Why aren't travellers worried about COVID-19?
Among the poll respondents, there are several comments from the unworried travellers that point at the media for blowing things way out of proportion. Many of them are of the opinion that the media is engaging in fear-mongering in service of some bigger purpose. Even a few infectious disease specialists are saying that not all of the restrictions are medically necessary but are being put in place for political reasons. Some decisions may even be driven by fear and xenophobia.
In Addition to this, we live in the age of catchy social media one liners. Headlines like “Coronavirus wipes out 1.7 Trillion in the US stock market” or “Canadians are being told to stock up on food as the coronavirus could become a pandemic” are being used to attract clicks. These articles are then rapidly shared, often without being read, contributing to a cloud of confusion. Don’t get caught up with click-bait like this, read the entire post and you’ll likely find that the reality behind the headline is a lot less scarier than you initially thought.
Moreover, many of the respondents made attempts to rationalize COVID-19 by comparing it to the global death tolls of the common flu. After all, over 34,000 people died during last year's flu season, so how bad can coronavirus really be?
Well to that we simply say, exercise caution. We know how to treat the common flu, in contrast, there’s still a lot that health officials don’t know about COVID-19.
There are, however, a few facts that everyone should know.
Facts about COVID-19
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently published the largest case series to date of COVID-19 in mainland China. Here’s some key findings from the study:
- There’s a huge disparity in COVID-19 fatality rates depending on your age and medical history.
- Cases of people aged 70 to 79 years had an 8% fatality rate and those aged 80 years and older had a fatality rate of 14.8%. This age group was responsible for over 50% of the deaths in the sample.
- Much like with the common flu, you’re at more risk of complications from coronavirus if you’re of an older age (65+), have a chronic medical condition, have a compromised immune system, or are pregnant.
- No deaths were reported among mild and severe cases of COVID-19. The fatality rate was 49% among critical cases, and elevated among those with preexisting conditions: 10.5% for people with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer.
- From a sample of 44,672 confirmed coronavirus cases in China, the overall case-fatality rate was 2.3%, significantly lower than both SARS and MERS.
- While it’s true that SARS and MERS had higher case to fatality rates, COVID-19 has led to more total deaths due to the large number of cases.
- The fatality rate can affect how fast an outbreak spreads: If people die from an illness sooner, they are less likely to be working, shopping or flying on airplanes and, thus, less likely to spread the virus.
- COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to two weeks, helping the virus to spread further.
- The total number of COVID-19 cases is likely higher due to inherent difficulties in identifying and counting mild and asymptomatic cases. Furthermore, the still-insufficient testing capacity for COVID-19 in China means that many suspected and clinically diagnosed cases are not yet counted in the denominator of this study.
- This uncertainty in the case-fatality rate (CFR) may be reflected by the important difference between the CFR in Hubei (2.9%) compared with outside Hubei (0.4%).
Are travellers taking any precautions?
Since an overwhelming amount of the respondents to our first poll claimed that they'd still be going to Australia or Italy, we decided to ask them a follow up question. We wondered if they were taking any precautions during their travels. We found that a little more than 11% of respondents were not taking any precautions at all, with the majority of respondents are saying that they’ll continue to stay informed and take precautions when necessary.
Our advice to travellers (What precautions, if any, should you take?)
Our number one piece of advice is to stay informed. For instance, if there are reported cases of COVID-19 in the country that you are travelling to, do some research on the most affected areas and possibly avoid them. Since many countries are taking different approaches to dealing with outbreaks, try to get familiar with these practices.
For example, a respondent to the poll who recently travelled to Singapore let us know about the country’s several temperature checks that are in effect. Additionally, in Singapore he was advised to wear a mask and to sanitize regularly, he avoided public transportation and contact with people in public places. While it’s true that wearing a mask won’t prevent you from contracting the virus, wearing a mask is still a courtesy to the people around you, it’s a way for you to keep your germs to yourself.
Even if you're a coronavirus skeptic, most governments, at least on the surface, are not. Amid the potential that this becomes a worldwide pandemic, further travel restrictions and quarantines could become a reality worldwide. You need to stay informed because of this, or you may end up stuck in a foreign country for an extended period of time.
For more advice, you can read up on the basic protective measures against coronavirus as recommended by the World Health Organization.
Could this be the new normal?
The Atlantic recently interviewed Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiology professor from Harvard, who predicts that “some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected” with COVID-19 over the next year, but “many will have mild disease or may be asymptomatic.” The Atlantic even went as far as saying that COVID-19 may not be able to be contained, and that “cold and flu season" could become "cold and flu and COVID-19 season."
Whatever the case may be, as of right now, the World Health Organization has yet to call this a pandemic because, as WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus puts it, “using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may cause fear”. Yet, with all the confusion and commotion currently surrounding COVID-19, it seems like we are already there.