the CDC issued a level 3 advisory, it’s highest, which warns to “avoid nonessential travel” to the East Asian country.

Italy. The CDC has Italy at a level 2 alert, updated Sunday, meaning “practice enhanced precautions.” This means older adults and people with chronic medical conditions may want to postpone nonessential travel. The agency recommends proper hand-washing procedures and staying away from sick people.

The State Department updated its travel advisory to reflect people should “exercise increased caution” in the country due to coronavirus.

It was previously updated Jan. 15 (with “terrorism” as its reasoning, which is listed along with coronavirus) and remains at a level 2 out of 4.

Japan. Japan, like Italy, also has a level 2 alert: “practice enhanced precautions.” Like South Korea, the State Department updated its advisory for the country to a level 2 on Saturday.

Singapore. There is no CDC nor State Department advisory at this time for Singapore despite nearly 100 recorded coronavirus cases.

Hong Kong. The CDC advisory for Hong Kong is only a level 1, a “watch,” meaning travelers should exercise “usual precautions.” The CDC specifically mentions it “does not recommend canceling or postponing travel.”

Hong Kong, like South Korea and Japan, has a level 2 warning from the State Department due to coronavirus.

Iran. Iran has a level 2 CDC warning: “practice enhanced precautions.” Iran’s State Department advisory was last updated Dec. 26, 2019, with a “level 4” warning of “do not travel” on account of kidnapping, arrest, detention risk.

The State Department on Feb. 26 said that those currently in the country “should exercise increased caution” on account of the outbreak.

Mongolia. Mongolia’s travel advisory is a “level 3” (“reconsider travel”) because of Mongolia’s response to China’s coronavirus outbreak.

Cruise ships. The State Department is warning travelers to reconsider going on a cruise to or within Asia. The warning says cruisers will be faced with strict screening procedures, and travel restrictions could affect itineraries, ability to disembark and lead to quarantine procedures.

“While the U.S. government has successfully evacuated hundreds of our citizens in the previous weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities,” the statement also reads.

After being turned away from multiple Caribbean ports, the MSC Meraviglia has received clearance to dock at the Port of Cozumel in Mexico. MSC cruises said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Paige Rosenthal that the ship would arrive there late Wednesday local time. No cases of coronavirus have been reported aboard the Meraviglia or any other MSC ships, the company said Wednesday.

Coronavirus: Flights and waivers

United, American and Delta have suspended flights to China and Hong Kong into late April. Here’s how the airlines are handling travel waivers.

United. United has travel waivers in place for China and South Korea on account of the coronavirus, with specific waivers in place for Hong Kong and Wuhan. The waivers vary by date and refund particulars.

American. American has similar waivers in place for the aforementioned locations.

Delta. Delta has waivers in place for Beijing and Shanghai in China, Seoul, South Korea and Milan, Bologna and Venice in Italy. Tickets need to be reissued on or before May 31, and travel has to begin no later than May 31. For Italy destinations, tickets must be reissued on or before Mar. 2 and travel must begin no later than Mar. 31.

Delta is also reducing some of its weekly flights from the U.S. to South Korea. Service between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Incheon International Airport is suspended from Feb. 29 to April 30. The airline will limit service between Seoul and Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle through April 30. Incheon to Manila service was supposed to begin on March 29 but will now start on May 1.

JetBlue. There are no travel restrictions that affect JetBlue’s mostly domestic network, but the airline said Wednesday that its waiving change and cancel fees from Friday through March 11 for travel completed by June 1. 

“While authorities have not issued any travel restrictions to the locations we fly,” said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s president and chief operating officer, “we want to give our customers some peace of mind that we are ready to support them should the situation change.”

Airport screening. U.S. citizens who have traveled in China within the last 14 days will be re-routed to one of 11 designated airports, where they will undergo enhanced health screening procedures. 

The airports are: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; Chicago O’Hare International Airport; San Francisco International Airport; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu; Los Angeles International Airport in California; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Washington-Dulles International Airport in Virginia; Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey; Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; and Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Coronavirus: Cruise travel updates

Norwegian and Royal Caribbean International cruise lines both announced they would bar passengers holding passports from China, Hong Kong or Macao. These measures are in addition to screening and other preventative protocols adopted by trade association Cruise Lines International Association, which represents about 90% of the ocean-going cruise ships in the world. 

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced last week it would cancel all voyages in Asia across its three cruise brands through the summer months due to the coronavirus outbreak ,and that it will temporarily remove the company’s ships from the region.

Cruise Critic has a comprehensive look at itinerary changes, cruise cancellations and what each cruise line is doing.

How hotels are handling coronavirus

Marriott is waiving fees through March 15 for guests with reservations at mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan hotels, as well as guests from those locations headed to other Marriott properties around the world.

IHG is also issuing waivers, and Airbnb has a coronavirus guide on its website.

Hilton had said it closed about 150 of its hotels in China.

Contributing: Cydney Henderson, Hannah Yasharoff, Dawn Gilbertson, Curtis Tate and Julia Thompson, USA TODAY; Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: State Dept. advises reconsidering South Korea trips: A guide to coronavirus travel warnings


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