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Friday, Dec 04, 2020

Everything travelers need to know about coronavirus

Travelers are increasingly on edge as the coronavirus pandemic grips the globe, prompting travel restrictions, cancellations and suspensions.

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that at his request, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC cruise lines will suspend outbound cruises for 30 days.

The move follows his announcement Wednesday that travel from much of Europe to the United States will be suspended for 30 days.

The Europe travel ban, which begins Friday, only applies to foreign nationals, not American citizens, their immediate family members and legal permanent residents.

Americans and US permanent residents will still be able to fly to Europe and be allowed back into the US during this 30-day period.

Travelers returning from impacted countries after the new restrictions are implemented on Friday must arrive through 13 US airports set up for enhanced screening. Returning travelers will need to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The ban does not apply to all of Europe but to nations in the Schengen Area, a group of European states that eliminated passports and other restrictions at their shared borders.

The area includes Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

US issues new worldwide travel advisory

Meanwhile, the US State Department raised the worldwide travel advisory to Level 3 on Wednesday night -- meaning US citizens should reconsider travel abroad.

"The Department of State advises US citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of Covid-19. Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions," the statement said.

This announcement follows an advisory issued by the State Department on March 8 warning against cruise travel.

"US citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship," the warning reads.

"Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships," the advisory says.

In the US, large gatherings such as concerts, parades and sporting events are increasingly being called off. The NBA has suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for Covid-19, and NCAA's March Madness has been canceled.

All travelers should be aware of the virus, pay close attention to travel advisories and health guidance, steer clear of heavily impacted areas and exercise preventive measures.

Here's what else travelers should know about the virus outbreak:

Flight cancellations and increased flexibility

Airlines scrambled following President Trump's announcement Wednesday to adapt operations to the new ban on travelers from much of Europe.

American and United are continuing much of their Europe service through March 19 and March 20, respectively, to ensure customers and employees get home. They have also waived change fees for affected passengers.

Delta Air Lines has also posted adjustments to trans-Atlantic service online and has waived change fees for customers traveling to, from or through Europe and the UK through May 31, according to a post on the airline's website. The United Kingdom is not part of the ban.

Air France, KLM and others have also outlined schedule changes and flexible policies for impacted travelers.

Airlines all over the world have slashed flights amid the outbreak, with many suspending or vastly reducing service to hard-hit countries such as China and Italy. They've also cut domestic service and other routes following a precipitous drop in demand.

Some airlines, including United, American, JetBlue and Delta, have recently built more flexibility into new bookings, waiving change fees for some travel periods in March.

Travelers with upcoming bookings should check with their airlines and look for advisories posted on carriers' websites.

Amtrak has also cut some rail service in the US due to a drop in demand. Amtrak is waiving change fees on all existing or new train reservations made before April 30, 2020.

Airline cleaning efforts and traveler hygiene

Airlines have bumped up their sanitation efforts to stem the virus' spread, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released guidance on aircraft cleaning.

Delta Air Lines started using a fogging technique in February "with a highly effective, EPA-registered disinfectant" on flights arriving in the US from Asia.

Fogging is being performed on all trans-Pacific flights arriving into the US, the airline said, and those procedures are being expanded.

While disinfecting is helpful, frequent hand washing is among a traveler's best defenses, infectious disease experts say.

"Even if there is virus in the inanimate environment, it's not going to jump off the seat and bite you in the ankle," says Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in Vanderbilt University's division of infectious diseases.

"You've got to touch it, and then touch your nose or your mouth. So it's those hands we have that are the important intermediary. And that's where I would put the emphasis," he said.

Wash or sanitize your hands after touching surfaces in airports and planes.

"Hand sanitizers are great. So are antiseptic hand wipes, which you can also use to wipe down armrests, remote controls at your seat and your tray table," said travel medicine specialist Dr. Richard Dawood.

The CDC advises washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used when soap and water are not available.

Most viruses don't spread easily on airplanes because of how the air circulates and is filtered, the CDC says.

The CDC has issued guidance saying that older adults and people with serious, chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease should "stay home as much as possible."

Hand washing is a strong defense; masks are not

Dr. Schaffner has received a lot of questions about whether people should be wearing masks to avoid infection.

He realizes it's culturally very common in Asia, but he says the CDC doesn't recommend it for the general public because "the scientific basis showing that people in the community wearing masks actually has any benefit is very thin and questionable."

More fitted respirator masks may be used in medical settings, but are generally impractical for the general public, Schaffner says.

Good hand hygiene is a better defense.

If you are sick, wearing a face mask when you are around other people can be helpful, according to the CDC. But those who are symptomatic should avoid travel.

Cruise line cases and precautions

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC cruise lines will suspend outbound cruises for 30 days, according to a tweet from President Trump on Friday.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian both have posted notices of the suspension online.

Princess Cruises on Thursday announced a 60-day suspension in global operations from March 12 to May 10.

The measure comes in the wake of the government cruise warning and the infection and quarantine of passengers from two Princess ships.

Viking is also temporarily suspending operations of river and ocean cruises from March 12 to April 30.

Virgin Voyages has postponed the maiden voyage of its first cruise ship, Scarlet Lady, until August.

Before the more drastic measures, cruise lines had recently instituted flexible rebooking policies.

Carnival Cruise Line recently sent letters to guests booked through May 31 offering options to reschedule and onboard credits for those who proceed with their plans. Other cruise lines have extended similar offers.

Many cruises to and from mainland China and other Asian destinations were canceled or modified earlier in the outbreak.

Traveler screening procedures

President Trump announced additional screening of travelers from "designated high risk countries" in a tweet on March 1.
Vice President Mike Pence said in early March that anyone traveling to the US on flights from Italy and South Korea will receive multiple screenings before arriving in the US. Italy is now on lockdown and the March 11 ban on arrivals from Europe applies to Italy as well.

Health screenings are in effect in the US for those traveling from China and Iran. American citizens, lawful permanent residents and their family members who have been in China or Iran within the last 14 days require screening at one of 11 designated US airports.

Foreign nationals who have visited China or Iran in the past 14 days are barred from entering the US. Travelers from the 26 European countries included in the new restrictions are also barred from entering.

The US isn't the only country to put restrictions in place for travelers arriving from heavily impacted areas. Make sure that your destination has not restricted your arrival before embarking on an international trip.

Travel advisories

An increasing number of travel advisories have been issued by countries around the world.

The US State Department raised the worldwide travel advisory to Lev

The US State Department's travel warning for China is at the highest level - Level 4: Do not travel. The department's warning for travel to Iran, which was already at Level 4 prior to the outbreak, was recently updated to add information about coronavirus.
Specific areas of Italy and South Korea - Lombardy and Veneto in Italy and Daegu in South Korea - carry a Level 4: Do not travel warning.

A country-by-country list of advisories is available on the State Department website.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday told Canadians to curtail non-essential travel outside of the country. The cruise ship season will be suspended until July, Trudeau said.

The Spanish foreign ministry on Thursday advised its citizens to avoid "all but urgent travel," according to a statement.

Canada and the United Kingdom are among many other nations that have issued travel warnings for high-risk destinations.
The CDC has its own list of advisories related to coronavirus posted online.

All travelers should avoid contact with sick people and clean their hands frequently.

Attractions closed and events canceled

The United States has seen widespread cancellations of large events aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus, and major theme parks are closing their doors.

On March 12, Disney announced it's closing Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, as well as its Disneyland resort in California and Disneyland Paris. The company also said that it will suspend all new departures with the Disney Cruise Line starting Saturday through the end of the month.

Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando and Los Angeles have also announced plans to temporarily close.

In Paris, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower closed Friday, and Italy's countrywide lockdown means all museums and archaeological sites have been shuttered.

Some museums in South Korea, Japan and elsewhere have closed temporarily to stem the spread of the virus.

A number of Ireland's St. Patrick's Day parades have been canceled. New York, Boston, New Orleans and Pittsburgh are among US cities that have postponed or canceled their parades.

Disney parks in Asia are closed, as is Universal Studios Japan, and some of Japan's crowd-pleasing cherry blossom festivals have been called off.

In Shanghai, Disney has reopened some shops and restaurants but the theme park remains closed.

In Thailand, several official Songkran (Thai New Year) festivals, due to take place in mid-April, have been canceled.

Most travel insurance is unlikely to cover this situation

Airlines are relaxing their policies and some major hotel chains are waiving cancellation fees, but recouping all the costs associated with trips canceled due to coronavirus fears is far from guaranteed.

An outbreak of a virus is not covered under most standard trip cancellation insurance policies, according to TravelInsurance.com.

"For those who purchased a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) optional upgrade, however, some measure of trip cancellation protection may be available," according to Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com.

Those holding existing policies should contact their providers to see if their plans offer any coverage.


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Oscar Ameringer
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