Should you reconsider your overseas travel plans amid the coronavirus outbreak? Experts weigh in.

Should you reconsider travelling? Photo: iStock
  • The government has issued ‘do not travel’ notices to China and Iran amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  • We asked experts whether you should consider cancelling your travel plans.
  • Dr David Beirman, senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney told Business Insider Australia “generally no” unless you’re going to a destination that is fairly dangerous.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Thinking of travelling but worried about the coronavirus?

Dr David Beirman, Senior Lecturer in tourism and the Management Discipline Group at the University of Technology Sydney Business School, told Business Insider Australia the travel industry should stop telling people how not to travel or how to avoid travel.

Instead, they should do things differently and suggest ways people can be careful about how they go about travelling.

“Obviously we’re not going to encourage people to travel to places where they’re likely to get COVID-19,” Beirman said, pointing to places like Wuhan or northern Italy. “But travel’s actually a lot safer than a lot of people seem to think it is.”

Beirman is also the longest-serving member of the consular consultative group – a stakeholder group that advises the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about travel advisories. He has been a part of the organisation for 17 years.

Beirman explained that because there are “unknowns” surrounding COVID-19, people are naturally worried.

“Instead of looking at ways to deal with it or manage it, they’re…just saying ‘Okay, let’s hide in the house’,” he said.

Is it safe to fly on airplanes?

Beirman explained that airlines tend to be the most risk-prepared mode of transportation. He said airlines have filtration units in their ventilation system which kills germs and viruses. “They’ve had it since SARS when they introduced it back in 2003,” he said.

When asked whether Australians should reconsider going on their flights, Beirman said “generally, no” unless they are going to a destination which is proven to be fairly dangerous.

“If you’re going by airline, I would feel pretty comfortable about it,” he said.

But he said was more cautious when it came to cruise ships.

“People should be careful about going on cruises,” he said. “Because I’m not certain that the cruise lines have taken all the necessary measures that need to be taken.”

Beirman suggested taking advice from government travel advisories about which countries – and which parts of countries – are safe to travel to.

“For example, in South Korea, the problem of coronavirus is largely in the south rather than in Seoul,” he said.

“The most important thing that people need to do is they need to obviously research where it is they are going to. And not only where they going, but also what route they’re taking [and] what means of transport they’re taking.”

And of course, he added that “people obviously need to just take a little bit more care.”

But don’t be lured by really cheap tickets

In terms of choosing flights, Beirman provided an example of the advice lecturers were given at UTS: get an open ticket so you can change without penalty.

Beirman also suggested prospective travellers should err on the side of caution when it comes to the really cheap flight tickets.

“It’s not only the airlines you choose, but I think also too, probably going for the cheap fares,” he said. “The really el cheapo faires that are packed with a lot of conditions that you can’t change is probably something to try to avoid. The more flexible the fare is, probably the better.”

He suggested that for those particularly travelling for business reasons, fares which enable you to change without penalty are “probably worth spending a little bit of extra money on, just in case.”

For Beirman, it’s not about giving up and cancelling your flights, it’s about how you can travel “with the maximum of safety”.

Advice from Smartraveller

The government’s Smartraveller website issued ‘do not travel’ advice for China and Iran, it also advised reconsidering your need to travel to South Korea and exercising a “high degree of caution” when considering travel to Japan, Italy and Mongolia.

Dr Hassan Vally, Associate Professor in Public Health at La Trobe University, told Business Insider Australia via email that people need to make sure they’re fully informed before they travel anywhere.

“You should be clear about what the travel advice is and take this on board,” he said.

But if you do decide to go ahead with your travel, he suggested taking normal safety precautions.

“As would be the case in Australia, practising good hygiene at this time is really important,” he said. “This involves washing your hands often with soap and water, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, and avoiding exposure to people who are unwell.

“You also need to monitor your health closely and if you begin to feel unwell make sure you don’t delay seeing a doctor.”

Smart Traveller advised talking to your doctor before travelling with young children, if you’re pregnant, if you have a chronic medical condition or if you have a weak immune system.

It also advised checking the travel advice of the country you’re visiting and the countries you’re going to be transiting through to get there and back. You should also check with your airline, cruise line, travel agent, accommodation or travel insurance provider to see what your options are if there any changes to the service.

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