“Caution? Yes. Alarm? No. Be consistent with personal hygiene – contraction is not of high risk for the average traveller.”
Jenman African Safaris interviews Simon King, Chief Medical Officer and Founder of Park Doctor, to address the travel industry’s and travellers’ concern about travel decisions around the COVID-19 (Corona)-Virus.
1. Please could you share with us a few facts about the virus and how it spreads? For how long is it contagious?
COVID-19 is a part of a large family of common viruses which cause an influenza type illness – symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and fever – proving mild in most people. Severe cases cause respiratory problems, kidney failure and leave people susceptible to secondary infections such a pneumonia. This only generally occurs if a person already has a pre-existing condition or weak immune system. As people do not display similar severity in symptoms, it is difficult to asses how contagious it may be.
2. How does the virus compare to other viruses we know e.g. SARS / MERS?
The facts we have available indicate that the Covid-19 is similar to other pre-existing coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, however proving less dangerous thus far. Objectively, it is not remarkable in its rate of infection, demonstrating less of a risk than chicken pox and measles.
None of these facts are great enough to create a sense of alarm – caution yes, because it’s unknown. We have been living with influenza viruses as a species for 1000s of years – so extreme measures of panic and heightened response deem unnecessary. The present medical evidence is limited; however, the largest published study suggests 80 % of cases are mild, 15 % sever and 5 % critical.
3. What type of travel destinations / environments are safest to travel to?
The safest destinations are those that do not display evidence of the virus spreading. Now that we have been given the tools of understanding and are armed with knowledge and choice – individuals are able to make responsible travels plans within reasonable bounds of safety.
Valid locations are those that offer safari tourism. The destinations are off the beaten track and unlikely to result in passing of respiratory germs, being predominantly open-air activities. These remote destinations will also ensure more personal safety measures and medical attention.
4. What are the best ways to avoid contraction while travelling?
If you maintain personal hygiene, this virus will be extremely difficult to catch. Wash your hands, be aware of contact with others, be conscious of surface areas and avoid touching your face while around other travellers.
5. What are the main symptoms to look out for, and when is the tipping point to seek medical attention?
The symptoms are flu like in nature – sneezing, coughing, fever. Simply get tested if you have signs of a more severe cold, with shortness of breath. Isolate yourself for a recovery period, as you would do with the normal flu. It is a simple and manageable process.
6. What should a traveller do if in close contact with someone who has visible symptoms?
Be consistent with personal hygiene and continue your trip as planned. Contraction is not of high risk for the average traveller.
7. Are there proactive and effective initiatives being implemented in the travel industry?
The travel industry is educating and equipping all involved with knowledge and tools to manage the risk. They are taking time to implement carefully considered positions and strategies pertaining to the situation – both in prevention and management. There should be reputable health care professionals available at most destinations should you have concerns.
8. If someone tests positive at an airport or border post, what action is taken?
Those who test positive will be quarantined for a two-week period. Each destination will have an organization policy for such circumstances, which travellers will have to accept, respect and adhere to. Most will be a gentle and permissive procedure, either in your room, government clinic or private clinic at the cost of your travel insurance. Your country will then accept your return and possibly reinstate quarantine till further notice.
9. Are face masks necessary or effective during long distance travel?
Face masks or gloves do not actually protect you from contracting the virus and are not necessary nor recommended. Disinfectant gel is a more effective form of prevention.
10. What are your tips for maintaining a healthy immune system while travelling?
Be aware of a healthy diet, a substantial amount of sleep and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
11. Do you think that it’s necessary for travellers to cancel their plans completely, or what else could they do if they still wanted to go on holiday?
Travellers should definitely keep travelling! If they are concerned, perhaps look at more open aired destinations, or those that do not display cases of cluster contractions. They may also look at simply amending their dates of travel, while we learn more about the virus.
12. Travelling as a family, are there any extra precautions parents need to take?
Parents tend be more careful with children while travelling in general. However, if a child has a predisposition to an underlying illness, they should take additional precaution. Big doses of Vitamin C of 4 mg a day could be advised for the whole family before and during travel as an extra provision.
13. With so much misinformation spreading, where do we find reliable resources?
There is a major problem with the spreading of misinformation. To the average person, the WHO is a very medically technical platform, with the media using the situation for hype, and health departments being more conservative.
The best option is to acquire information from the organisation you are travelling with. They will be equipped with travel knowledge and connected to professional institutions which can give advice in the specific context of the destination, and activities in which they operate. They will be able to provide specialised and customised medical information.