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Travel in Times of Coronavirus: Only for the Brave-hearts

When holing up isn’t an option for you, here are some travel do’s and don’ts.

Social distancing has never been easy nor appealing, but with 415 positive cases of Coronavirus and 7 deaths already (at the time of publishing), it surely is the only way to save lives from the rapidly growing pandemic . With Covid-19 sending several countries and economies into a state of emergency, world over people have quickly moved from ‘this won’t affect us’ state of mind to a Janata Curfew implemented in India, along with state and district lock-downs to restrict movement and community transmission of Covid-19. With train and domestic as well international airline services banned in India till March 31 to contain the risk of infection, travel, is now restricted only for compelling reasons.

 

For travel influencers such as Bruised Passports’ Savi Munjal and Vidit Taneja, their March-April travel plans have already been stalled. Instead they’ll be watching back-to-back movies in their PJs, gorging on pizzas and popcorn in their “love nest”. For travel blogger-writer Shivya Nath, it’s going to be a productive self-isolation as she works on learning Urdu, watches One Strange Rock, loses herself in “Murakami’s crazy but magical universe” and continues penning stories from her travels “because even if we can’t travel physically, we can continue to travel into the recesses of our minds!” Actor-influencer and travel vlogger Shenaz Treasury too has put her travel plans on halt; and with her #BulatiHaiMagarJaneKaNai challenge she’s encouraging her followers to practice social distancing and work from home wherever possible.


 


However, there are times when you are left without a choice—if you’re in transit, a frontline worker or someone in the gig economy—things can get overwhelming. Which is why we studied the World Health Organisation (WHO) and US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations to help you mitigate your travel risks.

While the following travel has pretty much been banned and prevented, here are some travel tips that could maybe help you sail through once the bans are lifted.  Besides, also remember that these measures are about reducing your own exposure to the Coronavirus, so please consider the larger public health implication of travelling right now:  

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Review Your Travel Plans
1. With India’s health ministry suspending all its tourist visas until April 15, 2020 and advising us “to avoid all non-essential travel abroad,” all our travel plans, work and leisure, have been put on hold. With new advisories being issued daily with reduced or cancelled to and from India, its best to confirm your flight status with your airline and similarly, the railways or bus service provider if they’re operational.

2. All international flights have been banned in India and airports have been shut for flights coming from other countries. Domestic travel, too, has been banned. Besides, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued a directive to domestic and international carriers operating in India to update/revise their rescheduling and cancellation policies.


3. Indian Railways has cancelled all passenger trains as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus till the end of March. As per the Railways last advisory, if a train is cancelled for journey period March 21-April 15, refund across the counter can be taken on submission of ticket up to 45 days from the date of the journey instead of the present three hours. In case a train is not cancelled but the passenger desires to cancel his journey, TDR (Ticket Deposit Receipt) can be filed within 30 days from date of journey at the station, instead of present three days. For passengers who want to cancel tickets through 139, can get refund across the counter within 30 days from the date of journey instead of up to the scheduled departure of the train.


4. The suburban trains in Mumbai as of now are only allowing people working with emergency and essential services were to travel. The metro services in Delhi and Chennai have been shut till March 31 as of now. As a precautionary measure, both Western and Central Railways had also increased the prices of their platform tickets to discourage crowds. Inter-state buses running in districts where lockdowns have been announced (states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala), have also been suspended till March 31.


5. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code has been implemented in all cities of Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir and the banning of group travel tours, shutting of malls and even monuments and central museums till March 31, 2020 you might want to re-consider your non-essential travel plans.


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6. If you’ve planned your trip through an Online Travel Agency already, check their policies on cancellations. OTAs such as Expedia, Booking.com, Yatra, ixigo and MakeMyTrip have dedicated pages with updates on coronavirus and additional information on cancellation.



7. Avoid making new travel plans now, no matter how tempting those flash deals may sound, most travel insurances will not reimburse you for coronavirus-related cancellations, so read the policy documents carefully.


8. If you must travel, avoid rush hours. Research published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Infectious Diseases found that those using public transport during flu outbreaks were up to six times more likely to pick up an acute respiratory infection.

 

No touching, no touching


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9. A study published by researchers from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare found that most plastic luggage trays at security checks in airports are the hotspots for respiratory diseases such as the common cold or influenza. Avoid touching surfaces such as elevator buttons, door handles, handrails and arm rests on waiting area seats.


10. The same study, in BMC Infectious Diseases, found that the chip and pin paying machines at airports, used and touched thousands of times but seldom washed, are likely to harbour viruses. Similarly, when you cannot avoid an ATM run, the constant passing of tickets, and even money, you could use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand. If you don’t want to be considered paranoid, simply wash or sanitise your hands after.


11. The DGCA has asked airlines and airport authorities to make sure passengers stand at least 1-metre apart from each other at the check-in and security counters.


12. Zit or no zit, keep your hands off your face at all times, unless you need them while coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

 

Wash, Sanitise, Repeat

13. The WHO recommends washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands after going to public bathrooms and before eating at restaurants And while at it, don’t leave the tap running.  


14. The WHO also suggests using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.


15. When travelling by public transport, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces of your seat, even the seatbelt buckle. But don’t do this to an upholstered seat, you’ll end up with a wet seat and increase the chances of germ infestation.


To Mask or Not to Mask

16. The CDC advises against the usage of facemasks for healthy travellers even in times of coronavirus. Besides, WHO too states that there’s “no evidence that wearing a mask – of any type – protects non-sick persons,” it’s best you leave them for healthcare professionals and people who are really sick.




17. If you are sick and coughing or sneezing, you better mask up. And if you do, the WHO recommends you take necessary precautions and measures when it comes to wearing, removing, and disposing them.


18. In case stores have run out of masks (and chances are they might’ve), you could simply use a shawl, dupatta or a handkerchief. If nothing, sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow to avoid spreading germs.

 

Getting Seated 

19. While the recycled cabin air may not pose as the greatest risk, a study by scientists at Emory University in the United States found that any infected person’s droplets could become the ‘super-spreader’. This same study concludes that the best place to sit in an aircraft, is the middle section, by the window or on a middle seat, to escape this risk.


20. Among the measures, the DGCA has also asked airlines to keep the middle seats empty on flights empty to avoid close contact between fliers.

Not suggesting you hold your pee, but avoid using in-flight urinals to stay infection-free, the same study suggests.


21. When it comes to taxis and rickshaws, there have been no scientific studies but it’s considered safest to sit directly behind the driver. You are less likely to have their droplets land on you in case they cough or sneeze.

 

Bring Your Own Things

22. After the Ministry of Railways, Government of India took to Twitter to inform passengers that they’ll be doing away with blankets, pillows and curtains “since they’re not washed after every trip”, we recommend you carry your own blankets and pillows. Airlines too are advising travellers to bring their own to further avoid the spread of coronavirus.


23. With the Railways updating its guidelines for its catering staff stating no employee having fever, cough, runny nose or difficulty in breathing "should be deployed in the business of food handling on Indian Railways," ordering from the pantry, shouldn’t pose as a risk. However, it's best you carry your own food be it while on the plane, train or even bus.


24. As a precautionary measure, stay up to date on your routine vaccinations, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and the seasonal flu vaccines.

 

Images: Shutterstock.com

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