Coronavirus, Travel, & Global Health: An Update

The coronavirus has spread globally, spurring constant news reports of a pandemic crisis. Italy, which currently has the highest number of cases behind China, has attempted to take stronger measures to control the virus’ spread. Coronavirus cases in Italy are concentrated in the Northern regions. A leaked government plan to essentially close off the North by asking citizens to stay home and avoid travel (unless it’s for work or an emergency) to curtail the rapid spread of the virus has led to chaos. Thousands of Northern Italians panicked, disobeying the recommendations of Italian authorities, and fled for the train stations or by car to other Italian regions and neighboring countries, potentially spreading the virus further.

As a number of Italians attempted to flee the country’s restrictions, neighboring Austria has reacted to the potential danger by tightening its borders with Italy. This may sound like an over-reaction, but a woman who recently arrived from Italy in Morocco died from coronavirus complications. Morocco only had two cases at the time. The woman flew from Italy into Morocco, potentially sparking the spread of the virus into North Africa.

News about the Italian situation may be alarming, but it’s also important to remember that the disease seems to primarily affect a small number of the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. It may not be a great consolation, but amidst the flurry of panic and potential travel restrictions, staying calm and objective is essential, especially since we’re in the middle of a critical political crisis where another four years of Trump can become a stark reality. Here are some ways to stay healthy (and sane) in these uncertain times. 

As Simple As it Sounds, Wash Your Hands

There is no cure or vaccine at this time, but basic soap and water can keep the virus at bay. If there is a blessing to be found in the current outbreak, it’s the fact the pathogen’s mortality rate is low — and prevention is affordable

The CDC recommends that everyone wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is a viable alternative, as long as it contains at least 60% alcohol. Regardless of what method you use, wash or sanitize often, making sure you lather all parts of your hands, including between the fingers, back of hands, under fingernails, and wrists. And avoid touching your face with unwashed or unsanitized hands. 

Be Careful When Handling Animals and Animal Products

New Zealand is especially concerned about contact with animals and meats — researchers have found that the virus originated in animals, who somehow transmitted the coronavirus to humans. It’s entirely possible that China’s practice of eating wild animals led to the pathogen’s jump from the animal species to humans.

eTA New Zealand recommends that international travelers should safeguard against contracting the virus in the following ways:

  • Avoid contact with people who have traveled in the last two weeks to regions affected by the coronavirus such as China, Korea, Iran, and Italy. Many individuals infected with the coronavirus don’t display symptoms for at least two weeks. 
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animals.
  • Do not eat animal products that are raw or undercooked.

Besides the recommendation of reducing exposure to animals and animal products to international travelers, individuals who primarily work outdoors, especially people who practice wilderness medicine, should be cautious until further information is available on the link between animals and the virus.

Do Your Research Before You Cancel Travel

The halt in travel is devastating to many economies who rely on tourism. Some travelers have no choice as airlines cancel flights due to low demand or a government’s imposed travel restrictions. But should you cancel your upcoming Spring Break or summer vacation?

News of the virus is still developing, making it difficult to predict what to do, but the answer is probably, no, there is no need to cancel your travel plans. Unless you’re traveling to a high-risk area with a large number of infected citizens, traveling is perfectly safe and acceptable as long as you follow good hygiene precautions to minimize your exposure from large groups of people.

If you’re currently making travel plans, it’s advisable to buy travel insurance that reimburses you for the loss or cancellation of a trip. Doing so gives you the flexibility to decide at the last minute if traveling to a particular area is a good idea or not, based on how things develop. 

Read the fine print carefully to understand the terms and conditions of the insurance product you’re signing up for. Some travel loss or delay insurance products may only reimburse you if you have a verifiable illness that makes it impossible to travel, or if the U.S. State Department or other government issues a travel alert or travel ban that prevents you from going on your trip. The best type of travel insurance doesn’t put too many restrictions on why you cancel, so you can make the best decision when the time comes.

Take U.S. News With a Grain of Salt and Don’t Get Distracted From the Real Issue — Our Country’s Future

Is it a coincidence that the media has ramped up its news on the coronavirus at a crucial political time during Trump’s impeachment and our efforts to elect a new candidate? The news of the virus spread seems to be on repeat day and night on most channels, stealing time and attention from the critical months before the presidential election in November. Although it’s important to keep abreast of the latest virus updates and developments to protect ourselves and our families, it’s also vital to give news about the virus a smaller place in our lives.

Redirecting our social media messages is a good way to get started. It seems that Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds are ruled by toilet paper shortages and virus statistics, drowning out what’s going on with the Democratic Primaries. Citizens can control what they choose to display on their social media’s “front lawn” for others to focus on. And the focus the next few months should be on the presidential elections and making big changes for the sake of our country’s future.

Image Source: Pexels

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