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Pandemic Travel Advice

Visit Cornell's Coronavirus Resources and Updates for campus-wide information. Visit FAQ for Cornell’s International Community for immigration-related questions.

This information is supplied by Riskline travel risk intelligence (last updated June 1, 2020).

Please note, the following is provided for informational purposes only. Please refer to Cornell University's travel guidelines, processes, and restrictions before undertaking any Cornell-related travel.

Overview

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic on 11 March. The outbreak has had a severe impact on international travel; disruptions to flights and other modes of transport as well as lockdowns and movement restrictions have taken place with little to no prior warning. Anyone undertaking travel at this time should ensure they are in good health, exercise good hygiene practices, and be prepared for unexpected disruptions to their travel plans. Travelers from affected countries may face mandatory quarantine at their destination. Reconfirm itineraries prior to departure and closely follow travel alerts and advisories.

During travel to any destination and for at least 14 days after returning, individuals should monitor themselves for any flu-like symptoms—especially fever, shortness of breath, and a new, dry cough. If experiencing any symptoms, travelers should self-isolate and contact their doctor or local authorities.


What to Expect When Traveling

As the coronavirus outbreak took on a global dimension and the WHO declared it a pandemic, most countries around the world took steps to prevent the outbreak from spreading further. Travelers should expect health screening measures – ranging from non-invasive temperature screening to a full COVID-19 test involving nasal and throat swabs – at points of entry that remain open. Travelers may be quarantined until test results are complete.

Visibly ill travelers or those suspected of having the virus are likely to be interviewed and may be required to fill out health declaration forms to allow for a proper risk assessment and possible contact tracing; in some cases, the visibly ill will be prevented from traveling altogether. Travelers displaying symptoms, including a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing; those with potential exposure to the virus; and those testing positive for COVID-19 are likely to be isolated at the point of entry before being transferred to a designated quarantine or healthcare facility for further assessment and treatment. Those deemed healthy that are allowed to enter may still be required to monitor their health daily and report it to local authorities by phone or through an app.

An increasing number of countries have implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine, either at home or at a designated facility, for all arrivals regardless of nationality, symptoms, or recent travel history. In some locations, this quarantine has been extended to 28 days. Elsewhere, authorities have implemented similar quarantine measures only for travelers arriving from countries with a high number of COVID-19 cases. In extreme cases, countries have either banned all foreign nationals or restricted entry for passengers who have recently been to coronavirus-affected destinations. We encourage all travelers to use Cornell's International SOS online portal and membership number (11BSCA827281) to find relevant destination-specific information including travel restrictions and flight operations in the COVID-19 section.


Airports

Airports have attempted to implement social distancing measures to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A growing number of airports have deployed workers to manage queues and have used signage and physical barriers to separate passengers. Airlines are also increasingly encouraging passengers to use online instead of in-person check-in procedures. However, enforcing social distancing remains a challenge at these facilities.

Enhanced screening measures have led to concerns of increased wait times at airports. In addition to causing frustration for travelers, long queues lines also pose a risk of overcrowding that could potentially expose travelers to infected individuals. While upgraded screening equipment and thermal imaging cameras could expedite the screening process, wait times are likely to ultimately differ from airport to airport, depending on how effectively officials account for the impact of the screening process on passenger queues.

Acknowledging that social distancing is not always possible in crowded places, many airports have mandated that face masks be worn by travelers and staff. The provision of masks, unfortunately, remains inconsistent: some airport operators and carriers have indicated they will provide them to travelers, while others have told travelers to bring their own or be refused entry.

A growing number of airports have also implemented various health checks. Going forward, many airports will require temperature scans before entry.

Advice for before you arrive and when you are at an airport:

  • Check-in online and use an electronic ticket. Otherwise, use self-service kiosks at the airport to minimize contact with staff.
  • Check with the departure airport about how far in advance to arrive before your flight.
  • If you aren't feeling well in advance of your flight, consult with a doctor. Individuals showing symptoms may be denied entry or boarding.
  • Wear a face mask at all times and bring a spare in case yours gets wet or soiled.
  • Maintain a safe distance from other passengers and airport staff.
  • Pack hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in your carry on.

Airplanes

Airlines have stepped up sanitary and distancing measures in an attempt to reassure weary passengers. In addition to pre-boarding health checks and mandatory face masks, airlines have begun implementing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting for aircraft and personal protective equipment (PPE)-integrated uniforms for flight attendants.

Multiple airlines have also implemented health screening for passengers, with temperature checks becoming a regular feature, with some even expanding to on-site pre-departure blood or saliva tests.

Airlines are also implementing various measures for social distancing, including blocking middle seat bookings, limiting the usage of lavatories in certain areas of the aircraft, and reduced food and beverage services, especially on short-haul flights.

Advice for when you are onboard an airplane:

  • Wear a face mask at all times and bring a spare in case yours gets wet or soiled.
  • Pack hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in your carry on. Clean your tray table, window shade, armrests, and non-porous seat during boarding.
  • Remain in your seat whenever possible and minimize movement around the cabin.
  • Considering bringing your own food and beverages.

Hotels and Accommodations

The pandemic has severely affected accommodation providers and many smaller hotels have been forced to close completely, which will mean fewer accommodation options for travelers. Well-established hotel chains have introduced enhanced health screening measures for guests and employees, such as mandatory temperature checks at entrances and enforced social distancing measures in all common areas, including in lounges and bars. In addition, facilities such as swimming pools and gyms will likely also remain closed to guests due to the difficulty of implementing strict sanitary measures in those locations. Depending on local regulations, wearing face masks may be mandatory whenever a traveler is in a hotel common area.

Going forward, the hospitality industry in many countries may implement certification programs as a mark of confidence for travelers that their premises are clean, disinfected regularly, and adhere to social distancing measures. In the event this practice becomes more widespread, travelers should seek out accommodation providers that have such a certification.

Advice on stays at hotels and other accommodations:

  • Book your stay in well-established hotel chains and serviced apartment providers that, at a minimum, comply with local regulations on cleanliness and social distancing.
  • Avoid under-regulated options, such as Airbnb and homestays, where stringent health and safety measures cannot be guaranteed.
  • Bring an adequate supply of face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes for the duration of your stay. While some accommodations may provide them, this may not be the case everywhere.

Car Rental, Taxis, and Rideshares

Car rentals, taxis, and rideshare services were among the first to be hit when COVID-19 lockdowns took effect across the world. In order to survive, rental car companies have started providing significantly cheaper rental options for longer periods of time.

Car rental companies have also implemented some health safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include adding hand sanitizers within vehicles and disinfecting them before and after each trip. Going forward, more car rental companies are likely to implement contactless pick-up options for travelers from locations closer to their homes. Taxis and rideshare operators have also begun implementing social distancing measures in line with local health regulations; many require customers to wear face masks and sit at the back of the vehicle to ensure sufficient distancing.

Advice on car rentals, taxis, and rideshares

  • Wear a face mask and ride in the rear seats of the vehicle.
  • Keep a window open for the duration of the journey.
  • Handle your own luggage and wipe down your personal belongings after reaching your destination.
  • Use cashless payment options, when available.
  • When using rideshares or taxis to order food and groceries, opt for the delivery to be left outside your doorstep.

Trains

Many rail operators around the world are also adapting as travel begins to resume. Mandatory wearing of face masks is becoming more common and contactless ticketing options are preferred. Some long-distance trains have also suspended onboard catering.

Lockdowns, curfews, and entry bans are not the only cause of rail service disruptions across the globe. Rail operators have reduced schedules to allow for deep cleaning and disinfection of trains and stations, measures which are widely expected to continue until a vaccine is found. Many operators are also enforcing pre-boarding health screenings, including thermal testing, on passengers at stations, which often result in queues and longer waiting times.

Advice for train travel:

  • Check-in online and use an electronic ticket. Otherwise, use self-service kiosks at the station to minimize contact with staff.
  • Check with the departure station about how far in advance to arrive before your train.
  • Wear a face mask at all times and bring a spare in case yours gets wet or soiled.
  • Maintain a safe distance from other passengers and staff.
  • Pack hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in an easily accessible bag. Clean your tray table, armrests and non-porous seat during boarding.
  • Remain in your seat whenever possible and minimize movement around the train.
  • Considering bringing your own food and beverages.

Public Transport

Lockdowns and travel restrictions combined with the difficulty of enforcing social distancing on public transport has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of passengers using these services. Operators in turn have suspended routes, altered timetables, and reduced services and are likely to continue doing so as they adjust to low passenger numbers. As transport operators adjust, more measures will likely be implemented in an attempt to restore confidence in public transport and ensure the safety of passengers.

Some standard operating procedures have been implemented by many public transport operators, including reducing available seats, requiring passengers to wear face masks, pre-boarding temperature checks, changes to payment methods, and the daily sanitization of buses, trains, ships, and other vehicles.

Social distancing has become the new norm but its application on board public transport has varied. Many operators are operating at a reduced capacity and have applied various methods for enforcing social distancing, including a ban on passengers standing, new seating arrangements or simply asking people to stay a certain distance from one another. With the reduced demand during lockdown, the measures were relatively easy to apply, however, social distancing will be much more difficult as commuters return to work, especially during peak hours.


COVID-19 Security Risks

There are related risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic which may manifest as the crisis evolves in certain countries.


Service Disruptions

The infection of essential workers and measures to prevent the spread of the virus in critical sectors of the economy have the potential to cause both short- and long-term impacts on critical services and infrastructure. In a worst-case scenario, this could cause disruptions to essential services such as drinking water, electricity, and food production and distribution. The risk of looting and other unrest sparked by poor service delivery increases as the virus spreads.


Strikes

In addition to service disruptions caused directly by the outbreak, workers may strike or participate in other forms of labor action. Warehouse, delivery, and healthcare workers have already walked off the job in several countries over a lack of protective equipment and other work conditions. Further strikes are certain and carry the potential to disrupt essential services.


Protests and Unrest

Some populations may respond with hostility to prolonged movement controls – such as curfews or household lockdowns—invasive government tracking or the economic impact of COVID-19-related measures. Likewise, proposals for temporary treatment and isolation facilities or the burial of COVID-19 fatalities have led to protests by local residents.

Further unrest directed at authorities and symbols of the government is possible and may have a negative impact on the containment of the virus.

Since the start of the outbreak, protests have erupted in Kazakhstan, Egypt, Somalia, Côte d'Ivoire, Brazil, Haiti, Ukraine, Papua New Guinea, Chile, the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Israel, Iraq, Kenya, Colombia, Lebanon, Honduras, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries over governments' handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly over the distribution of food and medical care within communities facing shortages as well as by religious groups demanding to reopen houses of worship to the public.


Terrorism

Anti-government and other extremist individuals or groups may attempt to carry out attacks targeting symbols of the state – including politicians, government infrastructure, or military personnel – or health workers and medical infrastructure in response to actual or perceived government overreach during the pandemic.


Xenophobic Attacks

Violence directed at foreigners perceived to be responsible for the outbreak of the disease is increasingly likely over time. In the initial stages, anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment and physical attacks were reported globally. As the outbreak shifted to Europe, attacks against perceived Europeans were reported, specifically in some African countries. As the outbreak has grown in the United States (US), similar hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans have been reported. In China, concerns over the increase of cases in African countries saw a steep rise in anti-African and/or anti-Black sentiment, with reports of some establishments banning Africans and evicting them from apartments.


Fraud and Scams

Criminals may attempt to exploit the pandemic as an opportunity to profit through scams, phishing attacks, malware, and other forms of fraud. Indeed, approximately 3,600 new internet domains containing the word "coronavirus" were created between 14 and 18 March alone. Common scams involving soliciting donations for medical supplies through email and fake fines sent by text message for violating lockdown.

Take common-sense precautions for digital security, including verifying URLs and the source of message attachments before opening them.


Surveillance

There is a possibility of increased surveillance of individuals and the general public. Personal information may be disclosed to the public, especially for those who are diagnosed with the virus. Exercise discretion in deciding to communicate sensitive or personal information through electronic devices.


Targeting Vulnerable Groups

Using the COVID-19 outbreak as a pretext, governments may attempt to target vulnerable groups – minorities, LGBTQ+ community, journalists, opposition politicians, and activists – in arrests or violent attacks.


Severe Weather and Natural Disasters

Preparations for and response to natural disasters are complicated by the COVID-19 outbreak; authorities must update plans and respond in ways that reduce the risk of transmission. Those affected by evacuation orders or forced to seek communal shelter following a disaster may be at higher risk of contracting the virus as some distancing measures – such as 'stay at home' – may not be possible. These risks are amplified in developing countries with limited resources and large populations.

A severe cyclone (Amphan) and a typhoon (Ambo) that hit India-Bangladesh and the Philippines, respectively, during mid to late May 2020 underscored this, with government responses complicated by the pandemic. Efforts aimed at promoting social distancing in shelters housing evacuees proved extremely difficult. In Bangladesh, the cyclone severely affected Cox's Bazar, where almost one million Rohingya refugees are housed. The living conditions of the camps combined with post-cyclone monsoon rains likely exacerbated the spread of the virus. Additionally, a lack of testing capacity in these developing countries reduces their ability to identify and isolate those who are infected before they can infect others, thereby increasing the risk of an outbreak in the aftermath of a major natural disaster.