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The 2020 Coronavirus: China Travel Tips (Mar. 23, 2020)

a Chinese person wearing a face mask

China Bars Entry to Foreigners due to Surging Imported Infections

To fight the continuing spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), China has decided to temporarily suspend entry into the country for all foreigners. This ban also applies to travelers who currently hold valid tourist or business visas, have a residence permit, or qualify for the visa-free policy. These new rules are effective from March 28, 2020.

Entry with a diplomatic visa, service visa, courtesy visa, or C visa will not be affected. For other necessary or emergency entry into China, travelers will need to apply for a new visa at the Chinese Embassy. Travelers with visas obtained after March 28th will be allowed to enter China. This measure is only temporary according to the notice from the Chinese Embassy.

Governments are advising citizens against travel to China during the current coronavirus (COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2) outbreak and with good reason. But if you want to travel to China or are already in China, it is worth considering how safe various areas of China are, how to prevent infection, and when China will be safer to travel (coronavirus free).

Originally written on February 8, the predictions and advice on this page have proved largely correct 44 days on. Despite the spike in new cases on the 12th when many suspected cases were confirmed, the downward trend in new cases of COVID-19 continued through February and March in China. The end of the outbreak still seems in sight IN CHINA... if containment holds [March 23, 2020].

However, the virus is now spreading across the world, with Italy, Spain, Germany, the US, and Iran most seriously hit. 150 countries and one ship have 170,000 current cases [Mar. 23].

What is the 2019 Coronavirus?

The new 2019 coronavirus (initially abbreviated as 2019-nCoV, a.k.a. the Wuhan coronavirus) is a new (“novel”) virus similar to the SARS and MERS coronaviruses, which attaches to the lungs and causes difficulty breathing (pneumonia) in severe cases and death in 11,364/274,382 cases (4% mortality) as of 2020-03-04 at 09:50. On Feb. 11, the virus was officially named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019. 

wuhan location mapSee an up-to-date map of the virus spread on Wuhan Maps.

The virus appears to have originated from an animal at a meat market in Wuhan in Hubei Province, and crossed over to the human population in late 2019. Hubei has been the area most severely affected by the outbreak (3,139 deaths, 96% of China's total, and 83% of China's cases on March 23). Now Italy has had more COVID-19 deaths.

The virus has spread through China and has seen many cases overseas too, disrupting lives, the economy, and domestic and international travel as a result. WHO has recently declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

China was on an extended Chinese New Year holiday, imposed by the government to counter the spread of the virus, up until February 9, and in the following weeks, those who can have been working from home. The post-festival return to work has not caused the big rise in coronavirus cases that was feared, with strict containment measures in operation in China.

Many residential areas, shopping areas, and offices have checks set up for measuring temperature, limiting population movement, and controlling virus spread. Public transport is reduced and closely monitored. Everyone is wearing surgical masks when near other people in public.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of COVID-19 are a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, and feeling unwell in general, which can progress to difficulty breathing and fatal pneumonia. Although there is no known vaccine, most sufferers have recovered on their own or with care to help relieve symptoms and support to vital organ functions in more severe cases.

When can I safely travel to China?

map of China coronavirus spread in 2020Spread of the coronavirus in China on Feb. 8, 2020, with new cases at 2,000+/day.

February 2020 saw foreign governments’ advise against all non-essential travel to China with the emphasis that Hubei is a no travel zone. (Most tourist attractions were closed.)

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, most governments strongly advise against all international travel at present. [2020-03-23]

On January 24, the U.S. State Department labeled Hubei with a Level 4 travel advisory (“do not travel”: the highest level). Now this has been extended to all countries. The Congo was at a Level 3 during their 2018 Ebola outbreak, so the new coronavirus is being treated very seriously.

This advice continues on March 23, though new cases in China are down to around 100 per day or lower, with hardly an new cases outside Hubei.  

Plan to travel in March with caution: Expectations are that the coronavirus situation will be under control during the next month, but keep an eye on your country's travel advice as things may change quickly. With the exception of Wuhan/Hubei, the rest of China is expected to return to normal in April, unless the virus prevails over containment measures, which is currently seen as unlikely.

plane above the clouds

Probably April will be mostly safe: It is expected that new cases of COVID-19 will be limited to isolated pockets by April 2020. Hubei travel will still be restricted.

The SARS outbreak in 2003 took about 2 months from when new cases started rising rapidly to when they subsided to low numbers. On February 4, 25 days from when the first "nCoV" cases were reported, it seems that daily new cases reached their peak at over 3,000. Now, two months on, it seems clear they are approaching low levels of 100/day in Hubei and <10/day elsewhere in China.

For SARS (2003), new cases were reported until about 70 days after the peak. For the new coronavirus outbreak (its contagiousness seems similar to SARS-CoV-1, though SARS-CoV-2 has a longer incubation period), this would put a predicted end of the outbreak at around mid-May

However, a new factor (as of the end of February) is the worldwide spread of the virus and whether outbreaks in other countries will be contained or the virus will return to infect China.

Where is it safe to travel in China in March 2020?

map of China coronavirusSpread of the coronavirus in China on Mar. 23, 2020. White and light pink areas are low risk.

Every province/region in China has had at least one case of the 2019 coronavirus, but outlying and remote areas such as remote Xinjiang have been relatively unaffected. Tibet's beautiful natural scenery and many Silk Road sights can be enjoyed with a low risk of contracting the virus.

Chinese areas with a low coronavirus risk (fewer than 50 current cases [Mar. 23]) are the remote north/west: Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia; as well as much of the rest of China. You may travel these areas with caution.

The coronavirus should not affect Tibet travel plans. There has only been one case registered in Tibet, making it the safest region in China to travel to (for risk of infection).

the potala palaceThe Potala Palace and Tibet is COVID-free!

The best time to travel to Tibet is between May and October, when the weather and oxygen levels are best. Moreover, Tibet is currently closed to foreigners, and probably through March, due firstly to the politically sensitive Losar period. Find out more on Planning a Tibet Tour in 2020 — Suggestions and Ideas.

See an up-to-date map of the virus spread on Wuhan Maps.

Will China be coronavirus-free in April 2020?

With the exception of Hubei Province, where there may be a residual occurrence of new COVID-19 cases, the majority of China should be declared coronavirus-free in April (2 weeks without a new case).

What precautions should I take?

1. While the coronavirus outbreak risk is high, a travel-from-China quarantine period of up to two weeks is likely as an international precaution, which could be a big inconvenience. This consideration alone may affect your travel plans.

2. If you do travel in China in the coming weeks, the main advice is to avoid the worst affected areas.

Crowded Chinese railway stationAvoid crowded rail travel in China during the outbreak.

3. Avoid contact with people (those infected may be contagious without showing symptoms), and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter. Avoid crowded places and transport.

4. Hygiene: Do not touch your nose/mouth/eyes etc. with unwashed hands. Wash your hands for 20+ seconds with soap or a 60–75% alcohol solution (hand sanitizer), especially after contact with potential carriers (including animals) or surfaces they or their breath could have touched.

5. Carefully-chosen face masks reduce infection risk. Bring enough masks as they are currently unavailable in China, supplies having been diverted to hospitals. Masks are a breeding ground for bacteria, so regular changing of masks is advised.

Regular food-hygiene/surgical nose-and-mouth masks or those to keep your nose warm will not stop viruses. What they do is stop coughing, speaking, breathing etc. from spreading the virus as readily and remind wearers not to touch their face with unwashed hands.

As the virus usually enters a body primarily through the nose/mouth (though possibly through the eyes, ears, etc.) via tiny water droplets, an anti-particle respirator/mask (+ goggles) of N95 or higher specification will help protection.

See more on How to Keep Healthy When Traveling in China and Coronavirus Travel Tips.

China Highlights Cares for Your Health and Safety

Forbidden CityOur private tours (foreground) are flexible and can help you avoid crowds and infection risks.

We have been in the China travel industry for over 20 years and we have lots of experience with handling situations such as viral outbreaks and natural disasters. It is important to us that you feel comfortable and safe during your visit and we will respect any requests or decisions you make regarding your travels.

Any customer that has booked a trip with us can cancel or reschedule it for free during the time of the coronavirus outbreak. If you would like to change your trip, we also offer tours to many destinations around the world including in Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. See Asia Highlights.

Trip Advisor TripAdvisor top rating of 5.0 868+ Excellent Reviews Feedback from our guests on our handling of the itinerary during the outbreak.
I would like to report my experience with this travel agency and in particular with Mr. Zac Wang. I contacted Zac a few months ago to organize a trip to Yunnan with some potential extensions. He had been incredibly helpful and always super-responsive to all my mails. At the beginning of January i have paid my deposit for the trip. In the last few days, my family has decided to postpone the trip. Zac has replied immediately proposing some alternatives, but due to current uncertainty we have preferred to ask the refund of the deposit. I have received the money on my account in less than 24 hours! I was impressed by the professionalism and honesty of Zac and his company. I will for sure rely on them to organize my next trip to China, which i hope will be very very soon!
- Manuela C from Milan, Italy

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