As international efforts to contain coronavirus intensify, holidaymakers are being forced to navigate flight disruptions, city lockdowns, travel bans and quarantine rules.
It’s prompted many Australians to wonder whether it’s wise to travel, and what to look out for if they do.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s happening with flights?
Airlines are cutting back their flight schedules in response to falling demand – especially for flights in the Asian region.
So you might have to factor in changes to your arrival and departure times, as well as delays caused by virus screening at airports.
In general, it’s a good idea to check directly with your airline if your flight is still departing as scheduled.
Below are some of the changes you might have to contend with if you’re flying Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin or Tigerair:
- Qantas and Jetstar have cut back their flights to China, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Sydney-to-Shanghai Qantas route has been suspended. But Qantas’ long-haul flights to the US and Britain haven’t been affected so far
- Jetstar Australia flights to mainland China have been suspended, while its airlines in Singapore, Japan, and Vietnam have stopped flights to China and are also reducing their flights across the region
- Virgin has cut back its flights to holiday destinations, while Tigerair and Virgin have stopped flying to Hong Kong
- Tiger also quit flying several domestic routes, including Adelaide-Sydney, Sydney-Cairns, and Hobart-Gold Coast, noting coronavirus has had a “weakening effect” on domestic, as well as international, demand
For anyone planning to fly with these airlines domestically, flight schedules within Australia have also been pared back – so your flight may be moved to the next available service.
How and when should I book?
With the travel industry under pressure globally thanks to the virus, the question of where you should lay down your money is all about who you trust.
There’s a small risk companies that can’t cope in the current environment could go under – and take your hard-earned holiday with them.
Keep the phone numbers for your bank, insurer, airline, travel agent and accommodation provider handy so you can check your booking is solid if you need to.
The coronavirus outbreak is going 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.
With new outbreak locations being reported all the time, it’s very hard to predict where will be affected next, and what that might mean for travellers.
So, I should probably get travel insurance…
You should check the fine print before you buy your policy.
The exclusions will be listed in the product disclosure statement, which might be a separate document to the policy that you sign.
There might also be a clear statement on your travel insurer’s website. It could be a good idea to save this statement when you pay for your insurance, in case the online version changes later on.
The Insurance Council of Australia says many insurers have exemptions for infectious diseases and pandemics, but the policies are different for each insurer.
Some policies will cover alternative plans if your trip is disrupted by coronavirus.
Others will cover any medical expenses while you’re travelling.
But this will all depend on when you bought your policy, and when you started your trip.
If you’re already on the road and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade upgrades its travel advice to ‘do not travel’ for your destination, you may also be covered if you have to cancel the rest of your trip.
Before you call your insurer, you should contact your travel agent, airline or hotel to make alternative plans or ask for a refund, the Insurance Council says.
Should I even go overseas?
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued travel warnings for a growing number of countries hit by the virus.
But there’s just one place with a ‘do not travel’ warning, and that’s China.
DFAT says there are four countries that have had their travel advice upgraded due to coronavirus, including China, South Korea and Japan.
On Wednesday, Italy was added to that list after 323 cases were identified there, including 10 people who died.
Those cases are concentrated in the north of the country, which is where the travel warning has been issued for.
Fresh cases of the virus have been reported in Austria, Switzerland, and Croatia.
There are also unconfirmed reports of new cases in Brazil.
Here are some measures you can take if you have to travel:
- Talk to your doctor if you’re travelling with babies or young children, or if you’re pregnant. Likewise if you have a chronic health problem or weak immunity
- Check with your airline, travel agent, cruise line, and travel insurance company to work out what your options are if things change
- Check with your travel insurance company to see if you’re covered
Can I still travel through transport hubs in Asia?
The short answer is yes – but expect to be checked for coronavirus on your way through.
And depending on where you’ve come from, you might be quarantined – whether you like it or not.
The rules for exit, entry and transit through airports can change at short notice.
DFAT is warning that not all airports or transport companies are applying their policies on coronavirus consistently.
At Hong Kong airport, all departing passengers will undergo temperature checks – even if they’re just transferring between flights.
This could mean delays getting to your next flight.
If you’ve travelled through mainland China you will be quarantined for two weeks.
And if you’re arriving from Korea, you won’t be allowed to enter Hong Kong.
Travellers through all Malaysian airports 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.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport has set up quarantine bays at its arrival gates for any passengers who appear to be unwell.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Health is distributing Health Alert Cards for passengers to fill in, declaring any medical problems when they arrive.
You’ll have to undergo a temperature check on arrival at Changi or Seletar airports.
If you’ve arrived from China, so-called “healthcare teams” will be watching out for passengers who look unwell.
What if I want to go on a cruise?
The cruise ship industry body, the Cruise Lines International Association, says most itineraries outside northern Asia are operating as normal.
But it recommends checking with your travel agent or cruise ship operator.
Anyone boarding a cruise ship, including crew members, will be screened.
If they’re displaying symptoms, they won’t be allowed on board.
The following measures have also been put in place:
- You won’t be allowed to board a cruise ship if you have come through mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the previous 14 days
- You won’t be allowed to board a cruise ship if you have had close contact with anyone diagnosed with, or suspected of having, coronavirus or anyone being monitored for exposure to the virus