The world is currently reeling with the reality of a major epidemic and all the fear and uncertainty that surrounds it. While there have been other disease outbreaks in the past, the coronavirus has spread further and faster than any novel disease that I can recall. And with a mortality rate of ~2%, it is also far more serious than your typical “common” infectious diseases.
When I first read the news of the outbreak, I anticipated that the coronavirus would likely be contained within China. However, as more and more people test positive around the globe, it’s nearly certain that we will be facing a pandemic in short order. The reality of what that means for travel is just hitting.
Should You Limit Travel Due To The Coronavirus?
In many cases, governments are either urging people not to travel or flat out barring travel. Here in the U.S. we don’t have nearly the restrictions that are being imposed in some other places. But foreign nationals are still barred from entering if they’ve been to China in the past 14 days. Reducing transmission by travel restrictions and quarantines are two strategies that are being employed.
There are really two ends of the spectrum of limiting travel. At one end, traveling directly to one of the outbreak epicenters right now seems foolhardy. But what about travel to places not greatly affected by the virus? Should we nix that as well?
I’m not all that sure. Personally, I would still say go, at least to places outside China, Northern Italy, and Iran. Given that the virus is already reaching America, the relative risk of travel to mostly unaffected areas is low. The news has provided plenty of other reasons to not travel in the past. Should this be any different? I’ll argue that most people who travel at this time are still unlikely to get the virus.
The other side of the coin, though, is what happens if you do happen to become infected. You may be quarantined abroad. You may not be able to return home to your family. Or you may unknowingly transmit the virus to many other people. These are all real concerns. For some, this potential, however small, is a deal breaker. Limiting the spread is what the government has to grapple with as well, which brings us back to the quarantine issue.
Thinking things through even further, though, leads me to a different long-term conclusion. The fact that there are a number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. where the people had relatively few risk factors (i.e. they hadn’t traveled and supposedly hadn’t be in contact with someone abroad) makes me wonder if the disease is likely to ever be contained. We may be past the point of no return already. In that case, why not travel? The global outbreak is at over 100,000 confirmed cases and counting. Emphasis on confirmed. There may be many more.
Is A Pandemic Inevitable?
The idea that we will see a global pandemic is one that has been posed by both health experts and opinion columnists alike. At this point, in my relatively-informed layperson opinion, I fully expect the coronavirus to sweep the globe. There are cases reported on all inhabited continents, and what we see now is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg.
There are reports of asymptomatic cases, of reinfections, and of people testing negative multiple times before testing positive for the virus (a man tested “indeterminate” in our county for coronavirus…what does that even mean?). With the long incubation period and the inability to detect it in so many people, I don’t see how this disease can do anything but keep spreading.
With that in mind, what effect will shutting down or severely limiting travel actually have? The coronavirus case in my own rural county is due to a traveler returning from China, so there is certainly wisdom behind the idea that limiting travel would prevent such occurrences.
However, my family and I just traveled to San Francisco. I even took my boys to the airport to see the new Sky Terrace in Terminal 2! Is this risky? In terms of immediate risk, maybe. Probably not. Considering we may see a global pandemic anyway, almost certainly not. Besides, the alternative was spending time in a hotel with literally 1,000s of other people. I considered the relative risk to therefore be quite low.
My Own Coronavirus Travel Dilemma
All this being said, I am reconsidering a trip planned at the end of the month. Last year I booked an open-jaw ticket from Barcelona to San Francisco, with a return to Copenhagen. I locked in my return to the U.S. in early February. The plan is to spend 3 days enjoying the Danish capital on a solo getaway. When I booked the outbound, there was no outbreak. When I booked the return, the coronavirus was just hitting the news. I certainly did not expect it to spread so far so fast.
Now that Denmark is has ~30 confirmed cases, I’m becoming a bit hesitant to go. But it’s 100% not because I’m worried about contracting the virus myself. As a healthy 30-year-old, I’m well outside the profile of high-risk individuals in case of contracting coronavirus. Most of the worst cases are those over 60 years old and/or with preexisting health conditions. I fall into neither group. Sure, it would be awful to get sick. But it’s not myself that I’m worried about. I’m willing to brave it.
What worries me more are the two related issues. The first is imposed quarantine abroad. Many of those who have contracted the coronavirus have had to be quarantined for 14+ days. This would be rough. However, given that house quarantine is what was imposed on the first case in our County, we might be in for this either way. I can work from anywhere, so quarantine would not be an issue in that regard as long as I have an internet connection. It would be rough to not have contact with my family for two weeks, if required. But it would be 100x better to be close by.
The biggest issue, however, is becoming a vector myself. My family is a concern. But we’re all young and healthy. The risk of contracting it is low, and the risk of transmitting it lower still. However, there are others we know who aren’t as fortunate and would be hit hard by the virus. Is it okay to take a risk, however small, of contracting a disease that you may transmit to others?
On one hand, it’s so speculative. Yet the idea gives me pause. I wouldn’t want to be directly responsible for others contracting the disease. Thinking a bit more rationally, though, I’m probably way overstating this particular risk. The virus is already spreading in California. We even have one case here in Humboldt County. It’s already here (but supposedly contained). So I guess there’s a potential coronavirus risk staying home as well.
Life is risk. Should we let coronavirus instill fear and panic into us? Or should we take the most reasonable precautions we can and just live life? Thirty cases in Denmark out of 5.6 million people doesn’t seem like a massive risk.
But is it really just 30 cases? That’s all that have been confirmed. The fact is that the virus will likely spread globally. Should this make it less of a concern to travel, or more? Backing out at this point unless you’re traveling to one of the hot-spots still seems like overkill. Cutting flights off completely might be the only real way to stop the spread of the disease from country to country. But that isn’t (and shouldn’t) happen.
With the coronavirus uncontained in China and Iran, maybe there was a chance it would be stopped. But now that it’s in Italy, with the open borders of the European Union? Not a chance. The coronavirus has already spread to a number of other countries from there, and it will only keep spreading.
Killing travel will just tank the global economy. Hysteria over the virus will also tank the economy. These could be points all on their own instead of footnotes, but their still huge points. The jury’s out whether I go through with this particular trip. The risk still seems very low.
But many people are canceling all sorts of plans, fearing the virus! Constantly worrying about a virus and seriously altering your life and plans just seems like giving in to fear.
I fully expect to have to face coronavirus exposure head on, whether somewhere else or here at home. It’s doubtful to me that we will avoid a pandemic. Most of us will likely be infected, and I’d rather get it over at this point than deal with the hysteria. To quote a recent Forbes piece:
“Take a deep breath. Coronavirus is almost certainly not coming for you. And, even if it were, panic is not the answer. Wash your hands, continue enjoying your life, and leave the rest to chance. In this case, it’s on your side.”