With dozens of airlines cancelling flights, entire cities on lockdown and the Foreign Office warning against all but essential travel, the advice on whether British citizens should visit China is clear.
However, there is still much uncertainty among travellers as to whether it is safe, or advisable, to holiday in popular south-east Asian destinations like Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
When the third case of coronavirus in the UK was confirmed last week, officials revealed that the individual had returned from Singapore, not China, sparking concerns as to whether it is safe to travel to south-east Asia. He had visited a group at a ski resort near Chamonix on his way back from Singapore. After returning home, he tested positive for coronavirus, and over the weekend five more people from Brighton (all known contacts of his) tested positive. Another case in London, announced on 12 February, brings the number of UK cases up to 9.
Below we break down the Foreign Office advice for the 11 states in south-east Asia, including Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, and crunch the numbers of confirmed cases of coronavirus so far.
Note that the coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing situation and the Foreign Office advice continues to be updated. Be sure to check its most up-to-date advice before travelling. You can follow our live blog here.
Is it safe to travel to Singapore?
- 50 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, 8 critical, 15 recovered (as of February 13)
- Population: 5.6 million
- Annual international tourist arrivals: 14.7 million
What the FCO says
“You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities. On 31 January 2020, the Singapore authorities announced an extension of measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus. From 11.59pm local time on 1 February 2020, all new visitors with recent travel history to mainland China within the previous 14 days will not be granted permission to enter or transit Singapore. Check the Singapore Ministry of Health website for full details.”
Is it safe to travel to Thailand?
- 33 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, 1 critical, 10 recovered (February 13)
- Population: 69 million
- Annual international tourist arrivals: 38.2 million
What the FCO says
“You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities.”
Is it safe to travel to Malaysia?
- 18 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, 0 critical, 3 recovered (February 13)
- Population: 31.62 million
- Annual international tourist arrivals: 25.8 million
What the FCO says
“You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the Malaysian authorities. Malaysian owned, and Malaysian based, airlines have suspended some flights between Malaysia and mainland China. If you’re due to travel, keep in touch with your airline as flights in the region may be cancelled at short notice.”
Is it safe to travel to Indonesia?
- 0 confirmed cases (February 13)
- Population: 264 million
- Annual international tourist arrivals: 13.4 million
What the FCO says
“You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the Indonesian authorities. The Indonesian authorities have announced a temporary suspension of flights between Indonesia and mainland China from 5 February 2020. Anyone who has visited China within the previous 14 days will not be permitted to enter or transit the country.
“If you have existing travel plans between Indonesia and China, contact your travel company or airline for the latest information.”
There are concerns that the virus may be going undetected in Indonesia, as there are no confirmed cases in a country of 272 million (the fourth most populous country on Earth) with close links to China. On Thursday 13 February, the first case of coronavirus was linked to Indonesia after a Chinese tourist, who travelled through Bali, returned a positive result.
Is it safe to travel to the Philippines?
- 3 confirmed cases, 1 death, 0 critical, 2 recovered (February 13)
- Population: 104.9 million
- Annual international tourist arrivals: 7.13 million
What the FCO says
“On 10 February the Philippine government announced that until further notice, entry to the country will be refused to all foreign nationals (except those holding Philippines citizenship or permanent residency) who have been in or travelled via mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan within the previous 14 days.
Some flights from the Philippines to Taiwan, including those operated by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, have been suspended or cancelled. Check with your travel provider for updates. The Philippine Department for Health and the Bureau of Immigration are issuing information about the situation on their websites. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you should contact your airline or nearest Philippine Embassy.
Is it safe to travel to Vietnam?”
- 16 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, 0 critical, 7 recovered (13 February)
- Population: 95.54 million
- Annual international visitors: 15.5 million
What the FCO says
“The Vietnamese authorities are implementing steps to mitigate the risks of infection, including health screening at airports and land borders. People showing signs of respiratory illness on arrival in Vietnam can expect to be checked. You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities. Anyone confirmed as having Coronavirus, including foreigners, can expect to be quarantined.
“The Vietnamese authorities have also announced travel restrictions and quarantine requirements:
- As of 1 February 2020, anyone who has visited China in the previous 14 days will be refused entry to Vietnam. The only exceptions will be people with specific agreement travelling on official government business.
- As of 3 February 2020, anyone already in Vietnam who has been in Hubei Province within the past 14 days should go in to medical quarantine. Anyone who has been elsewhere in mainland China within the past 14 days should self-isolate at home.
“The Vietnamese government has recommended that citizens wear masks in public, and it has introduced special permits for anyone seeking to organise large public events.”
What about the remaining south-east Asian countries?
There has been 1 confirmed case in Cambodia (0 deaths), and no confirmed cases in Laos, Brunei, Timor-Leste or Myanmar. For all of these countries, the FCO advises that you comply with additional screening measures put in place by the authorities.
What are the risks of continuing with a trip to south-east Asia?
At the time of writing, there have been 111 cases of coronavirus in south-east Asia – a region of 655 million people. And there has been one death. In comparison, there have been 40,185 cases in China and 908 deaths, with 6,484 in critical condition. These figures should be kept in mind for anyone worried about the proportional risk of contracting coronavirus in south-east Asia. However, the coronavirus outbreak continues to develop, confirmed cases do continue to rise and it may be some time until we know the true extent of the virus.
Becoming stranded in a destination
This is perhaps the biggest concern for Britons travelling to south-east Asia right now. Many airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have cancelled direct flights to China. Others have cancelled flights to Hong Kong. As a result, a number of Chinese residents have been left stranded around the world, or forced to find alternative routes home. If there was a scenario where a south-east Asian country saw a significant spike in coronavirus cases, and airlines cancelled flights in and out of its airports, British nationals could plausibly find themselves stranded. This could, of course, happen anywhere in the world.
Finding yourself in a quarantine situation
Since the coronavirus outbreak, thousands of passengers have found themselves quarantined on board cruise ships around the world – including 4,000 passengers on a ship in Japan. This is a particular risk for individuals going on cruise holidays.
Would you get money back if you cancelled your trip?
If the Foreign Office changes its travel advice for the country you are visiting to “avoid all but essential travel” and your holiday is ATOL protected, you will be eligible for a refund, or your tour operator will organise alternative travel arrangements. If you want to cancel a trip to a country that does not have a Foreign Office warning in place, then you will not be eligible for a refund, but are of course free to contact your hotel or airline to ask.
Is your insurance valid if you travel to south-east Asia?
Your travel insurance should be valid so long as the Foreign Office has not issued an “avoid all but essential travel” warning for the country you are visiting. Always double check your policy, and check Foreign Office warnings, before travel.