A few weeks ago, I wrote about my thoughts on the (still beginning) coronavirus pandemic and its travel-related implications. At that time, I’ll admit, they were somewhat nonchalant. Boy, has the situation changed since then. The world is in full-blown scare. Tens of thousands of people are being infected far outside of China, the initial hotbed of the virus. Thousands have died. World economy is on a dangerous downward spiral – entire industries are collapsing, such as airlines, entertainment, sports, restaurants and hotels. Cities and entire countries go on mandated lockdowns and quarantines.
All of this is completely unprecedented. Of course, this is not the worst pandemic mankind has faced. Ever heard of plague? Smallpox? Measles? Heck, even the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 was far deadlier than coronavirus, at least as of yet.
But we are a generation of people who move around. Also, we have grown to take our civil liberties for granted. The plague was awful, but people didn’t really move place to place as much in the dark ages. And once antibiotics were discovered, lots of previously non-treatable diseases were manageable and containable.
Alas, there is still neither cure nor vaccine for the coronavirus. Its lethality rate still appears to be in the low single digits, but that’s far worse than common flu’s rates. All are at risk, not just people in China (which is actually doing quite well managing its epidemic). So what does it mean for people who travel?
Well, the most common answer is to not travel at this time. In fact, you are being severely restricted now with regards to where you can go. If you can leave your own home country, which is a big “if”, countries around the world close their borders to foreigners one after another. In the best case scenario, you might be forced to self-quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival, or placed in a mandatory quarantine facility. From what I hear, it’s no picnic in the park.
So if you haven’t left yet, obviously, stay put. However, there are thousands of travelers out there who are stuck on a long-term journey, or have made life-changing decisions before leaving their home countries that mean they can’t easily return home, or sometimes they literally can’t return home as some countries closed airspace. That poses a number of challenges. First one is the visa. Doing a regular visa run for expats is now next to impossible. Solution? Getting it extended in the country you are staying, even if at an exorbitant cost (unfortunately, some visa agencies are taking advantage of the situation).
Next one is work and money. Many expats are teaching English to make a living, and many schools have closed down. If you are lucky, you can teach online. If not, hopefully you have made enough savings in your previous life to weather the storm. Cutting expenses should be easier now that many bars and restaurants have been closing down in many cities around the world.
The prudent thing is to minimize time spent outside, even if you haven’t been anywhere in worst-hit areas in months. Some locals will show hostility towards the westerners now that Europe is the new hotbed of the epidemic. Even though wearing masks does little to prevent you from getting sick, the new etiquette is that you should, just to not put the locals at risk, real or perceived. And of course, if you do have flu-like symptoms, masks do help to prevent spreading them around.
If you do actually get the suspect symptoms, first thing to do is to self-isolate and monitor them closely. Try to get food delivered, or get take out while you monitor your condition. Treat the symptoms as you would with common cold or flu, but if it gets to the point of being severe, you should, of course, visit a doctor. Yes, you will risk quarantine and possibly a large medical bill, but if you have a travel insurance, it can at least cover a good portion of it. And even if not, don’t forget that Covid-19 can be dangerous to you even if you are not over 60 years old. Yes, younger people have died from it, too. Pneumonia is no joke.
Finally, it’s important to stay sane and sober-minded in these trying times. It’s so easy to fall into the mass hysteria fueled by the mainstream media and social networks. By my estimate, over 90% of my own Facebook feed is related to the virus. People ask all sorts of questions, some legit and some totally wacky. Reading and listening to all that stuff can make anyone stressed out and hypochondriac. Don’t succumb to that mindset. Best thing to do is remain calm and accept this is a new, and hopefully, temporary reality that affects all of us and is completely out of your control. Some are affected much worse than others. Be thankful if you are still alive. And take solace in the fact that if you do get Covid, you will most likely develop immunity against it for the future, or at least that seems to be the consensus.
If you are not ill and can travel away to a lower-stress environment, such as a beach or mountain destination, by all means do so but be prepared to stay there for a while. A few weeks and possibly months. Because traveling has suddenly become dangerous, not just to you, but to everyone else.
We will get over it.