Text page

Health and safety

Health and safety forum

Coronavirus/COVID-19 and travel in Southeast Asia

Posted by somtam2000 on 29/2/2020 at 00:06 admin

With near saturation media coverage on Coronavirus (officially COVID-19) and an increasingly doomsday tilt to some of the coverage, should you still be considering travel to Southeast Asia? Here are a few thoughts.

Most importantly, stay calm
Statistically, at least for now, the chance of you picking up the virus in Southeast Asia are very low. You’re more likely to have your trip disrupted by preventative measures some countries are taking rather than ending up in a hospital bed yourself.

Check your travel insurance small print
Coronavirus became a “known event” for travel insurance purposes in mid-January. What this means is that if you bought your policy after this date, chances are you will not be covered for Coronavirus-related issues. If you purchased your policy before mid January, check with your insurer. I recommend World Nomads (though they are not covering Coronavirus on new policies)

If you haven’t purchased an inbound flight yet, cough up the extra money for a ticket with changeable dates—so if matters do deteriorate, you are able to change your dates and postpone your trip. While there still may be a fee for this, it will be less than losing the entire ticket.

Buy a N95 mask or three. This isn’t to wear day to day (which WHO says is a bad idea anyway—ignore the idiot Thai minister who wants to throw foreigners out of the country who are not wearing masks), but rather to wear if you do get sick—to protect others.

Cleanliness is next to godliness
While the Indonesian government is pushing safety through prayer, we advise a more down to earth approach related to your hands—wash them. Regularly. Use soap. Try not to touch your face too much—I learned on a zombie apocalypse film (always a solid source) that the average person touches their face 2,000 to 3,000 times a day, so not touching your face at all is a challenge, but washing your hands regularly should help mitigate all the unconscious face fondling going on.

Airport fingerprint scanners
This is a big one. Many airports in Southeast Asia now have a fingerprint scanner as a part of the immigration process. This means thousands of people daily are pulling their fingers on a sheet of glass, in the exact same positions over and over. Pack a packet of wipes and give the scanner a solid wipe down before placing your fingers onto it.

Screening at many airports in Southeast Asia is non-existent. At others it is random or ineffective. Given the virus may have an incubation period of 14 days, during which is is undetectable, makes the whole process to a point just another example of security theatre.

Pick your surfaces
According to this Reuters story, scientists believe the virus can survive on copper and steel for about two hours, longer on plastic and cardboard. Think about what you touch. Minimart door handles, escalator handrails, taps and other bathroom fixtures—these are all examples of flat surfaces that people touch in the same place over and over and over. I’m not suggesting you don’t touch anything, but be aware of this as being a possible vector.

This is the big one. As the virus has spread, a number of nations have started cutting back flights and banning travellers who have been to an infected region. In a hypothetical case, if there were to be a rapid increase in cases in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, resulting in Canada or the US refusing passengers who have transferred through these countries, getting home could get quite difficult. Be aware of this and the routing you need to get home (if Southeast Asia is not your home).

Bear in mind that if you travel to a country that is regarded as being risky, you may end up being quarantined for 14 to 21 days. That may not matter so much is you are on an open-ended trip, but if you’re on a 7-day holiday and your boss is a deadbeat, being quarantined could leave you out of a job. There are no two cases alike in this regard, so it is important to take a realistic look at your own situation and decide if being quarantined for two or three weeks might have serious repercussions for you (other than abject boredom).

Country specific thoughts
Burma, Indonesia and Laos all have large Chinese migrant labour and all three have officially reported no cases. Burma and Laos share a border with China, and while the far north of both countries is seldom visited by foreign travellers, the claims of no confirmed cases is difficult to credit. Indonesia does not share a border with China, but was a major destination for Chinese tourists, and regional governments are increasingly questioning the situation of no official confirmed cases in Indonesia. Incompetence or dishonesty, or maybe the power of prayer really is working.

In all countries life is largely rolling on as usual.

Should you travel to the region?
It depends. Are you on a short trip with little ability to absorb unforeseen delays? Then yes, I would probably postpone the trip.

If you do have flexibility and are in the position to be able to reroute your trip as need be, then yes I would still travel to the region. Life goes on day to day in the countries of Southeast Asia and the tourism industry is being hammered—especially small family owned businesses that may not have the cashflow to survive a long stint with no business.

Buy a changeable ticket.
Read your travel insurance small print.
Pack a mask, but don’t wear it unless you get sick.
Wash your hands regularly.
Wipe down the fingerprint scanner.
Support small family-owned businesses.
Have fun.

Further reading
While US-centric, this piece by Zeynep Tufekci is a great piece on how the virus is about more than just you

How to stay safe

How the virus is spreading
Questions? Ask away. I’ll add more to this thread as required.

Good travels!

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,089

Posted by exacto on 29/2/2020 at 01:19

Nice article, Somtam. Thank you.

I noticed hand sanitizer was being made available at the entry points of malls and public transit in Bangkok and other locations in Thailand. Soap and water is best, when available, but if it is not, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative, and probably smart anyway before eating or after touching certain surfaces even without the current situation. I carry a small bottle with me from home when I travel, but saw it is also readily available in Southeast Asia now too.

I also saw people like cashiers or ticket takers on buses wearing restaurant-style disposable gloves, and even a few people on the flights back home wore them. I don't know if I would go that far, but you can use a handkerchief or another piece of cloth to create a barrier when touching door handles or other frequently handled surfaces (and still use hand sanitizer afterwards) to help reduce contact and protect yourself. Cheers.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,831

Posted by gecktrek on 29/2/2020 at 03:26

hey, thanks for the tips, whilst not very green, i do like the aforementioned use of disposable gloves.

#3 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 178

Please login to add your reply

You need to be a Travelfish member to be able to add a post to the forum. After logging in you'll be returned to this page automatically to add your post. Not a member? Join up here.