Coronavirus: tips to stay safe if you're travelling this weekend

Washing your hands frequently and keeping hydrated are the most effective ways to prevent getting sick

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As new coronavirus cases are reported worldwide every hour, travelling is a concern for those who have to fly in the coming days.

Within China, there were more than 7,700 cases as of Thursday, and more are emerging abroad, with at least 17 countries affected.

On Wednesday, the UAE announced its first four cases, a family from Wuhan holidaying here, while Emirates Airline said three staff with flu-like symptoms were tested but found negative.

Doctors and health officials have urged people in the UAE to remain calm, stressing the risk to the general public is low.

But how concerned should you be if you have to fly and what precautions should you take?

The National explains:

Is coronavirus a cause of concern?

The World Health Organisation has said “the world needs to be on alert” to fight the new virus. The body was due to meet on Thursday to discuss whether the outbreak is a global health emergency.

“There is no need for panic. Be concerned but don’t panic,” said Dr Arun Arya, head of department and consultant in pulmonology at NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City in Abu Dhabi. “You should not be travelling to the main areas in China where the majority of cases are,” he said.

It would also be prudent to avoid all “unnecessary” travel to the country, which now has cases in every region, he added.

Should travel be completely off the table?

No. This would be an overreaction, say doctors.

“Viruses are part of human nature. These things happen. We cannot close doors and stay in a bubble. We have to move on with our lives,” said Dr Arya.

“Having said that, we should protect ourselves. We do not know where the passenger sitting next to us on the plane came from,” he said.

“People will be travelling out of China and there is concern we may be exposed to them at the airport,” he said.

What’s best to protect ourselves when travelling?

We should not be very close to anyone. Ideally, keeping a distance of at least one metre is recommended.

That is easier said than done, especially on a plane, said Dr Arya, adding we need to be aware of our co-passengers' condition.

“You need to wear a mask if you have any long-term respiratory conditions or you suffer from low immunity. You need to protect yourself and avoid passing on an infection to others.”

People with underlying health issues should wear a mask at all times while travelling. Flyers with pre-existing conditions are at increased risk of infections and can easily develop complications.

What about healthy people? Should they wear masks?

If you are healthy, wearing a mask is not necessary, said Dr Arya. Experts say face masks offer limited protection.

Coughing and fever are main symptoms of coronavirus. Secretions from a cough are heavier than from a sneeze, so they tend to fall down directly on to surfaces rather than travel outward. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from infection is washing your hands regularly.

What if your co-passenger is coughing and you’re not wearing a mask?

Try and stay one-and-a-half metres away from someone who is coughing. If that’s not possible, breathe into the crook of your arm by bending your elbow and bringing your arm to your face, said Dr Arya.

“You should cover your nose and mouth with a bent elbow so there is no direct inhalation of whatever is coming to you,” he said.

This will help you avoid inhaling the germs, he added.

Is there anything else we should do to protect ourselves?

Keep yourself hydrated. “We need to keep our upper airways moist because if there is dryness in the throat, there might be a crack in the mucosa and the virus can enter very easily.

“Keep sipping water while travelling and make sure your airways are moist all the time.”

Drink enough water before you embark on your journey. “Most of us forget to eat and drink before we embark on the plane but it’s important to keep ourselves hydrated.”