The impact of the coronavirus is showing no sign of abating. China is on lockdown, airlines have cancelled flights and the UK Foreign Office has tightened its restrictions on travel to the Far East. 

The disease outbreak has led to the deaths of more than 1,300 people and infected more than 60,000, according to the latest figures, with the Chinese city of Wuhan, in the Hubei Province, designated as the epicentre. 

The Foreign Office (FCO) has updated its travel guidance to advise against all but essential travel to mainland China, and advises against all travel to Hubei Province “due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak”.

Below we detail the travel situation in and out of China and where else has been affected.

What has the Foreign Office said?

The UK Foreign Office is now advising against all but essential travel to China, excluding Hong Kong and Macao, and all travel to Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

“The Chinese government continues to impose further restrictions on movement within China in response to the coronavirus outbreak,” it said. “These restrictions include the closure of some provincial highways and the cancellation of many inter-city rail services. Internal flights continue to operate at much reduced levels. 

“Separately, there are tight controls on entry and exit to villages and townships across the country, and varying degrees of restriction on movement within every province, and individual cities and municipalities. Provinces exercising the most restrictions include Chongqing, Zhejiang, Anhui and Heilongjiang. 

“A large number of airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have announced a suspension of flights to and from mainland China. Other commercial airlines are still operating, but it may become harder to access departure options over the coming weeks.”

On February 4, the Foreign Office updated its advice to say: “If you’re in China and able to leave, you should do so.”

It adds: “A number of countries have announced restrictions on entry by travellers from China in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Given the fast-changing situation, you should check the latest FCO travel advice (including entry requirements) for your destination and anywhere you are transiting through, and check with your airline before you travel.”

Public Health England (PHE) says you should maintain good hand, respiratory and personal hygiene and avoid visiting animal and bird markets or people who are ill with respiratory symptoms. 

It says anyone who has returned to the UK from China, Thailand, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days and developed symptoms of a cough or fever or shortness of breath should immediately isolate themselves and call NHS 111. 

What should I do if my holiday is affected?

British Airways has cancelled its flights to Beijing and Shanghai until the end of March, with inbound flights cancelled until April 1. It says the situation will remain under review but those passengers affected can receive a refund or discuss rebooking options. “ As availability of alternative flights is limited, rebooking may take time,” it adds. 

The airline is also offering those travelling to Hong Kong before April 1 the opportunity to rebook their flight or request a refund. 

Virgin Atlantic, which flies to Hong Kong and Shanghai, has suspended its Shanghai service until March 29 and said it is continuing to monitor the situation. It, too, is offering customers a chance to rebook, for travel up until May 31. 

If you are in any doubt as to whether the coronavirus will affect your trip, contact your airline or tour operator – as the Foreign Office has now advised against travel to China, your tour operator or airline is likely to offer your refunds or alternative trips to avoid affected areas. 

Cruises in the region have been affected

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Travellers flying via China or Hong Kong onward to destinations in south-east Asia or Australia should check if their flights are affected. Travellers who have been to China recently but have plans elsewhere, especially in the US and Caribbean, should check with their operator or airline as to whether restrictions apply to them.

“We urge all customers to check and familiarise themselves with their travel insurance policies before travelling,” Virgin Atlantic said. 

The FCO says travellers should be aware that any trip to China will be affected. The Chinese government has closed a majority of tourist attractions and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour group activities. Some businesses are also closed and medical facilities are under significant pressure. 

Trips to areas on the periphery, including, for example, Japan, are not covered by the FCO advice and therefore you would likely incur a charge should you wish to cancel. The FCO has, however, added advice about the virus to a number of its pages, including Japan, Hong Kong, where screening measures are in place, and even as far afield as Australia.

China Southern, China Eastern and China Air, are allowing passengers to cancel and reschedule flights free of charge. Other airlines, including Qantas and Cathay Pacific, where some passengers might be affected have issued guidance. 

Wendy Wu Tours, which runs trips to Asia, said it was monitoring the situation and expects travel plans to China beyond March to operate as normal, but will contact anyone with April and May departures to discuss any changes. Anyone travelling in February has been contacted to make alternative arrangements. 

“The current travel advice is relevant for travel to China now, i.e in the next few days, and is changing on a daily basis,” it said. “We are fully expecting the travel advice to be revised again shortly and will update as soon as this information changes.”

Abta, the UK travel association, said customers due to travel should read the Foreign Office advice for the country they are visiting and to follow the health advice of the National Travel Health Network and Centre.  

What is the advice for visitors going to Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Singapore?

See here for a full breakdown of travel guidance to Asia, including Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam

On January 30, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global emergency. 

“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?

According to the NHS and the WHO, symptoms of the coronavirus usually include:

  • A dry cough and/or sore throat
  • A high temperature
  • Feeling tired
  • Difficulty breathing (in more severe cases)

These symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases, including flu and the common cold. So if you have symptoms consider the following:

  • Have you travelled in the last two weeks to a high risk area such as China, Singapore, Hong Kong or Thailand
  • Have you been in contact with someone who has?

How quickly do symptoms emerge?

Symptoms are thought to appear between two and 10 days after contracting the virus but may be up to 24 days.

The spread of the virus has led to panic buying in Hong Kong

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There is also some evidence, as yet unconfirmed, that the virus can be spread by asymptomatic people – that is people who carry the virus but are not yet very sick.

If this is correct it may make the virus considerably more difficult to control.

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