The Coronavirus outbreak is still in its pandemic mode and has not yet slowed down. It is so severe, especially in China, that health institutions and governments are now tracking the number of confirmed cases and deaths by the second.

Detected in Dec 2019 and confirmed in early Jan 2020, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) started possibly from a live animals market in Wuhan, a Central Chinese province. With 60300+ cases reported, the epidemic has gripped everyone with fear. And one of the most common fears among people across countries is the risk of travelling and the fear of catching the infection. This article focuses on tips on how to stay healthy while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Before we dive into the precautions that one needs to take, especially while travelling, let’s get a basic understanding of how this started and what are the possible ways by which the infection can be spread.

What is Coronavirus and how does the infection spread?

Coronavirus is a family of crown-shaped viruses that can infect both animals and humans. They primarily cause respiratory problems ranging from the common cold to severe conditions like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 

They are typically large viruses with 125 nanometers of surface area of spike projections, that spread in the same way like other cold-causing Rhinoviruses do. Most often, they spread by direct physical contact with an infected person. They can also spread by indirect contact - through the touch of an infected individual’s hands or face, through touching objects such as doorknobs & smartphones or by sharing towels/ napkins/ utensils of infected people.

Note, early signs of Coronavirus symptoms in humans are fever, running nose, cough and sore throat that can lead to shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, Pneumonia and kidney failure in most severe cases.

Is it safe to travel considering the spread of Coronavirus infection?

Given that confirmed cases of Coronavirus have been found outside of China (although not in significant numbers!), measures have been taken to ban travel to China with a lockdown in Hubei, Wuhan and its surrounding provinces. It is also prudent to travel to Asian countries like Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam.

However, when it comes to traveling, it depends on the destination one is traveling to, the mode of travel and how likely is one to pick the virus in that destination. Currently, the WHO has declared a ‘health emergency’ in China. Experts are of the opinion that the risk of acquiring an infection outside of China is significantly low. 

Traveling anywhere outside of China is safe at the moment and also travelling by air does not pose a threat to most. Also, the chances of catching an infection from a fellow passenger who is unwell or down with cold, while traveling by air are very minimal. 

What are the precautions to be taken to stay healthy while traveling?

General precautions before and during travel: 

  • Do not travel if you have fever/ cold or cough.
  • Frequently wash hands with soap and warm water.
  • Carry an alcohol based sanitiser with you at all times and use it when you do not have access to soap and water.
  • Cover your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing and always use a tissue. Throw the used tissues immediately in the bin.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Eat only well-cooked food. It would be preferable to avoid meat.
  • Make sure to use a sanitiser after using escalators, restrooms, laptop hubs, charging points and other public utility areas.
  • Avoid physical contact with people who have a cold/ cough/ fever, are sneezing or have symptoms of other respiratory diseases

Precautions during air travel:

  • The most dangerous items at an airport are the trays at the security checkpoint. Make sure you wash your hands immediately after handling them.
  • Use a N95 mask while standing in long queues at the airport. The N95 mask filters 95% of the smaller air particles, reducing the risk of coming in contact with infected air particles. Keep in mind that it is difficult to breathe with this mask on. 
  • If you choose to wear a single-use surgical face mask, discard it immediately after use and avoid touching the mask too often.  

Precautions while traveling on a ship/ cruise:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Stay away from people who appear unwell/sick. 

While it is advisable to avoid traveling during this time, remember frequent and vigorous hand washing is the strongest weapon to kill the chances of catching an infection while traveling. It reduces viral transmission significantly and must be practiced by all, whether one is traveling or not.