Coronavirus: Should you cancel your travel plans for 2020?

Emirates aircraft interior cleaning process

The airline released a video detailing how they clean their aircraft and respond to possible coronavirus affected planes.

Starting from the morning of 10 March Central European Time, Italy is in lockdown. Struggling to contain Europe's worst outbreak of coronavirus, the Italian Government is restricting the movement of more than 60 million people. The ban extends to all public events, theatres, gyms, discos, cinemas, weddings and sporting fixtures. Schools and universities are closed until 3 April.

While Italy is an extreme example, the contagion of COVID-19 has the world by the throat. Its speed and ferocity have outpaced earlier coronaviruses including SARS and MERS.

Under these conditions, should you be travelling?

To go or not to go – the case for

The coronavirus is going to spread regardless of whether you travel or stay home.

The Australian Government has applied a "Do Not Travel" advisory only to China and Iran on account of coronavirus. As long as I avoid those countries I'm good to go.

The travel industry employs more of the world's workforce than any other industry besides agriculture. About one in every 10 workers is engaged in travel and tourism. Not only is that a huge number, it casts a wide net. Cash from tourism finds its way into remote third world villages. If tourists don't come, one of their few sources of cash dries up.

The case against

Not only does travelling carry a higher risk of infection, you yourself can become a carrier while showing only mild symptoms. That poses a threat to everyone close to you – the people you work with, those sitting next to you on your morning commute, in the queue at the supermarket check-out, and especially to those closest to you – immediate family, friends, perhaps elderly parents.

If you or a partner or someone else in the party you're travelling with contracts coronavirus close to departure time your plans are probably scuppered.

If you should find yourself in an area that is declared a quarantine zone with little warning, you won't be going anywhere. The same applies to cruising, if coronavirus is detected you'll probably be confined onboard or in a guarded shore-based quarantine facility.


If you require hospitalisation you will be diverting medical resources from a local. If you're in a third-world country and you need hospital treatment high quality medical care may be out of the question.

Up until early March, nearly 100 per cent of the cases of coronavirus recorded in Australia have resulted from overseas travel.

Travel bans are the most effective way to control the spread of coronavirus. The Chinese government has proved that in its total lockdown of the city of Wuhan and other affected areas. That came after the horse had already bolted, and after the Chinese authorities failed to admit the problem until it became impossible to ignore the rampaging elephant their inactivity had spawned, but once they decided to throw everything they had at the problem the number of coronavirus cases began to decline. In imposing quarantine restrictions including a travel ban on the whole country, the Italian government is hoping for the same outcome.

Travel insurance

You might not be covered by travel insurance. Unless you booked travel insurance before 23 January or thereabouts, when coronavirus became a "known" event, your travel insurance policy will not cover you for any added expenses caused by changes to your travel plans due to coronavirus.

What happens if you get sick overseas?

If it's detected you'll be quarantined, even if the symptoms are mild. The cost of that quarantine will be down to you.

If you cancel your travel plans

The only travel insurance that should offer full protection in this instance is travel insurance with a "cancel for any reason" clause. This is not readily available in Australia and it's expensive.

You'll probably be looking to your travel providers to either push back your travel dates or else claw back some of the cash you've shelled out. Remember when you booked your travels and you ticked the box that said something to the effect that "you agree to the terms and conditions as set out by X"? You probably didn't read those T&Cs – who does> – so for example if it was a cruise booking, the T&Cs would have a clause to the effect that your cruise operator has the right to alter the itinerary should circumstances require it. If your captain should decide that it would be unwise to visit one of the ports on your itinerary due to the risk of COVID-19, such as Venice, you don't have any recourse.

Who to contact if you cancel?

That depends on who you made your booking with. If it was an airline website, you need to contact them and find out where you stand.

If you're travelling to an area affected by coronavirus airlines are generally allowing you to defer your travels with no re-booking penalty, although some are more generous.

For example if you booked a flight to Italy with Qatar Airways travelling in either March or April, the airline is offering a full refund to anyone who booked before March 7, or flights on alternative dates or to another destination.

Emirates has introduced a waiver policy across its network for all tickets issued for travel between 7-31 March. Customers can change their travel dates to any other date within an 11 month date range without change and reissuance fees. If you have an Emirates booking to Italy you can change your travel dates but there is no refund without attached fees.

In general, major hotel chains are waiving cancellation fees for guests booked into their properties in China, Italy and South Korea for the period ending 31 March. Many small hotels in Europe are offering full refunds on deposits or allowing guests to defer their stay until the crisis is over.

Major cruise operators are allowing guests booked on cruises in the coming months to defer their travels with no cancellation fees, but most are not offering full refunds.

On March 6 Royal Caribbean Group initiated a 'Cruise with Confidence' initiative. Guests on cruises booked to depart before July 31, 2020 can cancel their booking up to 48 hours before sailing and obtain a Future Cruise Credit. This credit must be redeemed on sailings departing before December 31, 2021.

Princess Cruises is allowing guests booked on cruises departing between March 9 and April 3 to cancel up to 72 hours before boarding time and receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) for all cancellation fees. For cruises scheduled to depart between April 4 and May 31 guests must cancel by 31 March to receive the same credit.

Celebrity Cruises has cancelled all Celebrity Millennium's spring cruises in Asia, which includes departures until 10 May. All passengers booked on these cruises will receive refunds, plus 25 per cent future cruise credits.

If you have booked with a tour operator to travel in an area impacted by coronavirus you should be able to defer your travels or change destinations with no penalty. If the travel operator cancels the trip some are offering a full refund. If you cancel your tour booking you should be able to receive a credit for future travels and/or partial refund of any funds paid, but it's crucial to do that at least a month before tour departure.

See also: Airlines waive change fees for flights in wake of coronavirus 

See also: Can masks actually protect you from coronavirus?

Coronavirus latest: Full coverage from the Sydney Morning Herald