Background

The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a viral infectious disease which was first reported in December 2019 when cases of a new viral respiratory illness were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province. In January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ and since February 2020 raised the global risk of COVID-19 to ‘very high’.

The virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing and talking which transmit to others via the eyes, noses or mouth. Person to person transmission only takes place within 6 feet of each other as the droplets are too heavy to remain suspended in the air.

The virus is now known to survive on surfaces as well, and although the length of time which it can survive is unknown, other corona viruses, such as SARS and MERS, can survive for up to 9 days, and there is concern that the new SARS-CoV-2 virus may have a similar lifespan.

The total cases internationally have peaked 92,000 with over 31,00 deaths, however the current active case number is just over 40,500 and the mortality rate is around 2%, depending on the country and disease prevalence.

 

Worldwide spread

The virus was initially limited to mainland China, particularly in Hubei province, however this soon spread to other cities in mainland China. Throughout January 2020 cases started being reported in other Asian counties and by the end of January the virus had been confirmed in over 50 countries spanning all continents, bar Antarctica. As well as countries, the virus was reported on board several cruise ships, most notably the Diamond Princess.

New countries are reporting ‘first cases’ of COVID-19 on a daily basis and the new cases throughout the rest of the world have overtaken that of mainland China, with 78 countries currently reporting cases.

Current situation report

On 2nd February the WHO have announced that the world is in “unchartered territory”, urging countries to focus on containing the virus, calling for “early, aggressive measures”, although they stress that whilst the virus is “unique” it can be contained.

Countries with significant numbers of confirmed cases include:

  • Iran            >1500 cases | >66 deaths | Concern about the accuracy of the figures
  • Italy           >1800 cases | >88 deaths | Particular concern in Northern Italy
  • S. Korea     >4800 cases | >28 deaths |

Up to date data can be found at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

The UK Government published advice on 3rd February, advising citizens of the UK to continue as normal whilst exercising vigilant hand washing and hygiene. The Chief Medical Officer has raised the risk of an epidemic from low to moderate.

Additional information about the UK action plan as well as updates from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control can be found at

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-action-plan

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html

https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/news-events/ecdc-assessment-covid-19-situation-europe-2-march-2020

Health advice and updates

The symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, lethargy, dry cough and potentially breathing difficulties. Younger and healthy individuals will often only have mild symptoms, however ‘at risk’ groups would be more likely to develop more serious complications.

At risk individuals include:

  • Pre-existing heart or lung conditions or high blood pressure
  • Cancer or other conditions that cause compromised immunity
  • Pregnancy
  • Over 60-year olds

Useful and updated information about COVID-19 is available from NHS England and Public Health England

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/eprr/coronavirus/

Self-isolation may be required if symptoms are present or if there is a high possibility of exposure to COVID-19. Useful information about self-isolation can be found at

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-self-isolation-for-patients-undergoing-testing/advice-sheet-home-isolation

 

Common questions around travel.

1. Is it safe to go on my holiday?
  • The Foreign & Commonwealth office is providing daily updates and travel advice for all countries around the world, it is important to read their advice before deciding whether to travel. Most tourist destinations are still considered safe for travel however extra precautions with personal hygiene such as regular hand washing should be strictly followed where ever you choose to travel.  More information on affected destinations can be found here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus
2. Will the cost of my holiday be insured if i decide to cancel?
  • This depends on the position taken by your travel agent and the advice issued by the FCO. Travel insurance usually only covers for cancellation costs where the FCO changes its advice to warn against travel to a particular destination. Some travel operators are taking a more flexible approach to refunds or re booking with travellers who have holidays booked to affected areas. Some good advice on travel cancellations is available through ABTA  https://www.abta.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak
3. Should I wear a mask when travelling?
  • There is little evidence to show that routinely wearing a mask will reduce chances of the general public contracting COVID-19. Masks are currently only recommended for those people who are likely to be in direct contact with infected persons such as healthcare workers. Following professional advice and frequent hand washing with soap or alcohol based hand sanitiser is the most effective way to prevent contamination.
4. Should I take antibiotics with me when I travel in case I get flu like symptoms?
  • The short answer is NO. COVIS-19 is a virus which will not respond to antibiotics. There is currently no specific treatment for COVID-19, other than symptom management and supportive treatments.

 

Gloria Guevara the President and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) was quoted as saying “containing the spread of unnecessary panic is as important as stopping the virus itself.”