Travel and COVID-19: The new terms travellers need to know in the coronavirus era

If you'd said the words "flattening the curve", "social distancing" or "herd immunity" to anyone 12 months ago, they wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about. Coronavirus has given us a new vocabulary, and many of those words have special meaning for travellers.

A hot zone is not party central but an area you want to avoid, a known event is not a festival or an art-show opening that someone just told you about and when you fly or take a long-distance train, you might want to consider your PPE requirements. Here's a key to help you unlock the terms you need to know in the COVID-19 era.

Known events

In insurance industry parlance, when an event becomes "known" it exists and presents an obvious risk, and insurers will either stop offering cover for claims related to such an event, or increase their premiums for such cover. Insurance protects you against the unforeseen and the unknown, the opposite of the known.

You can't insure your house against bushfires when there's smoke in the air since the fire has become a known event. The same with travel. Travel insurers deemed COVID-19 a known event between January 23-30, 2020. Any travel insurance policies purchased after that date would no longer cover you for any claim related to the pandemic.

Travel credit

You've stumped up cash for a flight and that autumn cruise along the Rhine but now that we're in lockdown and not allowed to leave Australia, the airline and the cruise operator have offered you a travel credit, allowing you to defer your travels to safer times. Some are offering a credit for the cash amount you've paid rather than the trip you've paid for. If the price increases when you finally get to take your journey, you could end up having to pay the difference.

Force majeure

The literal meaning is "superior strength", and the force majeure clause is commonly found in the terms and conditions that only one per cent of all travellers read when they sign up for a flight, a cruise, a tour or any other travel product. If an event happens that is beyond the reasonable control of a travel supplier, a force majeure clause relieves that supplier of their contractual obligations.

Under the scourge of COVID-19, force majeure clauses have been used as they were intended by travel operators. Most have issued credits and vouchers for future travel but some have pocketed whatever you've paid and left their dust hanging in the air.

HEPA filters

The acronym for "high efficiency particulate" (HEPA) filters are used on aircraft with pressurised cabins, those that cruise at an altitude greater than 10,000 feet above sea level. The air you breathe in a typical aircraft cabin is recirculated every couple of minutes and passed through a HEPA filter.

Airlines are relying on this filtration system to reassure passengers that they have little chance of catching COVID-19 during a flight. That's despite the tiny size of a coronavirus particle, which has a diameter of about 0.125 microns, about one-fifth the size of a red blood cell. Although the HEPA filter is just a closely woven mat of synthetic fibres, tests have shown that they capture particles as small as 0.01 microns, many times smaller than the coronavirus.

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Quarantine

Having to quarantine is no incentive to travel.

Photo: Justin McManus

The word comes from the Italian quaranta, 40, which was the number of days that ships arriving from plague-infected ports were required to stand off from Venice. First used in the 14th century, when bubonic plague began spreading in Europe, quarantine is still an effective defence against viruses. In Australia arrivals from overseas are only quarantined for 14 days instead of 40, but quattordici, Italian for 14, doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "quarantine".

Hotzones

Areas with high rates of COVID-19 infections. Places you don't want to visit, but worse still for those who happen to live there since they are often subject to lockdowns that stop them from working, sitting down in local cafes and restaurants, socialising with friends and sending their kids off to school.

Biosecurity

The term our government is using as the reason we're locked in. Australians cannot leave the country unless they have a very good reason for doing so, and a desperately sick relative overseas is not necessarily going to get you a passout. That's despite the fact that anyone returning to Australia must submit to two weeks' quarantine, is forbidden to leave their hotel room, is often served fairly appalling meals and is paying about $3000 for the privilege.

PPE

Personal protective equipment. It might include goggles, boots, a respirator and gloves, although that's more usual in the medical environment. Some airlines are kitting their cabin crew out in modified PPE, such as the full body suits, safety goggles and masks that Qatar Airways has been using for their flight attendants.

Enhanced/deep cleaning

Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant inside a plane for New York as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. The coronavirus epidemic shifted increasingly westward toward the Middle East, Europe and the United States on Tuesday, with governments taking emergency steps to ease shortages of masks and other supplies for front-line doctors and nurses. (Suh Myoung-geon/Yonhap via AP)

Photo: AP

Disinfecting of all touch surfaces to dampen down the spread of coronavirus. Airline seats, arm rests and trays, tabletops in cafes and restaurants, handrails on cruise vessels, bedside tables in hotel rooms – anything that is likely to be touched.

R0

The R0 is a virus's basic reproductive number, an epidemiological metric that tells you how infectious that virus is in a particular area. An R0 of two means every person infected with COVID-19 is infecting two other people on average, and therefore the disease is spreading. Anything below one is good news. When we're free to travel again, a destination with an R0 less than one has the virus on the run.

Immunity passport

This document certifies the bearer is free from COVID-19. They've been tested for antibodies and if the test was positive, another viral test would establish whether the infection is still active. Several governments and airlines have shown interest since it would get the wheels of

commerce, travel and education spinning again but immunity passports have failed to gain traction. The passport would have to be constantly updated since an infection could occur within days or even hours after a negative COVID-19 test.

Epidemiology

The branch of science that studies the occurrence of diseases in different populations and the reasons those diseases occur. Epidemiological data is used to develop strategies to prevent illness and manage the treatment of patients with an infectious disease. During the current pandemic, epidemiologists help us understand who is most at risk and why, and suggest a path to help us navigate a safe channel through the COVID-19 minefield.

No sail order 

A government order that prevents vessels from leaving its ports. In mid-March the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the first industry-wide No Sail Order to stop passengers from boarding cruise ships, effectively shutting down the world's cruise industry. The CDC's initial No Sail Order has since been extended to September 30, 2020. Although other countries have allowed operators to resume cruises, outbreaks of COVID-19 on board have dampened enthusiasm among cruisers and led to further suspension of operations.

Plate shaming 

Suggesting those in vehicles with out-of-state number plates should return to their state of origin, possibly less that politely. Plate shaming is an emerging trend in the maritime provinces of eastern Canada, where out-of-town vehicles have been photographed and posted to social media as a warning to others. Pray we don't take the same paranoid path.

Revenge travel 

When you can't stand being cooped up anymore, when you're done with binge-watching and Zooming friends, when you bin the jigsaw puzzle and head out the door for anywhere that's not home, that's revenge travel. It's pent-up frustration, when the need to travel becomes all-consuming. For Australians right now, forbidden to leave our shores or even our suburbs in some cases, revenge travel is becoming an overwhelming itch, only partially slaked by the virtual vacation.

Safecation

A close-to-home, short-term holiday to an area with zero coronavirus infections looks like a great idea at the moment, and the safecation is proving popular. Surveys of Australian travellers show that a getaway within 100 kilometres of home is preferred, with crossing of state borders a potential hazard. Health and safety are now prioritised, and cautious travellers are factoring in a quick retreat if things turn bad. A Flinders University survey on the Future of Domestic Tourism in Australia released on August 11 showed an overwhelming preference among travellers for using their own property for leisure purposes.

Sanitagging

covid travel terms illustrations by Jamie Brown

Illustration: Jamie Brown

The process of sanitising and tagging checked luggage at airport terminals. Since coronavirus can remain active for up to three days on some surfaces, sanitagging makes sense. The coronavirus infection that has caused Auckland to return to go into lockdown after no cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand for 102 days might have come from imported freight. If proven, that adds more weight to the argument in favour of sanitagging.

Travel bubble

covid travel terms illustrations by Jamie Brown

Illustration:Jamie Brown 

A partnership between adjacent or nearby countries with similar coronavirus experiences, allowing each other's citizenry to visit without the requirement to undergo quarantine. The UK's travel bubble incorporates visitors arriving from France, the Netherlands, Japan and Australia, but not Spain, Belgium or the US. Hopes that Australia might have a travel bubble allowing us to visit New Zealand and other South Pacific countries in coming months have been skewered for the time being, a casualty of our rising infection rates.

Virtual vacation 

An updated, digital version of armchair travel, it's the lockdown version of the holiday, with the internet as the magic carpet ride to your dream destination. Head for YouTube and you can admire the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, take in Tokyo's outrageous street fashion subculture, see the Passion Play at Oberammergau and watch the scenery drift past as you cruise along the river Nile. Create some atmosphere – candles and low lights, music, dial up your favourite meal delivery service for an Indian takeaway or a steamy laksa and you can rekindle a fragrance of the real thing.

Wellness director 

An employee charged with planning and implementing programs that support the health, safety and well-being of fellow employees. Wellness directors have been around in the corporate sector for some time, but they're now being recruited to the ranks of the touris industry, especially among operators of cruises and large hotel corporations, where their duties will extend to the care and health of clients.

NOW JUST PART OF THE LINGO

CONTACT TRACING

covid travel terms illustrations by Jamie Brown

Illustration: Jamie Brown

A measure to track the movements of anyone who records a positive test for COVID-19, with the aim of identifying and testing those who might have been in close contact with the infected person. Contact tracing helps to contain the spread of a highly infectious virus before it threatens the health of the wider community. Contact tracing is particularly relevant in the travel context, since there is a possibility for an infected person to introduce COVID-19 into regions and communities with limited resources for dealing with the disease.

HOT ZONES

Areas with high rates of COVID-19 infections. Places you don't want to visit, but worse still for those who happen to live there since they are often subject to lockdowns that stop them from working, sitting down in local cafes and restaurants, socialising with friends and sending their kids to school.

QUARANTINE

The word comes from the Italian quaranta, 40, which was the number of days that ships arriving from plague-infected ports were required to stand off from Venice. First used in the 14th century, when bubonic plague began spreading in Europe, quarantine is still an effective defence against viruses. In Australia arrivals from overseas are only quarantined for 14 days instead of 40, but quattordici, Italian for 14, doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "quarantine".

VACCINE - AKA WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW ...

A substance made from a weakened or killed microbe that is injected into an organism to stimulate the production of antibodies, providing that organism with a defence against that microbe. Given the devastation wrought by SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, it's no surprise that scientists around the world are working 24/7 to develop one. A safe and effective vaccine will open the door to travel.

AND IF YOU CAN'T WAIT ...

CANCEL CULTURE

Lockdowns can happen quickly in response to the pandemic, and the ability to change your travel plans at short notice and without penalty is now a high priority. As soon as you've found your dream trip, check the cancellation terms and conditions. The gold standard is a full cash refund, but the next best scenario is a booking that allows you to defer to another date, with no expiry, no penalty and no additional cost.

SHOULD TRAVEL OVERSEAS EVEN BE CONSIDERED?

There are some great deals around for those prepared to book overseas travel, but that comes with greater risk than a holiday within our own shores. We don't know when we'll be allowed to leave Australia for leisure purposes, or when quarantine restrictions that apply to all incoming travellers will be lifted. Without a proven vaccine to protect against COVID-19, travelling just about anywhere overseas carries a greater risk of infection than travelling in Australia.

ISOLATED INCIDENTS

Self-contained accommodation from websites such as Stayz and Airbnb allow you to self-isolate effectively. An isolated cottage or a farmstay might be a better option for families, since the temptation to hang out with other children might be too hard to resist. Just be aware that cancellation policies are set by the owner, and they vary. In some cases, you'll lose your full payment if you cancel more than 48 hours after making the booking.

CHECK THE BOLD AS WELL AS THE FINE PRINT

Since COVID-19 became a "known" event in late January, travel insurers will not provide cover for any claim arising from the pandemic. That applies to delays, cancellations and any health problems that you might suffer, and that's another good reason to plan holidays in Australia until it becomes safe to travel overseas.

LIMIT THE RISK, NOT THE FUN

There's plenty you can do to make your travels safer by avoiding or limiting contact with others. Choosing to drive rather than travel by plane, train or bus, self-catering and avoiding crowded beaches are all worthy strategies, but you don't want to kill the fun factor. Packing golf clubs, fishing gear, bikes, hiking shoes, paddle boards and tennis gear will go a long way to helping you and yours have a memorable holiday while maintaining social distancing.

See also: Five things you need to know before booking a holiday

See also: Others can, so why can't Australians travel overseas?

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