As Coronavirus is officially declared a pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has weighed an extension of travel restrictions and asked Australians to reconsider their need to travel overseas.
“We are effectively putting in place what is called a Level Three travel advice,” he told reporters on Friday.
“Only essential travel should be considered if you are going overseas from this point forward, and we would encourage Australians to heed that advice.”
Travel bans for China, Iran, South Korea and Italy, which have reported the highest numbers of people with the illness, have been extended by a week.
This means foreign nationals from these counties, who have been in any of the four nations, will not be allowed into Australia for 14 days from the time they left those countries.
“Regardless of your destination, age or health if your overseas travel is not essential, consider carefully whether now is the right time.”
Australians arriving from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy are allowed to enter but will be told to self-isolate for 14 days.
On Thursday March 19, Scott Morrison said Australia will implement a travel ban on all non-residents and non-Australian citizens coming into the country. The restrictions will be in place Friday evening at 9pm.
The PM had asked the nation’s chief medical officers to consider banning arrivals from other parts of Europe but, as of Thursday, the government said there would be no ban on visitors from Europe.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on Friday updated its travel restriction level for a number of destinations in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Here are the countries the government is advising to avoid.
More than 125,000 people worldwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that originated in China. Over 4,500 people have been killed globally.
At least 197 people in Australia have tested positive while three people have died after contracting COVID-19.
Italy - Level 4
The government on Wednesday advised that Australians “do not travel” to Italy after Italian premier Giuseppe Conte enforced a lockdown on the whole country. It is the worst-affected country after China and is at the highest level of warning on DFAT’s four-level advice scale.
“The Italian government has restricted people’s movement across the whole country to curb the spread of #COVID19,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne Tweeted on Wednesday.
“@dfat now advises that Australians reconsider their need to travel to Italy & do not travel to parts of the north, including Lombardy, which includes Milan, & Venice.”
Italy has said all shops except pharmacies and food stores will be closed in response to the country’s coronavirus outbreak.
“If you’re returning to Australia from Italy, as an Australian citizen or permanent resident, you’ll need to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Australia from 1800 (AEDT) on 11 March 2020,” DFAT’s SmartTraveller.gov.au said.
Easyjet, Norwegian Air, British Airways, easyJet, Wizz Air and El Al Israel Airlines are among carriers to axe flights to and from the country.
Bali - Level 3
While influencers visiting Bali recently praised the holiday hotspot’s efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus by testing temperatures of patrons before entering clubs and restaurants, government advice is to “reconsider your need to travel” to travel to Bali.
“The health risks to Australians from the global COVID-19 pandemic are increasing significantly and quickly. We now recommend you reconsider your need for overseas travel at this time, including to Indonesia and Bali. Indonesia has confirmed more COVID-19 cases,” DFAT’s Smart Traveller website said on Saturday.
“"The risk of transmission is increasing. There is limited availability of testing and infection control facilities. Critical care for Australians who become seriously ill, including in Bali, is likely to be significantly below the standards available in Australia. Medical evacuation to Australia may be not be possible and, if it is, very expensive. It may not be covered by travel insurance.”
Be prepared for growing travel delays and disruptions, including taking into account what this could mean for your health, and for your family, work or study responsibilities.
A 53-year-old British woman became Indonesia’s first confirmed death from the virus on Thursday.
Qantas has not made changes to its Bali route but several events on the island have been postponed such as the Ubud Food Festival which organisers said would instead go ahead in July.
“Ubud Food Festival has a responsibility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the community stays healthy and safe,” festival organisers said in a statement to HuffPost Australia.
“With a large Festival gathering, the Foundation does not have the capacity to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. With travellers now being advised not to travel to Bali, this is also jeopardising the Festival’s sustainability.”
Indonesia reportedly has 69 confirmed cases of the virus.
Japan - Level 3
The advice has been raised to “reconsider your need to travel” to Japan.
Japan reported a surge in infections after the Diamond Princess cruise ship was held in quarantine while docked at Yokohama on February 4.
More than 700 people aboard the ship tested positive for the virus after a previous passenger, who had left the ship during a stop in Hong Kong, tested positive. Six people who were onboard the ship have since died from the virus.
DFAT warned on Wednesday authorities have implemented new entry arrangements for Japan.
“You will be denied entry to Japan if you have been in certain parts of China, South Korea or Iran in the past 14 days,” the Smarttraveller website said.
“You’ll be required to spend 14 days in quarantine in a designated facility if you arrive in Japan from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau or South Korea.”
Total infections in Japan have risen to 1,278.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has advised elderly people strongly rethink any cruise travel.
“Particularly those with underlying health concerns, to reconsider taking an overseas cruise at this time,” she said in a recent Tweet.
“Disruptions due to quarantine & denials of entry to ports can have significant effects on travellers.”
Thailand will temporarily suspend issuing visas on arrival to visitors from 19 countries and territories, including China, to contain the spread of the coronavirus, its interior minister said on Wednesday.
The Australian government last Thursday banned the arrival of foreigners from South Korea, tightening its border controls in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus as it recorded its second death from the illness.
DFAT warned on Wednesday, “if you’re returning to Australia from South Korea, as an Australian citizen or permanent resident, you’ll need to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Australia.”
Authorities said there’s a heightened risk of sustained local transmission of coronavirus.
“We now also advise you not to travel to Daegu because of the significant outbreak of COVID-19 there. If you’re in South Korea, monitor your health closely and follow the advice of local authorities.”
Local carrier Korean Air Lines warned the virus outbreak could threaten its survival after it scrapped more than 80% of its international capacity, grounding 100 of its 145 passenger aircraft.
“The situation can get worse at any time and we cannot even predict how long it will last,” Woo Kee-hong, the president of South Korea’s biggest airline, said in a memo to staff that summed up the turmoil facing the industry.
“But if the situation continues for a longer period, we may reach the threshold where we cannot guarantee the company’s survival.”
South Korea has reportedly “seen the peak” of the outbreak and seen a decline in coronavirus cases after mass testing. More than 7,300 coronavirus infections have been confirmed throughout South Korea with the death toll at 50.
Should I stay or should I go?
With the Australian government urging us to reconsider all overseas travel at this time, there are circumstances where people still have to get from A to B.
Dr Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, said the decision on whether to cancel travel plans to non-restricted destinations is up to the individual. If people decide to travel, she suggests minimising risk by avoiding large groups of people or crowded areas like large swimming pools.
She also suggests travellers wash their hands frequently and try not to touch their face.
She also recommends that before people travel they take time to consider whether they can afford to take time off work if they are stuck in a quarantine, if they have sick leave, and if they can afford staying in a hotel abroad longer than planned.
The WHO says to only wear a face mask if you have COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing or if you are taking care of someone who has COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the risk of contracting COVID-19 on a plane is low because the air circulation prevents germs and viruses from spreading easily. Cruises, on the other hand, include conditions that can make respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 spread.
Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions are at more risk of contracting COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that coronavirus patients over the age of 80 had a 14.8% chance of dying, the highest of any of the demographics.
Refunds and Insurance
According to Finder.com, a standard travel insurance policy will not cover travellers if they cancel because of fear of an epidemic.
“Don’t lose hope just yet, some brands that do have exclusion clauses relating to pandemics have issued travel alerts stating that they may pay some claims related to the coronavirus,” Sophie Walsh, insurance specialist at Finder said.
“Contact your insurer and keep up to date with travel alerts for the most accurate information. If you’re yet to book your trip, be aware even if you do book travel insurance you won’t be eligible to make a claim related to coronavirus now that it’s a known event. However, it’s still worth taking out travel insurance because it will cover you for other things like non-related medical expenses.”
Many airlines connecting Australia to Europe are working around the clock to accommodate customer needs amid the outbreak and have substantially changed cancellation policies.
“Etihad Airways has suspended services on some routes and introduced fee waivers for guests who are required to cancel their flights or change their travel arrangements because of COVID-19 restrictions,” Etihad told HuffPost Australia in a statement.
Details of suspended services, or major markets affected by specific restrictions, can be found on Etihad’s website.
Meanwhile, Qatar Airways will give passengers that have booked or will book flights for travel up to 30 June the flexibility to change their travel plans free of charge by altering the dates of their booking or exchanging their ticket for a travel voucher valid for one year.