Coronavirus: How your travel plans could be affected and whether you can cancel your holiday

Simon Calder
AFP via Getty Images

The spread of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, to and within Europe has sparked huge concern among travellers.

Several towns in northern Italy have gone into isolation, while a hotel in Tenerife is now on lockdown.

For holidaymakers with advance bookings, these are the key travel questions and answers:

Is northern Italy off limits?

No. The latest Foreign Office travel advice to Italy warns against “all but essential travel” to 10 small towns in Lombardy (mainly southeast of Milan) and one in Veneto (south of Vicenza). They are currently under lockdown because of the coronavirus. None is a familiar tourist destination.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that anyone returning from the 11 towns should self-isolate for two weeks.

In addition, anyone returning from northern Italy with possible symptoms of Covid-19 should also self-isolate.

The symptoms are similar to a heavy cold: sneezing, itchiness and a blocked or runny nose. “Maybe a cough, tightness of the chest,” adds Dr Simon Clarke of the University of Reading.

“If you do [show symptoms], quarantine yourself for a couple of weeks.”

Travel to the region is continuing, although British Airways has cancelled 22 return flights between London Heathrow and Milan’s Linate airport over the next two weeks.

A BA spokesperson said: “To match reduced demand due to the continuing coronavirus issue, we are merging a small number of flights to and from Milan.

“We will be contacting customers on cancelled flights so we can discuss their travel options including alternative British Airways flights within two hours of their original departure time, full refunds or booking for a later date of travel.”

Meanwhile, the regional airline Flybe is allowing passengers booked to Milan Malpensa to postpone their journey or choose a credit to the value of their ticket to be used in the next year: “Flybe recognises that some of its customers booked to travel on flights between Birmingham and Milan Malpensa may wish to change their travel plans in light of the current coronavirus situation affecting parts of Northern Italy.

“You can rebook your flight on the same route for any future date, providing that seats are still available at the same price as that originally paid. If you would like to choose an alternate flight, please note that we will waive any change fee for your booking, however you will have to pay any change in fare (if higher than your original fare).

“Alternatively, if you are unsure of your future travel dates we will offer you a voucher to the full value of your booking valid for 12 months from the date of issue.”

I have a short break to Italy planned for this weekend. What are my options?

You can decide not to travel if you wish, of course, but you are likely to lose most or all of your money.

The Foreign Office warning does not apply to any tourist areas of Italy, and therefore airlines and tour operators are continuing to run trips as normal.

The only possible grounds for cancellation are if you have booked a package holiday with a specific purpose, for example going to see a sporting event that is cancelled (or ordered to be played behind closed doors), or a cultural tour focused on a specific museum which is now closed.

Since such a holiday would be regarded as “significantly changed,” you have the right under the Package Travel Regulations to get a full refund. But normal holidays have no such entitlement.

I am booked into a hotel close to the H10 in Costa Adeje, Tenerife, which is currently in lockdown. Can I cancel?

Local reports said that guests staying at the hotel have been prevented from leaving. But you cannot cancel trips to the island without penalty.

A spokesperson for Jet2 Holidays said: “We are aware of reports that a non-Jet2holidays customer staying at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace in Tenerife has tested positive for coronavirus. Under the advice of the regional and the Spanish authorities, the hotel has been placed under quarantine.

“We have stopped all sales to the hotel, and customers who are due to travel to the hotel will be transferred to other accommodation.

“In line with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice, our flying programme remains unchanged.

“The health and safety of our customers is our absolute priority, and we will continue to release more information as it becomes available.”

A spokesperson for Tui, Britain’s biggest holiday company, said: “Our holiday programme to Tenerife continue to operate as planned for all other hotels.

“We will provide a further update as soon as we have more information.”

Can I claim from my travel insurance if I decide not to travel?

If there is no general warning against travel to a destination, your decision will be classed as “disinclination to travel” – which is not covered by standard travel insurance policies.

I am in a high-risk group. Does that change things?

The vast majority of people who contract the coronavirus make a full recovery. The people at highest risk are elderly travellers and those with a weakened immune system, for example because of cancer treatment.

If you have a travel insurance policy that takes account of your age and/or pre-existing conditions (for which you may have paid significantly more for than the standard cover), and your GP advises against travel, then you may be able to make a successful claim.

Is it correct that travel insurers will not pay out for claims associated with the coronavirus as it is a “known risk”?

This is only true for policies taken out after late January, when coronavirus became widely known. Policies taken out before then will continue to cover you – as long as you don’t stray into one of the locations to which the Foreign Office advises against travel.

What countries are on the “no-go” list?

The only general travel warning from the Foreign Office is for mainland China: it advises against travelling to the whole of the People’s Republic of China, except for Hong Kong and Macau. The Foreign Office says British citizens should get out while they can – before more flights are cancelled and more countries ban travellers who have recently been to China.

The Foreign Office is also warning against travel to the parts of Italy and South Korea which have been ruled off-limits because of the local quarantine measures, but British holidaymakers wouldn’t be going there anyway.

Are people travelling elsewhere in Asia at particular risk?

No. The coronavirus does not constitute grounds for abandoning a trip. There are some much more serious dangers that you need to protect against.

Dengue fever and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are most abundant in towns, cities and surrounding areas. Rabies is another concern. And the number one killer of British travellers abroad is road accidents. Vietnam has the most dangerous roads on the planet.

If I do go ahead with my travel plans, what precautions should I take?

Compared with the multitude of other risks on the average holiday, the chances of being anywhere near someone with this unpleasant virus are very low – and drastically reduced if you keep washing your hands thoroughly and avoid people who look unwell. Practice good travel hygiene, which we should all be doing at all times.

1. Wash your hands frequently, and carry hand sanitiser just in case soap and water are not readily available. Avoid touching your face if you possibly can.

2. Keep your distance from people who are obviously sick.

3. Avoid direct contact with animals.

What about on planes? It’s very difficult to keep your distance.

Airline passengers are inevitably in close proximity to lots of people whose health is unknowable. Plenty of people say they have picked up coughs and colds on planes. But aircraft are fitted with good filtration systems, and if diseases do spread, it tends to be restricted to the few people around one individual.

I believe a bigger risk is presented at airports, where microbiological hazards from across the globe are most concentrated.

What are the long-term lessons we can learn from this, which could help travellers in the future?

Keep risks in perspective. Statistically, travel has never been safer. But if you are risk-averse, then don’t commit months in advance for a trip

Read more

Is it safe to visit Italy amid coronavirus fears?

Tenerife hotel on lockdown after guest tests positive for virus

Coronavirus: Passenger demands to be let off BA flight to Italy

Coronavirus: Two-thirds of China flights cancelled due to virus fears

Coronavirus to cause air travel demand to slump