Coronavirus! Should You Cancel 2020 China Travel Plans?
China Bars Entry to Foreigners Due to 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 have been effective from March 28, 2020.
Entry with a diplomatic visa, service visa, courtesy visa, or C visa will not be affected. For any other necessary or emergency entry into China, travelers will need to apply for a new visa. 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 and experts are advising against travel to China, and all unnecessary travel in general, 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 (more convenient) to travel.
Originally written on February 8, the predictions and advice on this page have proved largely correct 88 days on. The downward trend in new cases of COVID-19 has continued through February, March, and April in China. The end of the original outbreak has already occurred IN CHINA with Wuhan and Hubei Province, the original epicenter of the outbreak, now officially CoV-free! [May 6, 2020].
However, the virus has now spread across the world, with the USA, Spain, Italy, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and Turkey now the most infected places. In May 2020, a second wave of infections is affecting China: imported infections. These are concentrated in the north and east of the country. [May 6].
What is the 2019 Coronavirus?
The new 2019 coronavirus (initially abbreviated as 2019-nCoV, a.k.a. the Wuhan coronavirus) is a new (“novel”, hence nCoV) virus similar to the SARS and MERS coronaviruses, which attaches to the lungs and causes difficulty breathing (pneumonia) in severe cases and death in 251,481/3,635,094 cases (6.9% mortality) as of 2020-05-06 at 10:00.
On Feb. 11, the virus was officially named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019.
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 in China (4,512 deaths, 97% of China's total, and 81% of China's cases on May 6) for the first 3 months of the epidemic.
Now, worldwide, places like New York have had more COVID-19 cases and deaths. The virus has spread through China and has seen many cases overseas too, disrupting lives, the global economy, and domestic and international travel as a result. In March 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
COVID-19 in China
After an extended Chinese New Year holiday imposed by the government to counter the spread of the virus, those who could worked 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.
Though most of the population has returned to their places of work/study and daily lives, many residential areas, transport hubs, 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. [May 6, 2020]
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of COVID-19 are a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, loss of the ability to taste/smell, and feeling unwell in general, which can progress to difficulty breathing and fatal pneumonia. Most sufferers (without pre-existing medical conditions) have recovered on their own or with care to help relieve symptoms and support to vital organ functions in more severe cases.
Worldwide, the race is on to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, but there is nothing significantly effective as yet, and a cure/prevention is unlikely this year. An effective and globally approved and administered vaccine is what the world needs to return to normal and what the travel industry needs to fully recover.
When can I safely travel to China?
Back in February 2020, foreign governments’ advised against all non-essential travel to China with the emphasis that Hubei was a no travel zone.
On January 24, the U.S. State Department labeled Hubei with a Level 4 travel advisory (“do not travel”: the highest level). This has been extended to all countries since March. The Congo was at a Level 3 during its 2018 Ebola outbreak, so this is another measure of the unprecedented magnitude of the current coronavirus crisis.
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, new cases reached their peak at over 3,000/day. Now, over two months on, they are at low levels of 100/day and no new cases in many provinces in China.
Due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, most governments strongly advise no international travel at present. [2020-05-06] This advice continued through March and April, though new cases in China had dropped to around 100 per day or lower, with most new cases being imported or international-travel-associated cases.
Plan to travel in China in May 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. Most of China has returned to a degree of normality in May, with most tourist attractions open, though containment measures are still in place.
Now, new cases of COVID-19 have been limited to isolated pockets, mostly those with international ports and borders.
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 put a predicted end of the outbreak at around mid-May. However, a new factor with the CoV-2 pandemic is the worldwide spread of the virus and travel from other countries re-infecting China.
Currently, the coronavirus is well-contained in China.
Most tourist attractions are now open. This was evidenced by cautious vacationing over the May 1–5 holiday, with popular tourist destinations receiving maybe half the visitors they did last year. Government bodies advised not traveling far and not to travel to high-risk areas, while observing measures to prevent coronavirus spread like social distancing.
Where is it safe to travel in China in May 2020?
Every province/region in China has had at least one case of the 2019 coronavirus, but outlying and remote areas such as remote Xinjiang and Tibet have been relatively unaffected. Today many sights can be enjoyed with a low risk of contracting the virus.
Chinese areas with a low coronavirus risk (fewer than 50 current cases [May 6]) are all but Heilongjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Inner Mongolia. You may travel most of China with caution while observing containment protocol.
For an up-to-date map of the virus spread in China and statistics, see Wuhan Maps.
The coronavirus should not affect China travel plans if you are already in the country and don't require quarantine.
For example, there has only been one case registered in Tibet, making it the safest region in China to travel to (for risk of infection). The best time to travel to Tibet is between May and October, when the weather and oxygen levels are best. Find out more on Planning a Tibet Tour in 2020 - Suggestions and Ideas.
However, the biggest hindrance to China travel now is China's visa and international travel restrictions. Add to that quarantine requirements both in China and in home countries and China tourism for international travelers still seems impractical, possibly for months yet.
Will most of China be coronavirus-free for the rest of 2020?
If containment measures hold, isolated occurrences of new COVID-19 cases should be restricted to international ports and associated areas. The majority of China should remain coronavirus-free in 2020.
What precautions should I take?
1. While the worldwide coronavirus risk is high, a quarantine period of up to two weeks is likely as an international immigration precaution, which could be a big inconvenience. This consideration alone may cause you to cancel your travel plans.
2. If you do travel in China in the coming weeks, the main advice is to avoid the worst affected areas.
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 for a daily change as 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 provide a reasonable level of protection.
China Highlights Cares for Your Health and Safety
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 epidemic. 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 our Asia Highlights and Global Highlights sites.
- Manuela C from Milan, Italy