And: Should I cancel my trip to Asia, despite the financial penalties? Or go ahead? What about going to other parts of the world? How hard is it to disinfect an airplane, anyway, and is a mask enough to protect from the virus?
For anyone planning to travel, the website of the World Health Organization is a good starting point. (W.H.O has been issuing daily updates about the spread of COVID-19 and the status of cases: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports
) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has advised Americans to cancel all nonessential travel to China, also offers information and guides for travelers.
In addition to those agencies, travelers should consult the websites of their home country and their intended destination to see what policies have been put in place.
“You should also be double careful to do the things we say everyone should always do like hand washing with soap and water, especially after touching surfaces or coming in contact with someone who has been coughing,” said David Eisenman, director of University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Public Health and Disasters, and professor of community health sciences at the university’s Fielding School of Public Health. “You should be avoiding close contact with others if you’re sick and you should have your flu shot.”
Here are some of the most common questions and the current advice from health and travel experts. Questions have been combined and condensed for clarity.
I have a trip planned that is not to Asia. Is it safe to go?
Readers asked about destinations thousands of miles from Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak started, including Ireland, Argentina and Vancouver (the last city made one traveler nervous because of its close ties to China).
Dr. Eisenman and other doctors said that from a medical standpoint, there isn’t any current reason to skip a trip to a country where few or no cases of the coronavirus have been reported.
“You have to evaluate your trip week to week, if not day to day,” said Bernard Camins, medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System. “But if you’re looking at a place where there are no cases, there’s no question you should continue on your trip.” (Dr. Camins has trips to Europe planned for this spring and is not canceling.)
The question becomes more difficult the closer to the heart of the outbreak you are planning to travel, Dr. Camins said. In places like Singapore and Thailand, there have been cases, but there is no evidence that there is a lot of person-to-person transmission and the virus doesn’t seem to be out of control, he said. “The chances of you running into a person with it there is low, unless you’re a health care professional and you’re going to work in a hospital,” he said.
He added: “The golden rule for travel right now should be this: If you’re the one who is sick, stay home, do not travel, wear a mask, even for the flu.”
Steve Kuriga, an independent travel adviser at Cadence, a San Diego agency affiliated with the Virtuoso network said, “It’s a personal decision, but unless you’re going through an infected area I don’t see any reason to put off your travels.”
Mr. Kuriga added that he has clients who are looking at South America as an alternative to Asia for an upcoming trip because no cases of COVID-19 have been reported there.
I have a trip planned to Vietnam in April, what is the situation in that country?
There have been 16 confirmed infections, no deaths, 15 recoveries and 1,538 quarantined cases in Vietnam. The country’s prime minister officially declared COVID-19 an epidemic in Vietnam on Feb. 1, and authorities closed land borders with China, indefinitely stopped flights to and from China, and instituted a 14-day quarantine for anyone coming from affected areas in China. The government is also encouraging people to avoid public gatherings at the moment.
Although some cities that have registered infections have closed tourist attractions and heritage sites, the majority are still open to the public. Many festivals and events are going on as planned, but others have been postponed. For a detailed list, consult Vietnam’s tourism site, which has detailed information about traveling to the country.
Aviation and entry policies at Vietnam’s airports
Since February 1, all flights to and from mainland China on all airlines have been indefinitely suspended by the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam. Flights transiting through China are likewise denied entry to Vietnam at this time. Flights connecting to Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan are operational with many airlines running reduced routes.
All visitors are required to comply with regulations on epidemic prevention and health inspections upon landing in Vietnam’s airports. Non-Vietnamese nationals who have transited through mainland China within the past 14 days will be refused entry to Vietnam.
Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar Pacific have announced they will temporarily waive flight change and refund fees for passengers flying to or from Chinese cities until further notice.
Closures and cancellations due to COVID-19
Vietnam's tourism attractions and heritage sites remain open to the public. With the exception of a small handful of cities that have registered infections, Vietnam's destinations remain virus-free and are safe to visit. Travellers can still take tours of Ha Long Bay and Hoi An Ancient Town, and public attractions such as museums remain open to visitors.
A number of festivals and events in Vietnam have been cancelled or postponed in alignment with the government’s directive to avoid public gatherings. Among the cancelled festivals this year are Yen Tu Festival in Quang Ninh, Tam Chuc Festival in Ha Nam, Tran Temple Festival in Nam Dinh and the Huyen Tran Festival in Hue. Activities for Visit Vietnam Year 2020 in Ninh Binh, Hoa Lu have been postponed to a more appropriate time.
Organizers have also announced that several tourism and sporting events will be postponed or cancelled:
Da Lat Sufferfest - Postponed until further notice
Quang Binh Marathon - Postponed until further notice
Techcombank Ha Noi Marathon - Postponed until further notice
Sunrise Sprint - Postponed to May 3, 2020
Da Nang International Fireworks Festival 2020 - Cancelled
Vietnam's inaugural Formula One Grand Prix will take place in Hanoi as planned on April 5th 2020.
Pedestrian and walking zones in Hue and Hanoi — common gathering places for locals and tourists — will be closed until the situation improves.
Health and safety precautions for travellers
Travellers in Vietnam are encouraged to take sensible precautions against COVID-19 during their trips.
The World Health Organization outlines these basic practices to keep yourself and your loved ones safe:
Avoid travelling if you have a fever and cough. If you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, alert health care services and share with them your recent travel history.
Maintain social distancing. Stay a metre or more away from others, especially those who are sneezing or coughing, or have fever.
Wash your hands regularly with soap and running water. You can also use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer to spray your hands as often as you like.
Cover your mouth and nose with tissue when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of dirty tissues immediately and wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
Avoid contact with live animals. Wash your hands with soap and water if you touch live animals or animal products in markets.
Eat only well-cooked food. Make sure your meals especially animal proteins and dairy products are thoroughly cooked and prepared in a sanitary environment.
Discard single-use masks. If you choose to wear a single-use mask, ensure it covers your nose and mouth, avoid touching the mask, and wash your hands after removing it.
Any travellers experiencing symptoms of the virus — fever, cough and difficulty breathing — should immediately call Vietnam’s health hotline: +84 19003228.
Online trackers and official government sites
Travellers looking for updated statistics on COVID-19 can use the Coronavirus app.