Travelling during the COVID-19 outbreak

Traveling during the coronavirus outbreak


On the last day of February 2020, there were eight times as many searches for the term “coronavirus” as there had been a week earlier. Searches for “cancel trip” also spiked, as did “social distancing.” 


People are desperate for answers. Is it safe to travel, and where? Here’s what authorities are saying.


CDC travel restrictions

At the time of this article’s publication, COVID-19 cases have been reported in many US states. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending travelers consider a few factors before undertaking domestic travel. Those include:

  • If COVID-19 is spreading where you are coming from or where you are going
  • If you will be in close contact with others while traveling
  • If you or your travel companions are older or have underlying conditions
  • If you live with someone who is older or has an underlying condition
  • If you have time to perform a 14-day self-quarantine when you return


Depending on your situation, you may decide to cancel your plans. If you still plan to travel, the CDC recommends you take steps to prevent getting or spreading disease by following the normal protocol for avoiding infection:

  • Avoid contact with sick persons
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Use sanitizer with 60% to 90% alcohol content if soap and water are not available


For international travel, there are three caution levels. All international destinations are currently under either a Level 2 or Level 3 advisory.


Alert level 2: practice enhanced precautions

Alert Level 2 countries have “sustained community spread,” meaning that transmission of the COVID-19 virus is ongoing, and the source of initial infection is not known. The CDC recommends that individuals at high risk of infection consider postponing travel to a Level 2 country. People who feel ill are also discouraged from visiting a Level 2 destination.


As the WHO has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, all countries that are not at Warning Level 3 are considered Alert Level 2 destinations.


Warning level 3: avoid nonessential travel

Countries under Warning Level 3 have widespread ongoing transmission. The CDC advises US travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to these countries, which presently include:

  • Malaysia
  • South Korea


A further stage of Warning Level 3 includes the following countries:

  • China
  • Iran
  • Most European countries
  • The United Kingdom


Most foreign nationals without residency who have been to these countries within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the US. All other travelers who have been to these coudestinations may only re-enter through specific airports and must undergo monitoring and possible quarantine for 14 days after arrival. Those with symptoms of illness will be subject to additional restrictions.


Cancellations and shutdowns

Some people’s reasons for travel have already been eliminated as organizations choose to cancel conferences and events. Affected gatherings range from Google’s I/O 2020, the year’s biggest developer conference, to niche scientific meetings and special-interest recreational events.


Companies of all sizes are restricting business travel and, in some cases, asking employees to work from home. Colleges across the US are switching to online classes and canceling on-campus events, regardless of event size. 


On March 10, Harvard University gave students five days to move out of their dorms and canceled all non-essential gatherings involving more than 25 people. 


Planes, trains, and automobiles

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, transit providers have seen reduced demand for their services. Several major airlines are responding by waiving the fees associated with changing tickets, and Amtrak is doing the same. Amtrak is also changing their cleaning schedules so that trains and stations get sanitized more frequently.


Public transit agencies and rideshare companies have been taking similar steps, recommending handwashing after rides and even distributing sanitizer. Many transit agencies, including those in Seattle, have started cleaning their vehicles more often and disinfecting “high-touch surfaces” like turnstiles and grab bars.


Cruise lines, which have received intense attention throughout the outbreak, have also adopted the practice of allowing travelers to rebook without penalties. Members of the Cruise Lines International Association have been responding by canceling vacations to affected areas and intensifying pre-boarding screenings. 


Travel insurance

 If you have travel insurance, don’t assume that your policy will cover you if you cancel due to coronavirus. Some insurance companies, including Allianz Global Assistance, are accepting virus-related claims, but only under certain circumstances.


You may be covered if you fall ill with the virus during your trip or if your tickets are to places with high-level alerts. However, if you choose not to travel because you’re worried about infection, your insurance policy probably won’t cover you.


Unless your destination is closed or canceled, the decision about whether to travel is ultimately your own. Consider your own health needs as well as those of people more vulnerable to the virus than you are. Public health is about everyone.