Do I wear a mask? Today's travel dilemma as coronavirus spreads

Travelling as coronavirus - now known as Covid-19 - spreads creates its own questions. Picture: Shutterstock
Travelling as coronavirus - now known as Covid-19 - spreads creates its own questions. Picture: Shutterstock

In the new age of novel coronavirus (or Covid-19 as it's now known), the question facing most travellers is: do I wear a mask?

The outbreak has resulted in multiple cancellations and affected itineraries for ocean and river cruise operators.

Many lines, including Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Cunard, Seabourn and MSC Cruises, have cancelled port calls in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Two cruise ships, Diamond Princess and World Dream, have spent days in quarantine off the coasts of Japan and Hong Kong. Cruise lines have released new guidelines on boarding restrictions and screening requirements, and some have also banned anyone who holds a passport from China, Hong Kong or Macau, as well as passengers who have visited mainland China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 30 days prior.

Viking has also cancelled its China river cruises through to June 2020 and Norwegian Cruise Line has cancelled Norwegian Spirit's visits to Asian ports until December 2020.

On a recent flight aboard an Asian airline, the staff wore surgical masks throughout the journey. It was an eerie reminder that things had changed radically. Many of the passengers had similar facial coverings.

There is something very sobering about being served by masked staff when you are, well, naked.

So, what's the advice? Well, for a start, most of the flight attendants were wearing surgical masks. Not terribly useful, though psychologically reassuring. They do trap germs.

But when you take the mask off with your hands, you're quite likely to transmit the bacteria to your face - and catch the virus anyway.

The P2 mask is really the only effective shield. But it takes a practiced hand to fit it and has to be completely airtight.

The medical advice is simple: wear a mask if you have symptoms; don't if you are feeling fine. The mask is really to shield others.

Here's the latest government advice:

  • Talk to your doctor before travelling with children, if you are pregnant or have a weak immune system.
  • Before you go, head to to read the advice on infectious diseases and medical assistance overseas.
  • Check with your travel agent, airline, cruise operator, accommodation provider and travel insurer to consider your options regarding any potential changes or interruptions to services.
  • Read the travel advice for your destination.
  • Understand the risks you're taking and that efforts to control the spread of coronavirus may cause further travel disruptions and restrictions.
  • Visit to subscribe to alerts about your destination and follow Smartraveller on Facebook or Twitter for updates on the situation.

Finally, the best way to avoid illness is to wash your hands often with soap and water, and carry a hand sanitiser with you and use it often. And see a health-care professional immediately if you start feeling unwell.

For more information and to sign up for alerts, go to

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