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How to plan your travel around the coronavirus

How to plan your travel around the coronavirus

As surgical masks and – would you believe it – toilet paper sell out around the country, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak. We take a look at the current situation, and how it’s likely to affect your travel plans.

As governments around the world respond to the threat of COVID-19 – and the World Health Organisation officially declares the situation a pandemic – travel plans are being thrown into disarray.

Countries – like Italy and South Korea – that were typically considered safe destinations for Australian travellers now have significant numbers of cases. But not all places are badly affected at the moment, and many destinations – particularly domestically – are crying out for tourists.

Regardless of when and where you travel, it’s important to do your research, and go directly to the source. Smart Traveller, run by the Australian government, is constantly updating its travel advice based on the latest reliable information, and is always the place to go for anything like this. If you’re nervous about the disease itself, again, go directly to the source: the World Health Organisation has a wealth of useful information on the coronavirus.

If you’re going ahead with travel plans

As of midday, 25 March, all overseas travel from Australia has been banned by the federal government. That means that your best option currently is to get in touch with your travel agent or travel providers to find out what their coronavirus policy is. Most cruise lines have now suspended operations and will be offering credits for future cruises, and airlines including Qantas and Virgin are cutting flights and offering credits to many of their customers.

If you are currently overseas, the current advice is to cut your holiday short and return home. The Government is encouraging all travellers to return to Australia as quickly as practical, and Smart Traveller suggests that “commercial options may become less available” as the situation changes. Upon your return you’ll be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Domestically, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia have closed their borders to interstate travellers, and social distancing rules mean that many attractions have temporarily shut their doors. If you do decide to travel within your own state, there are a number of precautions that are worth taking to ensure your trip is a happy and healthy one. Regularly clean your hands with soap and water, or use hand sanitiser if water is unavailable. Keep at least a metre away from anyone showing symptoms: fever, coughing and difficulty breathing are common. And if you’re thinking about wearing a surgical mask to protect yourself, don’t bother: according to the WHO, “there is no evidence that wearing a mask – of any type – protects non-sick persons”.

If you’re thinking about cancelling

As scary as this might seem at the moment, it will pass. As such, our advice is, where feasible, to postpone your trip rather than cancelling it. Many cruise lines are offering significant incentives (some lines will grant guests who postpone their cruise a future cruise credit up to 150% of what they paid) to move bookings rather than cancel them completely. Airlines are giving customers the option to rebook their flights at a later date. If you’re able to do it, postponing is a great way to support the travel industry through this difficult time.

If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to postpone, the best advice we can give is, assuming you took out travel insurance, talk to your insurer. Travel insurance generally only covers unforeseen events: most insurers classified COVID-19 as a ‘known event’ between 21 and 31 January. This means that if you booked before that, you may still be covered; if you booked after 31 January, it’s unlikely you’ll be covered. Many policies have a specific clause stating they don’t cover epidemics, pandemics and infectious diseases though, so even if you took out insurance early and booked months ago, you still might not be covered. We’ll say it again: pick up the phone and talk to your insurer.

If you aren’t covered and you still decide to travel, it’s important to know the risks. It’s unlikely you’ll get any cover for anything related to COVID-19 – medical expenses, rebooked flights and pretty much anything else you can think of will all be coming out of your pocket.

But not all is lost, even if you aren’t covered by travel insurance. Airlines are relaxing their rebooking policies to help customers who were planning to travel to affected areas: all the Australian airlines (and most international airlines) have a coronavirus policy.

If you’re thinking about travelling in the near future

With airlines cutting huge numbers of international flights and strict travel restrictions in place, now’s not the time to travel internationally. That being said, if you were thinking about jetting off to a far-flung destination, it might be worth looking at spending that time somewhere in Australia instead. The recent bushfires across the country devastated many rural areas. So if you want to support domestic tourism, now is the time to do it. You’ll inject much-needed funds back into local communities, and will get to see some of this beautiful country we call home at the same time. #holidayherethisyear.

This story was updated on 25 March to reflect the Australian government’s travel ban and new state entry restrictions.

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