On Thursday, the rapid outbreak of coronavirus prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a level 4 travel advisory (“Do not travel”) – its most severe warning – for the entire country of China, one week after it did so for Hubei Province, where the virus’ epicenter, Wuhan, is located.
The move followed the World Health Organization’s decision to declare coronavirus, which Chinese officials say has been diagnosed in 9,800 people and killed 213 , a global health emergency.
In the State Department’s advisory, the agency notes: “Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice,” and recommends that those currently in China “consider departing using commercial means.”
USA TODAY has pulled together answers to questions travelers may have about traveling during the outbreak.
I already booked a flight. What do I do now?
The three U.S. carriers that offer direct service to China – United, Delta and American – have all issued flight waivers for passengers whose plans have been scuttled by the coronavirus outbreak or who do not wish to travel there for the time being, allowing them to postpone or cancel plans without the usual penalty.
Delta: Covers travel to, from or through Beijing and Shanghai through April 30.
American: Covers travel to, from and through Beijing and Shanghai through March 27.
United: Covers travel to, from and through Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu through March 31. (The waiver period for Wuhan ends March 29.)
The latest waiver information: What to do if your flight has been affected
Which airlines have cut or reduced service to China?
United, Delta and American have all reduced the number of scheduled flights to China but have not cut service completely.
United: The airline, which offers service to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, has extended its cuts through March 28. That leaves four daily departures from its U.S. hubs (Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare, Newark and Washington Dulles), down from the usual 12.
Delta: The airline is cutting its weekly flights in half between the two countries, from 42 to 21, beginning Feb. 6 and lasting through April 30. Delta’s cuts include service between Beijing and Detroit and Seattle; as well as between Shanghai and Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit and Atlanta. Rather than operate daily, those flights will operate three to four times a week, the airline said.
American: The airline will suspend flights from Los Angeles to Shanghai and Beijing from Feb. 9 through March 27, spokesman Curtis Blessing said. The airline operates 10 flights daily to and from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
International carriers that have suspended service to China include:
Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong)
El Al (Israel)
Jetstar Asia (Singapore)
Lion Air (Indonesia)
Should I wear a face mask when flying even if I’m not going to China?
While the CDC does not discourage healthy people from wearing surgical masks as a precaution, the agency is only recommending their use for patients thought to have the virus and the medical professionals who interact with them.
Because most coronaviruses are spread through airborne droplets (sneezing or coughing), touching or touching an infected surface, hand washing is an effective way of reducing the potential for infection.
A pilot’s perspective on coronavirus: Should you wear a surgical mask?
How often do they change air filters on planes?
Usually, the main HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are changed when the airplane is in maintenance, which is about once a month. This can vary from airplane type to airplane type and airline to airline.
What are U.S. airports doing to screen for coronavirus?
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that it is expanding its screening efforts of passengers from China from five airports to 20, aligning with the CDC’s existing quarantine stations that cover all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
- Los Angeles International
- San Francisco International
- Chicago O’Hare
- New York JFK
- Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International
- Houston George Bush Intercontinental
- Dallas-Fort Worth International
- San Diego International
- Seattle-Tacoma International
- Honolulu International
- Anchorage Ted Stevens International
- Minneapolis-St. Paul International
- Detroit Metropolitan
- Miami International
- Washington Dulles International
- Philadelphia International
- Newark Liberty International
- Boston Logan International
- El Paso International
- Puerto Rico’s San Juan Airport
What do the airport screenings entail?
Travelers flying from China to one of the 20 airports will be asked to fill out a short questionnaire about their travel, any symptoms and contact information.
CDC staff will also take travelers’ temperatures with a handheld thermometer that doesn’t touch the skin and watch for signs of a cough or difficulty breathing.
In the case of travelers who appear sick, the CDC will evaluate them further to determine whether the passenger should be taken to a hospital for further care. However, the first two U.S. cases, in Seattle and Chicago, involved travelers who didn’t show symptoms at the airport.
These are the 20 U.S. airports screening for the coronavirus: Here’s what it entails
What are cruise lines doing to screen for coronavirus?
Many cruise lines have spent the past week beefing up their screening measures and canceling or adjusting itineraries that had included visits to Chinese ports. Cruise Critic has a list of updates from nearly every cruise line on what they’re doing to protect passengers.
Italy’s Costa Cruises had its health and safety protocols tested Thursday when a passenger of Chinese nationality sailing aboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship appeared to be symptomatic. The entire ship – and its 6,000 passengers – was put on lockdown in Civitavecchia, Italy, for the better part of a day while health officials collected samples and ran tests. In the end, the passenger was diagnosed with the common flu, and the rest of the passengers were allowed to disembark that evening.
Meanwhile, Cruise Critic reported Friday that local tribal chiefs in the South Pacific have closed the ports of Lifou and Mare, both located in the Loyalty Islands, to cruise ships out of concerns over coronavirus.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, Curtis Tate, John Bacon, USA TODAY; Associated Press