COVID-19. <sigh> It’s disrupted everybody’s plans. This virus, which started in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and has spread at an alarming rate around the world, has decimated global travel. I’ve received countless emails from concerned travelers with plans to visit China in 2024 and beyond. Can travelers still visit China in a post-COVID world?
Let me begin by saying that I am not claiming to be a health expert, nor am I a doctor.
What I am about to share with you about COVID-19 in China is information based on:
- Past experience with diseases in China (the SARS epidemic);
- Information being published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC);
- Notices given by the US State Department;
As of January 2024, China has reported over half a million cases of coronavirus and more than 5,270 deaths. And this is just what was reported (take that for what it’s worth).
It’s natural to be concerned about this kind of news, so let’s go over some key pieces of information about the coronavirus China scare before we get to my recommendations for China travelers.
Coronavirus in China: The Important Details
As with the SARS outbreak in 2003, ground zero for this strain of the coronavirus in China (officially named COVID-19) was believed to have started in a meat market in Wuhan. These massive, often unsanitary markets are a prime breeding ground for these kinds of viruses.
Notice for Travelers
This particular market in Wuhan has been closed down, but they exist in almost every city across China.
According to health officials, it is unclear exactly how the virus is spreading, although it seems that person-to-person spread is happening.
While the COVID-19 virus has spread to different parts of China and across the globe, the vast majority of those affected is in Wuhan.
Where is Wuhan, China?
Wuhan (武汉) is the largest city and capital of the Hubei province (湖北省) in central China.
For most tourists, the only reason you would stop in Wuhan is while cruising along the Yangze River. It’s a major port city with cruise boats and ferries that travel in every direction.
It’s even one of the many cities in China that allows for a 144-hour visa-free transit in China.
Wuhan is more than 1,000km away from Beijing and 800+km away from Shanghai.
What to Expect When Traveling to China Right Now
To start, it’s important to note that although the country was at one point closed to international tourists, China has reopened its borders to foreign visitors.
In fact, they’ve signed a number of visa-free agreements with different countries to encourage people to make China part of their travel plans.
So what does this mean for you as a tourist or business traveler to China?
First, you should still expect a lot of extra health screening throughout China. This is decreasing over time, but you might still find health screens at the airport, train station and bus station.
On the CDC webpage on the Coronavirus, all travel notices have been removed for China, which is crazy considering that just last year it was rated as high as Level 3 and slowly went down to Level 1.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has a separate China travel advisory that has to do with China’s arbitrary detention of travelers. It doesn’t help that US-China relations are at an all-time low right now.
This isn’t same level as North Korea and Iraq, which are both at Level 4, but Level 3 is still the US government’s way of saying “Be careful about traveling to China”.
Bottom Line: Obviously, COVID-19 has left it’s mark on China and the rest of the world. The worst of the pandemic is over and you’re free to enter China, but you’ll still notice changes in how travel is now done in China.
Recommendation for China Travelers
If you still plan to travel to China right now, here are a few recommendations and precautions you can take:
- Get Travel Insurance that Covers Coronavirus: This will probably be a requirement for your re-entry, but make sure you have it anyway. Some insurers such as SafetyWing offer coverage for COVID-19.
- Avoid Sick People and Animals: Try to avoid hospitals and don’t go to places where there are animals, either alive or as uncooked meat. If you do go to a hospital or you’re particularly worried about the virus, wear a good antiviral face mask (not just a pollution mask).
- Wash Your Hands Constantly: I recommend you buy and take with you some travel-sized, alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Not all bathrooms in China have soap you can use, so you need to come prepared.
- Monitor Your Health: Listen carefully to what your body is telling you while you’re traveling. Do you feel sick? Have a cough? Do you have a fever? If so, don’t be flippant about it. Get to a hospital.
Should you just cancel your travel plans for China?
If you have plans to travel as a tourist to China in 2024, then no. As long as you’re prepared, it’s perfectly safe to travel to China.
Keep an eye on the CDC website to see what they say. And consult your doctor if you’re still unsure.
And remember, although I do recommend that you buy a good pollution mask before traveling to China, these masks generally don’t block coronavirus. You’ll need a surgical antivirus mask for that.
For those who do end up canceling their trips, hopefully you can get a full refund on your tickets. This is yet another reason why good travel insurance for China is a must.