Well, we have been here before….whether a disease like SARS, terrorist acts, or whatever, people begin to question whether it is safe to travel. With coronavirus in the news, the question is being asked again.
Although the disease is serious and we do not want to downplay its effects, we should point out that the flu…which we don’t often take seriously, is responsible for many cases of illness and death each year.
For example, in the U.S., with a population of 237 million, the Centers for Disease Control, estimates that up to 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season, 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died. The percentages are similar in the U.K. and most other European countries.
Compare that to the Corona virus: As of March 8, 2020, 107,000 cases have been reported worldwide out of a population of about 7 billion (in 103 countries, not just the U.S.) , and 3,660 people have died.
The media loves stories like this, of course: “if it smells, it sells”. But let’s step back and take a closer look. Much has been made over the outbreak in Italy, but there is more to the story. Italy was one of the first countries to react to the crisis and started screening people early on, so naturally the number of reported cases is higher than some other European countries.
Most fatalities from the corona virus are from the elderly population, especially those with underlying health conditions.
Something not reported, is the fact that countries such as Italy are (sadly) old, dying countries. Visit Italy and you will find beautiful churches and shrines, great restaurants…..but what you won’t find is many children. In fact, if you travel to Italy with small children, the locals are often thrilled to see them…because they see so few. They simply do not have enough births to even stay at current population levels and will eventually face a “demographic winter”. There is a much larger proportion of elderly people in Italy than in countries such as the U.S., and therefore, more deaths per thousand cases.
You can find an interesting article on the coming demographic winter in Italy here (written several years ago…but it has not gotten any better).
Meantime, Israel has taken even more drastic steps that will effectively shut down tourism for the next few weeks. In what must be considered as the most stringent requirements by any country to date, those already there will have to leave, and those coming in must show that they have a place to self-quarntine upon arrival…an almost impossible task.
In the U.S., the story is a bit different. Again, using Italy as a comparison, the U.S. has a much younger population, those in the U.S. can expect much better results in treating patients. Travel, of course, does not simply mean out of the country: you could travel to another part of the country you live and find different restrictions in place…or none at all!
Some Dioceses in the U.S. have suspended all Masses through the end of March….an almost surreal situation that many of us would never have thought possible….almost like living in one of those horrible 1950’s sci-fi movies!
Using the U.S. as a comparison again, although there are some good health care facilities in cities such as Rome, many other cities (there is a North/South healthcare gap in Italy, with the southern half of the country being far behind what you will find in the north). Overall health care in Italy is not always up to U.S. standards. We are not picking on Italy, but those are just facts.
Italy has taken some unusual precautions, such as closing off the catacombs in Rome temporarily (air circulation is limited, so that is a good idea). They have practically shut down Milan, where the outbreak is most severe, which will do much to slow the spread of the disease: these are prudent steps and should be seen as good news. But you won’t hear that on the news…they will just report the number of cases and the fact that people are stockpiling food. Great fodder for the news media to drum up circulation.
All Rome churches were officially closed on March 12. Pope Francis publicly decried the action of closing the churches, saying that over-reaction was not the way to handle the situation. Now as of March 13, all churches in Rome have been re-opened, but there are few masses being celebrated.
There is at least one place in Rome not opened, but perhaps should be, and that is Castel Sant’ Angelo…where an angel appeared to a Pope and stopped a plague.
On March 15th Pope Francis prayed in The Church of San Marcello al Corso, in front of a miraculous crucifix which was credited with stopping a plague in the 16th century
At this point in time, we do not recommend traveling to Italy. Cities such as Rome are basically locked down despite the fact that some churches have re-opened, so even if you travel there and are not exposed to the coronavirus, there is a strong possibility that you will not get to visit some of your “must see” places in cities such as Rome, Florence or Venice.
Here is a video recorded on Sunday March 15 from Rome.
So do I cancel my plans or go ahead?
We have had to change our advice over the past several weeks. Originally we stated that if you had not changed your travel plans due to concerns over the flu, we saw no reason to cancel your trip over concerns about the coronavirus….but we have now changed our thinking.
We expect…and of course we are not experts….that the coronavirus will be slowed down as summer gets here. The increased sunshine (UV rays kill viruses…in fact, they are often used in hospitals for just that) means that more people are outdoors and there is less close contact. Viruses on surfaces exposed to sunlight do not survive. In fact, we would not be surprised to see it peak in late July and by fall people will be booking those trips that they put off. And stringent protection measures in many countries will help to slow down….and, eventually, stop the spread of the disease.
With so many cities basically closed, if you travel this spring it will probably not be the experience you were hoping for. It is not just concern about catching the corona virus, but also the fact that so many of the sites you wish to visit are likely not to be open.
Our thinking is that you should consider not traveling in the spring and early summer, but if possible make plans to travel in late summer or the fall. By then, we expect the situation in most countries to be much better. And you pick up some bargain prices as well.
Are we all going to die?
Is the corona virus dangerous? You bet.
Are you going to catch it? Not very likely.
If you catch it are you likely to die? No, most people so far recover completely. In fact, it is likely that many people have had it and just thought it was a bad cold or flu…we will never know.
At this point everything is still in flux:
The U.S. suspended all travel from 26 European countries to the US for 30 days, beginning March 13 at midnight. The ban restricts foreign nationals from entering the United States if they had been in, or traveled through, the Schengen Area — Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland — within the past 14 days. On March 13, Great Britain was added to the list.
U.S. citizens are not affected by this rule.
With widespread cancellations, tour operators and cruise lines are scrambling to keep up to date.
The State Department and CDC have recommended that U.S. citizens, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions, not travel by cruise ship. No wonder stocks in cruise ships lines dropped!
This is unfolding on a daily basis: For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises is now allowing guests on Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, and Silversea to cancel up to 48-hours before a sailing with a full future cruise credit refund.
As we pointed out, this might be a chance to pick up some bargain prices as tour companies and cruise lines react to the slowing demand. If the tour company cancels the trip you will get your money back, and if all is well by then, you will have a great trip at a great price.
We expect…and of course we are not experts….that the coronavirus will be slowed down as summer gets here. The increased sunshine (UV rays kill viruses…in fact, they are often used in hospitals for just that) means that more people are outdoors and there is less close contact. Viruses on surfaces exposed to sunlight do not survive. In fact, we would not be surprised to see it peak in late July and by fall people will be booking those trips that they put off.
Your best bet is to stay up to date if you have already booked….and who knows, the coronavirus may peak in the next few months and this will all be in the past….at least that is what we think will happen.
What about travel insurance?
If the tour company or cruise line cancels, then you should be able to get a full refund. But if you really want to cancel without a valid reason, it is probably going to cost you. If you have already signed up for a trip, and are within the cancellation period, you are not likely to receive a full refund if you wish to cancel. Tour companies have to prepay hotels, buses, buy plane tickets, etc. and they cannot recoup the cost if you cancel your trip.
In some instances, people add “cancel for any reason” to their travel insurance policy. This means you can decide not to go without a medical or other covered reason….but the premiums are quite a bit higher.
And even then, there are conditions. In the case of the Corona virus, it is a “known event” and therefore subject to certain restrictions, so you will not get a refund unless you took out the policy before it became a known event (January 22, 2020). These same restrictions cover hurricanes, once they are named, they become a “known event” and cancel for any reason does not apply
We would love to hear your comments on the coronavirus and whether it has had any bearing on your travel plans for this year.