/ Travel & Leisure

Coronavirus outbreak: your travel questions answered

The coronavirus outbreak is causing disruption to international travel. Has it affected your plans? We explain your rights.

Since the UK Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to mainland China, we’ve been getting lots of questions about what this means for your travel plans.

We’ve put together this Q&A to answer some of the most common concerns.

At this stage, you’ll only need to cancel your trip if you were planning on visiting mainland China. 

Some airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have cancelled flights to the country and are refunding passengers. 

There are no other travel restrictions in place at the moment, so most travellers going abroad can get on with their trips without problems.

Some airlines operating across Asia are running reduced services. It’s worth checking your flight is still going ahead if you’re due to fly internally across Asia.

There may also be some delays at airports because some are screening passengers for the virus as they arrive.

If you have any other questions, ask them in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

I’m meant to be travelling to China soon, what should I do?

The UK Foreign office has advised against all travel to China until further notice, so unfortunately you’ll need to cancel your plans if you’re due to travel in the next few weeks. 

We don’t know how long this advisory will last, but you can check the foreign office website for updates.

You should get a full refund from your airline or travel company in this situation if you’re forced to cancel. 

You won’t be entitled to any compensation though, because a travel advisory due to a disease outbreak is considered an extraordinary circumstance.

I’m about to travel to another country that has reported cases of coronavirus. Can I still go?

Other countries that have reported a number of cases of the virus include Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Japan. 

The UK Foreign Office hasn’t advised against travel to any other region so far, so it’s still considered safe to travel to these destinations.

My connecting flight was cancelled due to the coronavirus, am I entitled to a refund?

If your flight starts or ends in the UK, your airline should reroute you or refund your full fare.

My internal flights in Asia have been cancelled or delayed because of travel restrictions due to coronavirus. Can I get my money back?

It will depend on the airline’s policy, but you should be refunded if a flight has been cancelled.

Check the airline’s policy for how they deal with delays – not all of them have the same protections as EU departing or returning flights.

I’m from the UK and currently living and working in China. Will my travel insurance be affected?

Because the official advice is to leave China, your travel insurance will be invalid if you choose to stay. 

You’ll need to find another insurance policy that will cover you in this situation, or arrange medical cover locally.

I’m due to travel abroad soon but I’m worried about catching the virus. Can I cancel my travel plans?

Unless you’ve booked to travel to, or via China, you won’t be able to cancel or get a refund on any other travel arrangements.

The risk of picking up the virus outside mainland China is still low according to the World Health Organisation.

If you were due to travel through China on a connecting flight, contact the airline or travel agent you booked with. You should be able to arrange to be rerouted.

More on when you might be able to cancel a holiday


Has the coronavirus outbreak affected your travel plans?
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Has the coronavirus outbreak affected your travel plans? Have you had any issues cancelling or amending your bookings?


Lauren: for interest, it now seems the favoured name for this virus is the Wuhan novel coronavirus.

Maureen Kain says:
11 February 2020

My son is in Koh Samui & will be travelling home vía Bangkok with BA. Will he be screened for the virus at the airport?

Lauren: WHO has now renamed the virus as Covid-19.

I wonder why they changed the name?

This is what is on the WHO website https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
On this website you can find information and guidance from WHO regarding the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

Their website does not seem to have yet been updated as Covid-19 did not get a match. “The name of the disease is linked with the virus that causes it: it starts with “co” and “vi” for “coronavirus.” The “d” stands for disease, while “19” indicates the year that it was first discovered. What the name doesn’t have is an association with Wuhan or China.

A distinct name is essential because different coronaviruses can cause anything from fairly mild respiratory infections like a cold to serious ones like SARS and the present outbreak.

They were slow in naming this one, I thought. ‘Wuhan’ is probably the name that will stick. SARS got all the bad press, but MERS had a higher death rate.

Rosemary B says:
11 February 2020

I’ve got a flight booked on China Southern to New Zealand. I want to cancel it & get a refund but try as I will it’s impossible to get through to China Southern by telephone. I’m concerned if I take the online cancellation option I won’t get a full refund.

We may not travel to and from China/the Far East, but we may come into contact with people who have, or come into contact with people who have come into contact with people who have, etc, etc, etc, (funny, but not trying to me funny), so I think it’s worth posting this here:

Inessa says:
15 February 2020

The price of surgical face masks has become excessively high. A pack of five disposable masks is £5.99 at my local pharmacy, or £1.20 for a single use, as one is not supposed to reuse them. On Amazon, a similarly looking pack of 50 is £69.89. Surely this is far overpriced? Can Which? investigate this, please?

Hi Inessa, that sounds like a simple case of unregulated capitalism (and free market forces) at work to me – what do you imagine Which? should do about it?

Yes, it’s basic supply and demand economics at work.

There’s always a business that wants to exploit a panic. I am confident that the health authorities will advise us as and when we need to routinely wear masks and will ensure that they are available at a sensible price.

It is possible that advance stocking is creating a shortage. The current screening and isolation policy and measures seem to be effective so far in protecting the population.

Excessive pricing is prohibited under competition law in the EU and most other jurisdictions. Which? could investigate the situation with the face masks and request the appropriate authorities to enforce the excessive pricing regulations with respect to the face masks.

Inessa, thanks for your reply.

If you are thinking of Article 102 of the TFEU here, I’m not sure that would be easy to apply in this case. As shown in your first post, suppliers are responding to current market conditions but they are not in any way responsible for the sudden surge in demand.

Price-rigging and collusion are anti-competitive practices, and therefore illegal here, but in an open competitive market such as the UK I do not see that as applying in relation to face masks. I would not know what a fair price for such an article is. I have noticed that very few hospital staff, excluding those in operating theatres and other controlled environments, wear face masks so I question their value for general infection control. Isolation appears to be the best safeguard.

The main benefit of the masks is probably to prevent touching the face.

So something cheap, washable and reusable would be satisfactory perhaps.

Yes, and they are available.

Wow, I haven’t tried to purchase surgical masks before but the pack of 50 cost does seem very pricey to me! I wonder as well if we could research prices, I’d be interested to know as well.

For basic protection people probably do not need surgical-grade masks.

Frequent hand-washing and generally keeping clean at all times are satisfactory controls.

I noticed a half-page government advert in the papers today. Reassurance that the NHS is adequately prepared and preventing over-reaction seem to be the priorities.

Quarantining thousands of people in an air-conditioned ship certainly does not seem to work as a preventative.

Michelle Smyth says:
15 February 2020

Family are traveling home for a wedding in April they are in New Zealand will this have an effect on their travel arrangements

The Introduction to the Conversation does not mention any current restrictions on flights to or from New Zealand but, obviously, things could change between now and their travel dates.

I would imagine the most likely effect on travel arrangements will be as a result of people changing their planned travel dates or destinations leading to a fall in demand for air travel and cruises and a consequent adjustment of schedules.

Farah Deeba says:
15 February 2020

Hi, I am going in Pakistan on 13th of april. I am worried that I’ve to go or canceled my flight? Plz help me.

I think it would be impossible to predict the situation in the middle of April as it depends on how the virus spreads and how different states react. Check with your airline whether or not your fares would be refunded if you cancelled your flight of your own volition rather than in response to Foreign Office advice or a restriction imposed by the Pakistan government.

Roger Black says:
17 February 2020

I am going to Hong Kong on 5th March for 3 weeks on business/liesure. I also booked and paid for a flight from HK to KL with Air Asia. This flight has been cancelled in the past two days and I am attempting to get a refund but Our Asia is stalling as they say I booked the flight through an agent and should contact them. I booked the flight online myself so I don’t know where they got this from. They are not replying to me correspondence. As well as all that I booked a 5* hotel in KL and have cancelled the booking but they will not refund my money.
Anything I can do?

Hugh Andrew says:
18 February 2020

I have a return flight booked with Emirates to fly from London to Asmara in Eritrea, via Dubai in April. I am unable to obtain the necessary visa for Eritrea as the Eritrean authorities are currently not issuing any visas.. If this situation continues into April, would I be correct in assuming that Emirates would not permit me to fly as I do not have the necessary paperwork (visa) to travel to Eritrea. And if that is the case would they be obliged to refund the cost of my return flight. Alternatively as I used a credit card to purchase the flight ticket how successful do you think I might be in pursuing the card company for a refund ?

I do not know whether your enquiry is related to the coronavirus or other factors affecting Eritrea, Hugh. For an authoritative response, I suggest you contact the airline. Your assumption appears reasonable but it would be best to obtain assurance.