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How It’s Like Travelling During The Coronavirus Outbreak


Cheng Sim  •  Feb 20, 2020


The buzz surrounding Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has certainly made us think twice about continuing our travel plans in the upcoming months. Currently, there are 26 countries with confirmed cases of Coronavirus, and the travel community can't help but feel worried about how it will affect their holiday - before, during and after their trips.
Credit: Giphy Now that attractions are stepping up with additional precautionary measures and hygiene tips are shared to help travellers to stay safe, you might be wondering if you should continue travelling given the current situation. After our colleague shared how it was like travelling to Singapore during the Coronavirus outbreak, we asked 8 travellers from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia on how it was like exploring the world in the past few weeks. Disclaimer: This article is not a benchmark as to whether you can or should travel to countries that are affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s best to weigh all your options, discuss with your family or loved ones and even check the Ministry of Health in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia for the latest news. You should also check the latest health travel advisories from your respective countries before changing or continuing with your own travel plans. If you're travelling anywhere or even staying home, do remember to take personal health precautions such as washing your hands regularly, avoiding touching your face, and bringing hand sanitizer ?
1. Nabila, Malaysia
Tell us more about yourself Hello, I'm Nabila! I'm a third-year postgrad student in Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and a part-time Research Assistant in one of the wildlife forensics in Kuala Lumpur. I love travelling as it teaches me to appreciate life more when I meet people from all walks of life. How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation? The current Coronavirus outbreak does affect and scare many people because it can spread when a person coughs or sneezes. It's also dangerous to go out without having any precaution. Are you afraid of travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? We already bought our flight tickets way before the virus outbreak happened. We never expect to travel during the Coronavirus outbreak. We did feel a bit insecure because many people from Mainland China travel during Chinese New Year. Although we feel worried, we still proceeded with our vacation as everything was already planned out and we even made full payment for our accommodation. We just prayed to Allah to keep us safe and healthy during our vacation. 
Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? We flew to Osaka on 3 February and came back to Kuala Lumpur on 11 February. We spent 8 days in Osaka, Japan. Did the virus situation affect your trip? The virus did not affect our trip at all. We wore masks and always sanitized our hands during our trip. And we sprayed antivirus spray before touching anything. My friends and I felt really great about our trip, so nothing about the Coronavirus outbreak affected this trip. What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? All of us practised precautionary measures before going out from our Airbnb. The most important things we did during our vacation is to be careful, always sanitize our hands and wear a mask especially in the crowded area such as airport, subway stations and tourist attractions. We also consume Vitamin C, so that our immune system is good. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? Be positive and enjoy your trip! May God bless!
2. Adhinta, Indonesia
 Tell us more about yourself  I'm Adhinta from Malang, Indonesia! I'm 24 years old, and I love to travel mostly around Java Island and Singapore. I also enjoy taking food pictures because who doesn't love food? How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation? At first, I wasn't scared about the virus outbreak since it was only spreading around Wuhan, China. Later when it started spreading across the world, it made me feel anxious. At that time, the Indonesian Government hasn't made any action about the virus. They also allow tourists from China to enter Indonesia. When the virus worsens in other countries, the Indonesian Government decided to go and rescue the Indonesian citizens travelling to China. It also led to the flight closures to and from Wuhan after the rescue team came back from Indonesia. At that time, I was worried because I've already booked flight tickets, hotels and some attraction tickets in Bali, which I can't cancel. With a lot of preparation, I went to Bali anyway and hoping that nothing will happen and no tourists were infected. Are you afraid of travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? I felt worried but not that scared since most of the suspected people in Indonesia were tested negative for the virus. Indonesia also has stopped flights to and from China as of 5 February 2020. That measure makes me less worried even though there are still around 5,000 tourists from China in Bali according to recent news.
Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? I went to Bali on 6-12 February. In Bali, I went to some tourist-friendly places such as the waterfall in Ubud, Kuta - Legian, Nusa Penida, Nusa Dua and Seminyak. Did the virus situation affect your trip? It didn't affect my trip. I did meet some tourists from China, but it wasn't that many before the virus outbreak. I did a lot of activities, went to many places, and enjoyed my trip in Bali like there is no virus outbreak happening in the world. How did your family or friends feel about your trip? My family and friends are a bit worried about me travelling to Bali where people from around the world gather for a vacation. They've gotten more worried after the news about a guy from Wuhan who went to Bali and continued travelling to Shanghai. He was tested positive for Coronavirus. But until now I'm okay, no fever and cold. I also reassure my friends and family that I'm in good health. 
What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? I brought a lot of masks with me. I wore it at the airport, during Grab rides and mostly, when I was riding the scooter. I also brought hand sanitiser, wet wipes, and tissues whenever I step out of the hotel. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? Bring a lot of masks, hand sanitizer, wet wipes and tissues with you. You should also wash your hands after touching something and before you eat. Remember to wear your mask at the airport, inside the plane, ship or other vehicles you're taking. Make sure you're in good condition to travel and do eat healthy while travelling too.
3. Amirah, Malaysia
Tell us more about yourself My name is Amirah. I'm 31 years old, and I'm from Malaysia How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation? I'm feeling very anxious, to be honest. Even though the number of cured patients in Malaysia is increasing, the number of newly infected patients also shows a rising pattern. I agreed with the World Health Organisation (WHO) that Malaysians should be prepared for a wider spread in the upcoming months as the virus can be incubated in our body for 14 days. Are you afraid of travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak and why? Yes to certain countries, especially for long-distance flights because we'll share a closed and confined space with unknown passengers from different background. I don't feel comfortable about it.
Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? I went to Singapore on 30 January-2 February. My friends and I spent a day at Universal Studios Singapore and explore the city on the following day. Did the virus situation affect your trip? Yes, it did. In terms of transportation, we planned to take the bus from Kuala Lumpur but decided to travel by car and only take the bus from Johor Bahru, which is only 2 hours journey. We try to minimise the use of public transport for a long journey. In Singapore, we didn't commute via MRT as initially planned. We used Grab the whole time in Singapore and didn't try any street food. We went to a restaurant and cafe as we were very cautious about our surroundings. How did your family or friends feel about your trip? It was 50-50. We almost cancelled the plan as everyone in the family including us were worried, but decided to give it a go two days before our trip.
What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? We brought enough mask and hand sanitiser for a three-day trip. We also activated all the credit card and debit card for overseas use, in case we need medical assistance during the trip. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? My honest advice would be to refrain from going for a trip, especially to the affected countries. You might need to cancel the hotel or lost a few bucks from any expenses paid. It's better than to lose a family member over something that can be avoided in the first place. As cliche as it may sound, prevention is better than cure.
4. Naree, Singapore
Tell us more about yourself Hi, I'm Naree! I'm a working mother of two boys - 21 and 17 years old. We often travel as a family!  How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation?  My younger son has a heart defect which made me very paranoid about the current pandemic situation. Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? We just concluded our trip to Sapporo and Tokyo from 31 January to 10 February. When we departed from Changi Airport, the airport was eerily quiet and most visitors were wearing masks. That was the early onset of the pandemic so the paranoia hasn't set in. However, we were prepared with 3 ply surgical masks, sanitizer and wipes. Most of the passengers onboard ANA (All Nippon Airways) were wearing masks even though the flight attendants were not at that time. The kiasu me sanitized the tray table and everything. My son might be 17 years old, but he is still a child to me. All mommies will be paranoid! Temperature screenings were also conducted at Narita and New Chitose Airports. We noticed many Chinese nationals in Japan as the travel ban hasn't taken place at that time. We were conscious about this and wore masks constantly, mainly due to the super cold and dry weather. It was around -11 degree Celsius!
 Did the virus situation affect your trip?  After a few days in Sapporo and with the severity of the situation, we can see significantly lesser Chinese nationals in Japan. Surgical masks, alcohol and thermometers flew off the shelves, not due to the Japanese but the Chinese visitors! The Japanese had to put up signs where one person can only buy a limited amount of items. I was glad that I stocked up our supply from Sapporo because when we reached Tokyo, nothing was available! After we came back, we're still nursing dry cough and fever due to extreme temperature change. My workplace has put me on 5 days work from home as a precautionary measure. What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? When we arrive in Tokyo, we continued being cautious by wearing masks and sanitize all the time. We avoided crowded places and eateries because we would rather be safe than sorry. On our return flight to Singapore, the flight was slightly delayed as ANA took precautionary measures by sanitizing the aircraft. Flight attendants on board used masks and gloves. Nearly all the passengers were using masks and the flight wasn't full.
Did you plan other trips after that?  I was supposed to travel to Bali for a girls' trip this Friday, but we have decided to cancel it for safety reason. 5,000 Chinese nationals are stranded in Bali, in addition to the swine flu outbreak. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover it. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? I feel it is alright to travel especially when the flight fares are low and hotels are empty, but you are risking the travel ban part. More countries are banning Singapore passport holders and that might risk you being stranded or dealing with cancellations that are not covered by insurance. 
5. Nick, Malaysia
Tell us more about yourself I'm Nick from Malaysia. I reverted to Islam about three and a half years ago before marrying my wife. I work full-time in a media agency by day, but outside of work, I'm also a gamer and casual rock climber. Ever since getting married and being able to run our own household together, we've been trying to travel more - and I've been capturing these trips on my YouTube channel, including the recent Chiang Mai leg of the trip.  How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation?  A global pandemic of a new, infectious virus is always a bad thing, but I feel like more of the damage is done by the fearmongering by people on social media and by the press to fulfil their commercial objectives of getting more eyeballs. There will always be that little nagging concern looming over my shoulders that I might encounter a carrier when I leave the house, but I'm glad Malaysia actually fares fairly well in its epidemic preparedness. I'm not sure if I should be more worried. Yes, the symptoms are very unpleasant and yes, people are right to be worried, but reports of patients recovering are encouraging and prove that catching it isn't necessarily a death sentence. Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? My wife and I actually took a flight to Chiang Mai for a couple of days before taking an overnight sleeper train down to Bangkok before flying home early this month. Tourist activity was clearly somewhat muted in Chiang Mai, with mostly Western tourists joining our day tours. That said, the safest I felt during the trip was probably our rock climbing trip in Lampang, about a 2.5 hours' drive out of central Chiang Mai. It was just our group out in the sticks at a crag in the middle of nowhere, away from the usual hordes of tourists at the usual suspects. However, this was all booked in advance - if I had the option to postpone the trip, I probably would have gone that route. That said, we're currently putting future travel planning on hold for now until the situation improves. 
Did the virus situation affect your trip? Yes and no. I feel like Chiang Mai was somewhat less busy than it normally is, which made it a bit easier to get around or get seats. Bangkok felt about the same, but I suppose there were fewer visitors from China. I feel like the virus fears had a tighter grip on Bangkok - more people were wearing masks, and our hotel had a notice about the coronavirus including Thailand's own hotline to report such cases. How did your family or friends feel about your trip? I think everyone was at least a little concerned about us travelling with all the buzz about the coronavirus outbreak in the air. They might not have said it, but I'm pretty sure some don't want to see me at least for a couple of weeks to make sure I'm not carrying any unwanted viral souvenirs with me. What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? I had never packed that much hand sanitiser or face masks on a trip before. We made sure to sanitise and wash our hands more frequently, and wore the mask at the airport and crowded places. Generally, we also tried to avoid large concentrations of people as much as possible, though that quickly became impossible in Bangkok especially at the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? Until the situation stabilises or improves, it's probably best to minimise non-essential travel for now. But viral outbreak or not, it's always good to pack hand sanitiser and wet wipes on your journeys. When we boarded our flights, we actually wiped down our seatbelt buckles and folding trays with some hand sanitiser, and I noticed the guy beside me had actually packed sanitiser in a mini spray bottle, which seemed pretty handy. And when touching random, unknown surfaces, it's always best to wash or sanitise first before touching your face or food. 
6. Sara Ikmal, Malaysia
Tell us more about yourself I like cats, climbing, food, and the outdoors - always looking out for my next adventure. I'm 28 years old and from Selangor, Malaysia. How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation? I work in the travel industry (specifically with a corporate travel management company), and this has left a big impact on our business. Malaysia feels quite calm at the moment, and I feel that the situation is under control here. This is a serious situation, and it's terrible for the people living through this, especially the citizens of Hubei province. But there isn't the usual outpouring of encouragement and support from the international community - this situation seems to have brought out a lot of paranoia and prejudice out of people. On the other hand, I also feel that the media is not helping, especially some sensationalist channels playing on people's fear and uncertainty. Are you afraid of travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? I was anxious about this trip and taking extra precautions. However, I also feel like my everyday situation going back and forth to work is actually more worrying than travelling, because I take the train every day with a stop at KL Sentral. 
Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? I flew up from Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai in early February, spent a few days there, then travelled down to Bangkok by sleeper train. I spent a week in Thailand before flying back to Kuala Lumpur. Did the virus situation affect your trip? I think there are a few ways in which our trip was affected. One was the heightened feeling of awareness, about health, hygiene, and sensitivity to crowds. Secondly, was the (surprisingly) reduced crowds, mostly in Chiang Mai (Bangkok felt as crowded as it always is, as per my previous trips there). Our conversations with the locals in Chiang Mai showed that tourists arrivals had slowed down somewhat, and tourism operators were seeing fewer tour groups. Hotels especially weren't seeing full occupancy, which worked out nicely for us when we asked for a late checkout and early check-in. Something to note as well was that we didn't see so many Asian tourists during our trip in the North, with mostly Westerners around. How did your family or friends feel about your trip? Actually, a lot of my friends were also travelling during the same time period, so we were all feeling the same kind of awareness, but not enough to cancel any plans. Family members simply reminded us of what was happening (for example, my aunty forwarded an article to me the day before our flight about the first confirmed coronavirus case in Chiang Mai), and told us to be careful. What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? We packed face masks, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer. Throughout the trip, we took care to wash our hands as much as possible, and sanitise after handling things around us (for example, the fingerprint scanners at airports, door handles, handholds on public transport in Bangkok). Leading up to the trip, we took a lot of vitamin C drinks. We would have gotten flu shots too, but there was a shortage at the time and we didn't manage to get to a clinic before the trip to try our luck. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? Stay informed of what's happening where you're travelling to, and double-check your news sources. I would trust the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than an internet news site, for example. Also, if you yourself are feeling under the weather, avoid putting yourself in a position where you could catch something else too. The reality is that you have a chance of catching any big while you're travelling, coronavirus or otherwise, so always take care of yourself. 
7. Hava, United Kingdom
Tell us more about yourself I'm Hava, 28 years old from the UK. I love travelling and discovered HHWT when planning a trip to Japan in July and August 2019. How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation? I don't think it's an issue personally - just try and practise good hygiene and then, it's really out of our control. In shaa Allah we will all be okay! Are you afraid of travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak?  I was personally not afraid of travelling during the outbreak as I was not in Asia. However, I know someone who changed her flight home so she was no longer travelling via China. Travelling is such a great experience, and it's so eye-opening that you can learn so much about the world and of yourself. I don't think anything should stop you from seeing the world - especially if that's your passion. Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? I completed my first solo trip exploring both the North and South Island of New Zealand and then spent a few days in Fiji! Both places were beautiful. My holiday lasted 4.5 weeks, from the start of January to mid-February.
Did the virus situation affect your trip? One of the friends I made on my trip changed her flight on the way home so she would no longer fly via China. In Fiji, I had to fill in an additional 'Arrival Health Declaration Form' in which I had to state all the countries and cities I had visited in the past 14 days. Fiji Airways flight attendants were all wearing face masks throughout the flights. When exchanging cash in New Zealand airport I noticed that the worker used antibacterial gel after we exchanged money. In New Zealand, I was unable to use the electronic gate when passing through customs. How did your family or friends feel about your trip? No one actually expressed concerns about the Coronavirus. What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak?  I tried to make sure I washed my hands regularly and kept some antibacterial hand gel on me which I also used whilst on the flight. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? Just try and relax and enjoy your trip. Travelling is amazing and you will make memories to last a lifetime. Don't let fear stop you from experiencing this!
8. Keira Mokhtar, Malaysia
Tell us more about yourself I'm Keira Mokhtar from Malaysia. I'm a 31-year-old solo female traveller. I work remotely thus I travel monthly (or try to). My short term travel goal is to finish visiting all Southeast Asian countries in the next 18 months - I'm still left with half of the countries as I had chosen to travel to different continents the last few times. How do you feel about the current Coronavirus situation?  I feel that people should contain their panic and not go to extremes - groceries running out in Singapore as a prime example. It is a scary situation but if you can avoid being in places where the outbreak is happening, all the better. I am fairly confident researchers will come up with ways to combat the virus, soon hopefully. Just being very positive here. Are you afraid of travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak and why? Honestly, I wasn't afraid, largely due to the reason where I was travelling to was not affected by the outbreak. India had its first patient on the day I landed in Mumbai but the patient was in Kerala, very far away and it didn't concern me. Being in India, it was like the virus didn't exist - you didn't see people in masks everywhere, masks and sanitizers were available for purchase, nothing like how it was in Singapore or Malaysia. Only two weeks later when I was flying out of New Delhi did I see some people in masks at the airport however I'm not sure if that was due to the air pollution or the virus, I didn't ask!
Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? I travelled to Mumbai and the Golden Triangle of India at the end of January for two weeks. Did the virus situation affect your trip? Nothing directly other than the paranoia from my family. How did your family or friends feel about your trip?  My family, in particular, was extremely worried especially about me having to transit for long hours in the airport as a large number of people go through the airport. What were the precautions you took while travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak? Other than an additional face mask and a scarf when I couldn't purchase masks anymore, I just kept using sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizers which were already part of my usual routine. Oh, also realised after a while in the airport that I was subconsciously avoiding people who coughed and sneezed - after that, I was consciously doing it. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? Just exercise common sense in keeping things and your hands hygienic at all times. Wash and/or sanitize your hands after you touch anything that many people touched (for example, water dispensers, bus poles, and lift buttons) and don't touch your face, at all, just don't. If you're sick, do everyone a favour and wear a face mask.
9. Ashraf, Singapore
Tell us more about yourself I am Ashraf and I just got married in February. I went to the Maldives for my honeymoon recently.  Are you afraid of travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak?  Before our travel, we were afraid as we heard from a friend that there were a lot of tourists from Mainland China in the Maldives. We were also monitoring the situation. However, there were only three cases there and a few days before our trip, we read that the Maldives Government have stopped Chinese nationals from entering. That gave us peace of mind. As I am writing this, I am worried once again as we are travelling to Mecca and Madinah (for umrah) and Dubai. I fear that we might be denied entry as the cases in Singapore has been increasing too.
Where did you travel to within the past few weeks? We stayed in the Maldives for five days. Three days on the local island doing all the water activities, such as snorkelling, as well as two days relaxing in a resort. Did the virus situation affect your trip? When we were in the Maldives, we were required to do a health declaration and felt like the immigration officers were more observant of our health. In Singapore, we had to walk through temperature monitors and were observed closely which made us nervous and relieved when no one stopped us. How did your family or friends feel about your trip? Our family wasn't worried about our Maldives trip. However, as we are going to umrah as a family, we are more worried about the fact the trip may get cancelled than the fear of the virus itself. Still, we're confident that even though the virus is widespread, there are still no casualties there. Do you have any tips for others who plan to travel in the next 2 months? No matter where you go, practice good hygiene. One advantage for us Muslims is that we have to wash our face, arms and feet for prayers.  That itself is a good hygiene practice.