A passenger wearing a full-body protective suit catches the eyes of others as they walk out from the Beijing railway station in Beijing. Picture: AP/Andy Wong.

Durbanite Candice Soobramoney craved a Brazillian holiday to Rio and Sao Paulo in March. She sat with her travel agent for weeks to make the necessary plans for the trip, even researching the best tours to join. 

Her plans took a back seat when news of the coronavirus started to surface. Even though the virus had not affected Brazil, the 40-year-old did not want to take the risk. 

“Having saved for months for this trip, I did not want to jeopardise my health or tempt fate. As much as I would have liked to see the sights of Brazil, it did not seem worth it,” she said. 

Soobramoney is one of many South Africans who fear travelling abroad after news broke of the coronavirus, which has since claimed the lives of over a thousand people. 

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency last month while the US and the UK have issued advisories to reconsider travel plans to China.

Flight Centre Travel Group in a statement dated February 6 encouraged travellers to reconsider all non-essential travel to China. 

According to the statement, the virus was confirmed in countries such as Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, UAE, UK, USA and Vietnam. 

The company reported that there was no impact on travellers visiting South Africa and no travel or trade advisories or restrictions were issued, except those imposed on Chinese citizens by the Chinese government.

The statement revealed: “South African health authorities and hospitals are on high alert and temperature screening remains in place at most international airports in South Africa. This is a routine precaution instituted at airports since 2010.

“We recommend that customers reconsider their travel plans and make use of the relevant airline’s re-accommodation policies.”

Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) revealed that the virus impacted travel bookings. It reported that leisure travel has been affected as some holidaymakers choose alternative destinations to Asia, deferring their travel or cancelling their travel plans. 

CEO of ASATA, Otto de Vries, said: “Travel suppliers such as cruise lines, airlines and tour operators have implemented proactive measures, such as rerouting itineraries, cancelling flights to affected areas, increasing their health precautions and enforcing travel restrictions to mitigate the risk of contracting the virus.

“Some cruise lines and airlines are waiving their cancellation and change penalties outright to accommodate passengers who choose to cancel or defer their travel plans. There is no question that there will be an impact on the outbound travel sector as the wider public gets to grips with how and where the virus is spreading.”

Travel experts, including travel agents, have remained mum about what destinations South Africans should avoid, citing that the South African government has not yet issued travel warnings. 

The experts felt it was not their place to discourage travel to specific destinations. They preferred to let their clients know about the virus and let them make their own travel decisions. 

Jennifer Morris, the owner of Travel Savvy, said she encouraged her clients to suspend any non-essential travel to China. 

She said those who wanted to travel to China or any other country should take up travel insurance, wear masks and keep their hands clean at all times. 

“Travellers should go with their gut,” she said. “I know the coronavirus is scary but discouraging travelling to the various countries will only create panic for travellers. Travel is meant to be enjoyed. The last thing you want is for people to have their holiday marred with fear.”

Morris advised South African travellers to do the necessary research when considering international travel. 

“Do as much research as you can to ensure that you are making the right travel decisions. Make sure that the information is coming from reputable sources. If you are unsure, consult a travel professional for more information,” she said. 

Collin Thaver from Southern Africa 360 said he issued a cautionary note to his clients regarding the virus. 

The note highlighted what plans the South African health, travel and aviation sector have put into place to deal with the coronavirus. 

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