US Government says: DO NOT TRAVEL – Global Level 4 Health Advisory due to Global Coronovirus Pandemic

If you are still considering international travel, now is the time to postpone your travels to a later time. And if you are thinking of riding out the CoVid19 – storm abroad, now is a time to consider going home to the US!. The US State Department has issued a global level 4 health advisory – do not travel. It’s urging all Americans abroad to go home as soon as possible.

Here is the text of the advisory:

“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel. Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.”

The advisory is pretty blunt: come home or risk staying abroad indefinitely. It’s not just the risk of infection abroad, it’s also an increasing risk of not being able to travel home anymore, as more and more countries are implementing travel restrictions and airlines canceling flights, making it more and more difficult to go where you want to go!

Risk of infection abroad vs at home: I’ve spent a lot of time reading travel boards and blogs and many travelers are considering whether it is currently safer at home or abroad – especially when they are currently abroad. Maybe there are more cases at home as where you are at right now? Statistics are published daily, showing the grim talley of the infected and the dead by country.
But those statistics don’t tell the whole story. Some countries have done extensive testing, resulting in high numbers of confirmed cases, yet few deaths. Singapore for example has been on top of the outbreak since the beginning, showing a large number of cases, but no deaths. Other countries, like Indonesia or the Philippines have done little testing or contact tracing, resulting in few known cases, but likely many hidden cases, resulting in much higher risk of infection than the numbers suggest. 

Healthcare abroad vs at home: Also consider what happens when you do get infected. What kind of healthcare is available to you? Can you afford it? While many developing countries have some first-class hospitals, the public healthcare available to the whole population might not be able to cope with an escalating crisis. Even the modern health care system in wealthy Northern Italy is at the verge of collapse under the onslaught of cases, running out of intensive care beds and ventilators. Imagine what this pandemic could do to the healthcare in poor countries in Africa or in India or Indonesia. 
Also, consider the affordability of healthcare. Most countries will require you to pay cash for your treatment. And many travel insurances don’t cover pandemics, so you won’t be able to get a refund later. 

Travel Restrictions & Flight Availability: Since the outbreak became public in January, I have traveled from the Philippines to Singapore, Laos, Vietnam and back to the Philippines. As the pandemic got worse, the options to travel were shrinking. My sister’s return from Vietnam via Singapore to Germany was hampered by no less than 3 flight cancellations. Many airlines, like Austrian, have stopped all operations, others from Cathay Pacific to Qantas, United, American, Delta or Lufthansa have cancelled up to 90% of their flights. This is how the departure screen at Danang, Vietnam, looked like – 8 out of 10 flights cancelled!

We arrived in Vietnam and Singapore just days before travel restrictions were imposed. A friend barely made it out of the Philippines before an island wide lockdown. 
The combination of restrictions and cancelled flights makes it more and more difficult to plan any travel and has resulted in thousands of travelers getting stuck in places from Peru to Egypt and the Philippines. While some countries (like Germany) are evacuating their citizens, other travelers may not be as lucky. The US is ramping down their embassy staff worldwide and has limited capacity to assist travelers abroad. 

Visa Restrictions: If you are thinking of waiting out the situation abroad, make sure you understand the visa restrictions. Many countries only allow 14 or 30 day visits, so you might overstay your tourist visa on a longer stay, facing harsh penalties or even being blacklisted from ever returning. Some countries, like Thailand, are considering to make exceptions under the circumstances – but that’s far from certain. 

Bottomline: If you are home, stay home until this gets better. As much as I love travel, the risk of infection or getting stranded are just too high. If you are abroad, it’s time to head home or to a place you can be safe for an extended period of time and have access to quality healthcare you can afford! As always, be safe!

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