How to Protect Yourself During the Coronavirus Outbreak

International travelers are getting worried about the Coronavirus outbreak, also referred to as COVID-19. Many have amended their schedules or are avoiding traveling to destinations that have been affected. Here are things you need to know about the virus, as well as how you can protect yourself.

 Girl with umbrella wearing a surgical mask

Keep Yourself Informed On Areas That Have Been Affected

The risk assessment of different countries can change quickly. While some cities, like Macau or Hong Kong have so far been able to suppress a larger scale community outbreak, other destinations such as South Korea and Italy are facing more challenges. The New York Times has created an interactive map that is continuously updated and tracks the spread of the virus. This is a good starting point to find out what the situation in a given country of region is and to what degree it has been affected. For US specific information, refer to this map created by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn if any cases of Coronavirus infections have been confirmed in your state. 


How Dangerous is the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

On February 28, 2020, the WHO raised the risk for the Coronavirus to the highest level. Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program stated “We are on the highest level of alert or highest level of risk assessment in terms of spread and in terms of impact […] This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.” 

The above remarks indicate how serious governments and travelers need to take the virus. However, it is also important to understand one’s own risk profile. Current findings indicate that age, gender and pre-existing conditions are key factors that influence the course of the disease in the event of an infection. A study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that men had a fatality rate of 2.8 percent, versus 1.7 percent for women. When examining mortality rates by age, it can further be said that older coronavirus patients are at a much higher risk than younger patients. The chart below indicates this.
coronavirus vs influenza mortality chart

Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Coronavirus data)
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

*Note: the age brackets for the 2018 US Influenza date are: 0-17 yrs ,18-49 yrs, 50-64 yrs and 65+ yrs

As of February 28 2020, the global death toll of the Coronavirus reached around 2,800 cases. Compared to the 2018-2019 influenza season, which, according to the US CDC, was linked to 68,315 fatalities in the US alone, this number is thankfully still relatively low.


Here Are Things You Can Do To Reduce The Risk Of An Infection

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published recommendations that can help slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Many of them are easy to follow:

  • Wash your hands frequently

    Washing your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water can kill viruses that may be on your hands and thus reduce the risk of an infection. The reason therefore is that, just like common colds, infections are often passed on via one’s hands.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

    Contaminated hands can transfer the coronavirus to your eyes, nose or mouth, thereby allowing it to enter your body and to cause the infection.

  • Avoid crowds and keep a distance from people who are coughing or sneezing

    The WHO recommends maintaining ”at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing” to reduce the risk of droplet infection.

  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing

    This will also protect others around you in case you are already infected, but unaware of it. If you are sick, it can also help to wear a face mask (make sure to get a N95 respirator as standard surgical masks may not be very effective). The WHO is also warning that “Masks may give false sense of security” and that just wearing a mask is not sufficient to prevent an infection. 


What Can You Do When Traveling on a Plane? 

In general, the risk of getting infected on an airplane is lower than the risk of getting infected in a crowded space on the ground. The reason therefore is that airplane air conditioning units are typically fitted with hospital-grade HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) systems that filter “up to 99.99% of dust particles and airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria” (Source: Cathay Pacific). However, the close proximity to other passengers may increase the risk of a droplet infection. In order to reduce the probabilities of infections on planes, many airlines have stepped up efforts to disinfect cabins.


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