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 2023 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 January 2023, China has reported over 105,000 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
Due to unsanitary conditions, it’s best for travelers to avoid any and all raw meat markets in China.
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 2023.
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 2023, 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).
If your travel plans for China are for in 2023, you can wait and see.
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.
Josh, this is a good summary of the problem. I would like to add that taking a vitamin c supplement is a good way to keep your immune system in peak form.
hello, at this Time virus has spread geographically and my advice would be to postpone your travels to Spring when hopefully this virus will have run its course. If unable to wait, or want To stick to your plans, a good N95 mask is What you’ll need for crowded spaces and especially Means of transportation (trains, planes, buses). Besides all the usual flu season Precautions mentioned abOve. Thanks Josh!
Chengyi Wang says
Thank you for your comments and optimism. I was a nurse in Taiwan when SARS happened and killed my colleague in 2003. I happened to visit Wuhan and Beijing in 2019 and saw how differently the lifestyles were in different corners of the cities, and how it might different from most westerners’ expectation. Do not travel to china right now no matter when you are travelling from.
Omair Shafiq says
Thank you josh!
Josh Summers says
My pleasure, Omair! Glad it was useful.
Josh, I’m a retired professor of environmental health. This is important: regular air pollution masks will not stop viruses. Other coronaviruses are about 120 nanometers (0.12 micrometer) in diameter. This is smaller than the particles air pollution masks were designed to filter out.
The good news is there are special antiviral surgical masks that are not expensive at all. Target and CVS advertise them. The important thing is they must say antiviral on the box. I’m sending you pictures of the products in your email. Travelers should buy them in the u.s. before they leave for china, so you won’t have to face empty shelves there.
Josh Summers says
Thank you for the info, Betty! I’ll be updating the article with this better information.
Betty… looks like you’ve gone viral!
Thank you so much Josh, you are very kind. You always provide us with great service with your advice.
Luuk lodenstein says
Thanks Josh, for the info.. im planning to go back to China, Guangzhou to be precise, in April. Will keep an eye On the situation, before making concrete travel plans.
Keith tang says
Good work, josh.
Even though there is no immunization against the coronavirus, I Would suggest all persons over 60 to take the pneumoNia shot as an additional precautionary measure, regardless whether TRAVELING to china or not. Check with your doctor first, of course.
Yes I have been in tone about the virus in China. Travel plans are for Summer 2020 with my university. You provided great tips and information to think about before travel thanks.
hello! i’m on a holiday n japan, but i work as a teacher in shandong province, and they are calling the teachers back to work (although with no students) next week.
we would have to plan from home and be careful when going outside, but as it is for work i think that i have to go back, as they want the teaachers back in the country. my family back in my country is worried, though!
i would like to hear your thoughts about that! thank you!
Josh Summers says
My recommendation: YOU make YOUR own decision. Don’t let the school do it for you. Are you not comfortable going back yet? Then don’t do it. Wait until you see how things play out with the coronavirus. But don’t feel pressure from your school.
Joshua Monroe Mayfield says
Hello, I’m currently in the US. I plan to go back to Shanghai for my master’s program in March. I’m also thinking about traveling to Japan to visit my friend in Tokyo. Would I be more likely to book a successful flight to China from Japan rather than the US right now? Honestly, I prefer to fly directly from us to China if i can fly out that way.
Josh Summers says
Hey Joshua, unfortunately there is so much that is changing right now that it’s hard to tell. I know many US carriers that are cancelling flights throughout all of March, so your options might be limited to other countries. It’s really just trying to figure out what’s possible.
john deighan says
Does anyone have an update for 2021? The comments on this page are now rather old.