Coronavirus Travel Advice, Explained: What To Do And Pack If You Have To Fly

We’ve broken down the advice for travellers taking flights in the outbreak. Here’s what the authorities suggest.

As more cases of coronavirus are confirmed, it may be worrying if you have a trip booked – particularly if you’re flying to a destination where diagnoses are increasing.

To ease your concerns, we’ve sourced advice from Public Health England (PHE), the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on safer travel.

Travelling to and from mainland China?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against ‘all but essential’ travel to mainland China. As a result, a number of airlines have suspended flights – check with your airline before travelling for up-to-date information. At present, this advice excludes Hong Kong and Macau.

British people currently in China are being urged to leave the country if they can to minimise the risk of exposure. For advice on this, call the FCO’s helpline on (+44) (0)207 008 1500.

If you have been in mainland China, excluding Wuhan – where the outbreak started – and don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus, you don’t need to self-isolate.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Travelling from Wuhan, China?

If you have returned from Wuhan in the last 14 days, it’s advised that you stay indoors and avoid contact with other people.

You should call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the city or notify your GP if you’re in Northern Ireland. You should do this regardless of whether you have symptoms or not.

DHSC suggests that, where possible, you should avoid having visitors to your home – but it’s okay for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food and supplies.

Travelling to, from and via affected countries?

So far, coronavirus has been confirmed in: mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, India, the Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom, Russia, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Italy, Afghanistan, Egypt, France, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, Oman, South Korea and Sweden.

If you’re travelling to, from or via these countries, it’s important to practise good hygiene (more on that below). Comply with additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities and be vigilant of coronavirus symptoms.

If you experience symptoms on return to the UK, you should self-isolate and call NHS 111.

General hygiene advice when travelling

Initial tests suggests the virus can be passed from human to human. In the same way you’d protect against flu and other nasty bugs, it’s important to practise good hygiene. Make sure you:

:: Wash hands regularly with warm water and soap, especially before handling and consuming food.

:: Cough and sneeze into tissues, then put them in the bin. Don’t leave them lying around. If you haven’t got a tissue, cover your mouth when you cough.

:: Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell.

:: Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth, as these areas are prime gateways for germs to enter the body.

:: Avoid sharing personal items with others.

Sally Bloomfield, honorary Professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, previously told HuffPost UK that being in a confined space – like on a plane or public transport – can mean you’re more likely to catch germs. “Planes are just like any other living environment. The more crowded it gets, the more likely there is to be a spread of harmful germs.”

There are two ways of becoming infected when travelling on flights and public transport, she said: “One is through the air and the other is through touching things that are infected with our hands, and then touching the mouth, eyes or nose.”

Travel insurance advice

Anyone travelling outside of the UK should have travel insurance so they can seek medical treatment abroad. Coronavirus adds an extra layer of complication, however. If people visit a country that the FCO has advised against visiting – such as mainland China – you risk invalidating your travel insurance. It’s worth weighing up this risk before you travel.

You should speak to your travel insurer before you travel to make sure you have all the relevant information.

Should you wear a face mask?

There is some evidence that, when used correctly, face masks can slow the spread of airborne viruses. One study from 2008 found that those who used a mask were 80% less likely to get the flu. Another 2009 report found that, alongside frequent hand-washing, face masks lowered people’s risk of getting the flu by about 70%.

Masks aren’t foolproof, however, as germs can also enter the body through the eyes, genital regions and breaks in the skin. Public Health England says while face masks play an important role in clinical settings, there is little evidence of their benefit beyond this.

David Powell, a physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, advises against wearing masks and surgical gloves. They actually do a better job of spreading bugs than stopping them, he told Bloomberg. He believes the best way to fight against it is frequent hand-washing.

What to pack for your flight

Some airlines are modifying inflight services to prevent – or at least, reduce – the spread of illness between countries. This includes suspended trolley services and, in some instances, suspension of hot towels, pillows, blankets and magazines. Basically any items which can move germs around.

If you’re taking a flight soon, it’s wise to pack a small blanket, your own travel pillow, an eye mask, pack of tissues, a water bottle, antibacterial wipes (for tray tables and arm rests) and hand sanitiser.