Our planet is currently experiencing an unprecedented phenomenon. The outbreak of COVID-19, or coronavirus, is spreading rapidly and the death toll is rising.

Its impact is being felt across the globe, travellers included. We feel alarmed, confused, and overwhelmed. We’re uncertain on how our travel plans will be impacted, but on top of this lies the question of how the lives of ourselves and our loved ones will be impacted.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic.

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” stated the WHO Director-General at a media briefing.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

Coronavirus Pandemic

In the past two weeks, the number of cases outside of China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. The stats are changing by the hour, with WHO reporting (at time of publishing) 170,000 cases in 114 countries, 6,494 deaths, and thousands more hospitalizations. These numbers are expected to continue to climb.

The WHO is urging countries to step up and change the course of coronavirus. It points to Iran, Italy, and the Republic of Korea as countries who have taken the rightful measures to slow the virus and control their epidemics.

“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.

If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.”

Lives are being lost, nations are being quarantined, travel bans are being put in place. Us travellers are feeling the impact, and yes it is frustrating. I’m seeing this online and in discussions with my fellow travellers. Trips are getting cancelled, travellers are upset, airlines are trying to accommodate, the media is trying to keep us updated.

We don’t like it when our plans change. Booking a trip is a big deal, giving us something to look forward to or even depend on out of necessity. It’s natural to feel frustrated when these itineraries shift, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own travel plans and how this impacts us individually.

Coronavirus and map of world

Personally, as a digital nomad, I am currently based in South Africa. This morning I woke up to news that Trump is restricting travel from Europe to the United States, the NBA has suspended its season, and Tom Hanks had been tested positive for coronavirus.

I also woke up to a text from my mom saying our family trip set for a few weeks from now is cancelled. My tourist visa is set to expire in a few weeks. I must now figure out where to go from here, I will likely lose a bit of money and find myself with a credit to a couple of airlines that I wouldn’t have used if it weren’t for this family trip. I will likely have to reroute my travel plans with a few annoying layovers on the way. With the coronavirus situation changing so rapidly, I’m not even sure where to go from here. I pouted about this for a moment.

But a couple of bucks and a couple of layovers does not compare to losing a loved one. Or putting others’ lives at risk. And that’s the reality of coronavirus.

When considering the impact of coronavirus on our travel plans, the key is not to be selfish. I’m writing this piece as a reminder of this to myself as well as anyone who needs it. This crisis, like all crises, is bigger than each of us individually.

Be respectful, be flexible, be safe.

Wash your hands, cover your mouth, avoid contact with anyone who is sick. Educate and inform yourself, remain open minded and receptive.

Washing hands

Many travel lovers are taking advantage of the cheap flights — perhaps they are not considered to be high-risk carriers of the coronavirus. The mindset here, as is the case with many crises or deaths, is to live each day to the fullest because you never know when it could by your last.

On the flip side, this can be considered selfish and a way of spreading the disease to those who may be vulnerable. The World Health Organization’s update points to this perspective.

We’ve never dealt with a situation like this and there may be no fully correct answer of how to conduct ourselves, but we must stay tuned and do what we understand to be best — for ourselves and others.

For me, living in my little Cape Town bubble, coronavirus has been a murmur over the past few weeks, but amongst the many, many other problems facing our world, the degree of severity has been vague. Is the media sensationalizing this virus, or is it really that serious? South Africa has the highest HIV epidemic in the world but I’m not seeing this on the news stands every day. I saw a meme that said “Climate change needs to hire coronavirus’ publicist” — this isn’t the first crisis that is threatening our species.

But yet now the spotlight is on coronavirus. Here at the bottom of Africa it’s coming front and centre for me, as it’s been for others around the world for a few months. Now, it’s unavoidable. It has affected my travel plans directly. Now, everyone is talking about it; now, it is on every newsstand.

Times like this make our world feel so small, and so ironically connected despite the boundaries, bans, and barriers that are being put in place. Globalization has brought together humankind more than ever before, and we are all in this together. Let’s hold our loved ones a little extra tight, send love from afar, and get through this to the best of our ability.

corona-group with masks