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 a number of emails from concerned travelers with plans to visit China in 2021 and beyond. Should travelers cancel their plans to visit China because of the coronavirus?
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 April 2021, China has reported over 90,000 cases of coronavirus cases and more than 4,600 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 China is currently not accepting foreign tourists into the country.
I’ll do my best to update this when the situation changes.
Domestically, China has opened up to travel. Although officials are being cautious, inter-provincial travel is entirely possible.
So what does this mean for you as a tourist or business traveler to China?
First, you should expect a lot of extra health screening throughout China. Every airport, train station and bus station now screens for even the slightest of symptoms of COVID-19.
Even for those foreigners who are allowed into China (usually on work, diplomatic or other non-tourist visas), the screening process is intense and a quarantine is inevitable.
On the CDC webpage on the Coronavirus, a Level 3 alert from almost all of 2020 has been downgraded to a Level 1.
While this may seem like good news (and for Chinese people, it certainly is!), that doesn’t mean that foreign travelers are allowed within the Chinese borders.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has upgraded it’s Level 2 China travel advisory to a Level 3 (“Reconsider Travel”). Of course, 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 “Please don’t travel here right now”.
Because of the globally sensitive nature of COVID-19, you’ll find that even on your return from China back home, you’ll likely have to go through more health checks and quarantine.
Bottom Line: Obviously, this is not a health scare you can simply ignore. This global pandemic poses a real threat and it’s absolutely worth cancelling your trip if you’re schedule to arrive anytime in 2020.
Recommendation for China Travelers
If you absolutely must travel to China right now (mostly for work or business), 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 2021, then yes. You should probably cancel your trip.
Thankfully, based on my own experience, most airlines are offering very flexible change policies (e.g. no change fees throughout 2020).
If your travel plans for China are for in 2022, try not to overreact.
If you have time, it’s best to wait and see how things pan out.
Take some time to see how things develop over the remainder of this year. It could be that COVID-19 gets contained. I pray this is true.
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.