How the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak should affect your travel plans
Photo by Benjamin Chris on Unsplash

If you haven’t heard, a new and unfamiliar coronavirus has popped up in China, particularly in the region around Wuhan. As of late yesterday, it had killed 17 people and cases had been identified in five other countries: Thailand (four cases), Japan (one), South Korea (one), Taiwan (one), and the U.S. (one, in Washington state). The city of Wuhan, China, where nearly all cases are centralized, has temporarily suspended outbound travel “to contain the escalating epidemic.”

Meanwhile, people have been asking me whether it’s safe to travel to Asia. My answer is as follows:

  • If you’re traveling to China or the region soon, go as planned but use extra precautions. Wash your hands constantly, don’t touch your face, consider wearing a mask if around large groups of people, and stay away from animals.
  • If you’re traveling to China or the region down the road, simply relax for now and see how it plays out.
  • In either case, you should keep an eye on the situation. That means reading reliable information from the CDC, the WHO, the State Department (and other countries’ travel advisory services). It could simply be a lot of media hype, but it’s too early to know for sure.

All in all, fewer than 500 cases had officially been reported as of yesterday, though that number is expected to rise. The likes of the WHO and the U.S. Embassy in China have so far not come out against travel to China, let alone other parts of Asia, though they have recommended caution. The U.S. Embassy, for example, says only that travelers to Wuhan should “avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat); avoid contact with sick people; and wash hands often with soap and water.”

So for now, keeping an eye on the travel advisory alerts offered by the U.S., the U.K. and others is your best bet. Keep your travel plans (I have a trip to Asia next month), but look out for updates (including from this newsletter). The fact is that a lot is not yet known about this coronavirus but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use the information that is available to make a smart travel decision. Here’s a place to start:

What is the Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses, according to CNN, “can make people sick, usually with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold” but “there are a handful of human coronaviruses that are known to be deadly.” SARS and MERS, for example, are deadly coronaviruses. CNN says that the coronavirus “is currently thought to be more mild than SARS and MERS and takes longer to develop symptoms. Patients to date have typically experienced a mild cough for a week followed by shortness of breath, causing them to visit the hospital, explains Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford. So far, around 15% to 20% of cases have become severe, requiring, for example, ventilation in the hospital.”

It’s not known exactly how the coronavirus is transmitted, but the U.K. government notes that “other coronaviruses are mainly transmitted by large respiratory droplets and direct or indirect contact with infected secretions.”

How to keep up with the coronavirus: resources

To keep up with the coronavirus and related travel advisories, try these resources:


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