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COVID-19 chaos: MSC Fantasia passengers 'kept in the dark' until day of disembarkation


At 2 a.m. on Tuesday, MSC Fantasia passenger Julie Cruickshanks, 63, received a letter. It was pushed under the door in her stateroom on the Panamanian-flagged cruise ship, which was resting in port in Lisbon, Portugal.

a blue and white boat sitting next to a body of water: 17. MSC Fantasia, built by MSC Cruises in 2008, weighs 137,936 GT and carries 3,274 people at double occupancy.

After more than a week of confusion on board about itinerary changes, disembarkation processes, emails and announcements, Cruickshanks learned in the early hours of the morning she would be going home to Liverpool, England, that day – earlier than expected. 

On Sunday, MSC Fantasia disembarked its first group of passengers (all Portuguese nationals and residents) in Lisbon, the cruise line said in a statement provided by spokesperson Alyssa Goldfarb on Tuesday. After leaving the ship, two of those guests tested positive for coronavirus, the disease that has infected more than 417,000 people and killed more than 18,600 around the world, according to Johns Hopkins data.

“So far, British, Brazilian and German nationals/residents have disembarked, transferring from the ship to Lisbon Airport for their onward travel on MSC Cruises-provided charter flights,” Goldfarb said Tuesday, the same day Cruickshanks and the other remaining passengers began disembarking.

“l think they wanted us off quickly,” Cruickshanks told USA TODAY while riding a coach bus to the airport under police escort. ‘”It was chaos.”

After receiving the letter, she and hundreds of others corralled in the ship’s theater to pick up their passports. “We sat for four hours, all together.”

It’s common for cruise ships to hold onto passports on international cruises so passengers can have clearance to disembark at different ports around the world. The service is voluntary, Goldfarb told USA TODAY. 

Then, after having their temperatures taken twice on the ship, some Fantasia passengers boarded buses bound for the airport, where they were told to put a seat between them and the nearest passenger and to avoid sitting next to the windows. 

But Cruickshanks, who left the ship wearing a mask she had carried on board herself, said that precautions were not followed during the disembarkation process. It was the opposite of social distancing. 

“We were packed like sausages just trying to get off the ship,” she said. “It was stupid. It was very cramped. You were shoulder to shoulder – everyone pushing and shoving to get off.”

The disembarkation process is expected to continue through Thursday – at least. 

“This is due to the extremely limited availability of flights into many of the countries where guests reside. For the great majority of passengers, MSC Cruises has organized – under the guidance of local authorities – direct charter flights or other transportation by nationality,” the cruise line said.

Goldfarb told USA TODAY in an email that it’s been a challenging process to get passengers off the ship because countries are rapidly altering their border entry guidelines and airports are limiting flights.

In response to Cruickshanks’ allegation that it kept guests in the dark until the last minute, MSC said it notified passengers as soon as it was able to secure charter flights that could leave sooner than their original commercial flights, which were frequently being canceled and might have left passengers stranded. The cruise line said it made an “incredible” effort to update passengers whenever it got reliable information, in order to ensure the quickest and safest return trip possible.

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A disinfectant worker sprays anti-septic solution against COVID-19 aboard a firetruck along a street on March 11, 2020 in Manila, Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday declared a state of public health emergency as the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the country rose to 33 from just 3 cases last week. With over 115,000 confirmed cases around the world, the coronavirus has so far claimed over 4,000 lives.

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Medical staff celebrate after all patients were discharged at a temporary hospital set up to treat people with the COVID-19 coronavirus in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on March 9, 2020. China closed most of its makeshift hospitals for coronavirus patients, some schools reopened and Disney resort staff went back to work on March 9 as normality slowly returns to the country after weeks battling the epidemic.

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A staff member removes waste after the final patients were discharged at a temporary hospital set up to treat people with the COVID-19 coronavirus in a sports stadium in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on March 8, 2020. – China on March 8 reported its lowest number of new coronavirus infections since January, with nearly all the 44 new cases in the outbreak epicenter Wuhan.

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An Iraqi health ministry worker scans the body temperature of a driver of an incoming vehicle in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul on March 8, 2020, as part of measures against COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

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A protester sprays protesters with sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus during a rally demanding women’s right during the International Women’s Day in Tahrir square in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 8, 2020.

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, rescuers search for victims at the site of a hotel collapse in Quanzhou, southeast China’s Fujian Province, Sunday, March 8, 2020. Several people were killed and others trapped in the collapse of the Chinese hotel that was being used to isolate people who had arrived from other parts of China hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, authorities said Sunday.

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Medics treat a patient infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 8, 2020. With the approaching Persian New Year, known as Nowruz, officials kept up pressure on people not to travel and to stay home. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, who gave Iran’s new casualty figures Sunday, reiterated that people should not even attend funerals.

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A worker from the Guatemalan Health Ministry checks a passenger’s body temperature as a preventive measure against the new coronavirus, COVID-19, at the Aurora International Airport, in Guatemala City, on March 4, 2020.

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Volunteers spray disinfectant with a robot at a residental area in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on March 3, 2020. The world has entered uncharted territory in its battle against the deadly coronavirus, the UN health agency warned, as new infections dropped dramatically in China on March 3 but surged abroad with the US death toll rising to six.

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A worker wears protective clothing as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus as she watches over customers in a supermarket in Beijing on March 3, 2020.

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Army soldiers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in front of a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, South Korea, Sunday, March 1, 2020. The coronavirus has claimed its first victim in the United States as the number of cases shot up in Iran, Italy and South Korea and the spreading outbreak shook the global economy.

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A woman walks past shelves where toilet paper was stocked and now sold out, at a shop in Tokyo on March 1, 2020. The COVID-19 viral outbreak across Japan and dozens of other countries has fueled concerns about the Summer Games, which open on July 24, after sports events were postponed or cancelled.

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A woman, wearing a face mask amid fears over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, watches an anti-government rally in Bangkok on March 1, 2020.

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People wearing face masks attend Mass at the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, March 1, 2020. The church decided to replace Sunday services with online ones for members’ safety amid the spread of the COVID-19.

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Medical personnel attend to a patient in critical condition at a hospital designated for coronavirus patients in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province, Sunday, March 1, 2020. China on Sunday reported a slight uptick in new cases exceeded 500 over the past 24 hours. They remain almost entirely confined to the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital, the epicenter of Wuhan.

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Students wearing Disney character hats and face masks leave Tokyo Disneyland on the day it announced it will close until March 15th because of concerns over the COVID-19 virus, on Feb. 28, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. A growing number of events and sporting fixtures are being cancelled or postponed around Japan while some businesses are closing or asking their employees or work from home. Prime Minister Abe has also asked schools to close for around a month as COVID-19 cases continue to increase and concerns mount over the possibility that the outbreak will force the postponement or even cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics.

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Mask-clad commuters make their way to work during morning rush hour at the Shinagawa train station in Tokyo on Feb. 28, 2020. Tokyo’s key Nikkei index plunged nearly three percent at the open on February 28 after US and European sell-offs with investors worried about the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

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An Iraqi woman wearing a protective mask holds her cat as she poses for a picture during a protest against corruption in the Iraqi government in the southern city of Basra on Feb. 27, 2020. Mass rallies have Iraq since October, with protesters demanding snap elections and an independent prime minister as well as accountability for corruption and recent bloodshed. Meanwhile, the country confirmed its first novel coronavirus infection in an Iranian national studying in a Shiite seminary in the holy city of Najaf, in central Iraq, triggering widespread panic.

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Workers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a bus garage in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 26, 2020. The number of new virus infections in South Korea jumped again Wednesday and the U.S. military reported its first case among its soldiers based in the Asian country, with his case and many others connected to a southeastern city with an illness cluster.

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A couple wearing protective facemasks hold hands while walking along the waterfront in Hong Kong on February 22, 2020.

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A woman riding a bus wears a facemask on February 21, 2020 in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines.

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Spectators wear face masks to help prevent the spread of the SARS-like virus that originated in central China as they watch the exhibition gala at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Seoul on Feb. 9, 2020. South Korea has confirmed 27 cases of the new coronavirus virus so far.

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A shopper wearing face mask pushes a shopping cart in front of an empty shelves inside a grocery store on Feb. 9, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong has 29 confirmed cases of Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), with over 37,500 confirmed cases around the world, the virus has so far claimed over 800 lives.

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A Chinese woman wears a protective mask as she has her temperature checked before entering a park with her child on Feb. 9, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to more than 37000 in mainland China Sunday, days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. China continued to lock down the city of Wuhan in an effort to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts have confirmed can be passed from human to human. In an unprecedented move, Chinese authorities have put travel restrictions on the city which is the epicenter of the virus and municipalities in other parts of the country affecting tens of millions of people. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to over 810 on Sunday, mostly in Hubei province, and cases have been reported in other countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and several others. The World Health Organization has warned all governments to be on alert and screening has been stepped up at airports around the world. Some countries, including the United States, have put restrictions on Chinese travelers entering and advised their citizens against travel to China.

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A child is seen wearing a facemask, as public fear over China’s Wuhan Coronavirus grows, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Feb. 3, 2020 in Manila, Philippines. The Philippine government has been heavily criticized after failing to immediately implement travel restrictions on China, the source of a deadly coronavirus that has now killed more than 300 people and infected thousands more. On Sunday, the first coronavirus death outside of China was reported in the Philippines.

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Coaches transport eighty-three Britons and 27 foreign nationals who have been evacuated from Wuhan following a Coronavirus outbreak, from RAF Brize Norton to Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside, where they will be quarantined, on January 31, 2020 in Brize Norton, England. Two people in the same family have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus in the UK.

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A resident walks across a pedestrian crossing on January 31, 2020 in Wuhan, China. The city has continued to be evacuated and locked down by Chinese officials.

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A Chinese girl wears a plastic bottle as makeshift homemade protection and a protective mask while waiting to check in to a flight at Beijing Capital Airport on Jan. 30, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to over 7000 in mainland China Thursday as the country continued to lock down the city of Wuhan in an effort to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts have confirmed can be passed from human to human. In an unprecedented move, Chinese authorities put travel restrictions on the city which is the epicenter of the virus and neighboring municipalities affecting tens of millions of people. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to over 170 on Thursday, mostly in Hubei province, and cases have been reported in other countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and France. The World Health Organization has warned all governments to be on alert, and its emergency committee is to meet later on Thursday to decide whether to declare a global health emergency.

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A man uses alcohol to disinfect the grounds nearby the Wuhan Huoshenshan hospital construction site on Jan. 28, 2020 in Wuhan, China.

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Chinese police officers wearing masks stand in front of the Tiananmen Gate on Jan. 26, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of coronavirus rose to 1,975 in mainland China on Sunday. Authorities tightened restrictions on travel and tourism this weekend after putting Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, under quarantine on Thursday. The spread of the virus corresponds with the first days of the Spring Festival, which is one of the biggest domestic travel weeks of the year in China. Popular tourism landmarks in Beijing including the Forbidden City, Badaling Great Wall, and The Palace Museum were closed to the public starting Saturday. The Beijing Municipal Education Commission announced it will delay reopening schools from kindergarten to university. The death toll on Sunday rose to 56. The majority of fatalities are in Wuhan where the first cases of the virus were reported last month.

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Chinese children wear protective masks as they wait to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on Jan. 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

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Disinfection professionals wear protective suits whilst spraying an anti-septic solution against the coronavirus (COVID-19) at a National Assembly on Feb. 24, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea.

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The ever-changing journey

When Cruickshanks boarded the ship in Rio de Janeiro on March 9, after traveling from London’s Gatwick Airport, everything seemed normal. She was meant to disembark in Barcelona, Spain, though the cruise was scheduled to continue on to Italy, which was placed under a government-mandated lockdown that same day due to the outbreak there. 

Then, slowly, as coronavirus continued its spread, closing borders and bringing nations to a standstill, things began to change.

More than 1,000 passengers decided to pack up and leave the ship during a March 13 port call in Maceió, Brazil, Claudio Ferreira, a Brazilian passenger who boarded MSC Fantasia in Rio, told USA TODAY.

Neither Ferreira nor Cruickshanks was part of that group, which Ferreira said disembarked out of concern over countries closing borders.

At the time, MSC told passengers that Fantasia would be sticking to its itinerary, which called for Ferreira to disembark in Genoa, Italy.

Eventually, after it was announced that ports were to be skipped, Ferreira said that MSC told passengers that the ship would dock in Marseilles, France, before landing on Lisbon as its final destination. 

MSC said that the situation began to change rapidly soon after the ship left Brazil, with port availability (including Marseilles and Genoa) changing on a minute-by-minute basis. When Lisbon became available, the cruise line opted to do the disembarkation there so that passengers like Cruickshanks could return home as soon as possible and not run the risk of running into more port closures. 

Cruickshanks said she thought MSC, which is based in Geneva, handled the situation badly.

“I feel the people on the ship should have been told what was happening. We were told nothing. We were kept in the dark about the flights, about all the ports we were going to,” she said. “They were still booking excursions knowing people were not going to these places.”

On Saturday, Cruickshanks told USA TODAY she truly had no idea of when she would actually get home. They were told that they would be docking in Lisbon and unless they had an airline ticket, they could not disembark. “Nobody seems to know anything.”

Eventually, she was told by a representative of Cruise Nation, the service through which she booked her MSC Fantasia sailing, that she would be going home on Wednesday.

That was before everything changed on Tuesday.

“To be honest, we didn’t know we were going home” until the 2 a.m. letter, Cruickshanks said.

They arrived at the airport without tickets and their bags were put on the plane. The only thing she knew was that she was going to London.

“We were not told we were disembarking and told nothing about this flight. We were not told where it was going; we didn’t know anything,” she said. “l don’t have a clue why.”

In a statement, the cruise line apologized to passengers for the inconveniences created by the situation and asked for their continued trust and understanding.

It’s not just MSC: The entire cruise industry is scrambling

More than a week after it announced it would suspend operations, members of the Cruise Lines International Association are still scrambling to get passengers off ships – often in the nearest port that will allow them to do so  – and send them home to wait out the virus.

As of Tuesday morning, approximately 7.1%, or about 20 of CLIA’s 277 member ships were still at sea and in the process of wrapping up voyages. The percentage of ships still in transit is down from 14% (or around 39 ships) Thursday.

“This is a highly fluid situation, with numbers changing by the hour as cruise ships around the world are completing their voyages,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, CLIA’s senior director of strategic communications, told USA TODAY. 

“The vast majority of the rest are either at port, anchored or repositioning,” Golin-Blaugrund said. “CLIA members are focused on the safe and smooth return home of those onboard cruise ships that are currently at sea.”


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Cruises

Covid-19 Causes Some Caribbean Hotels to Close Temporarily

Hotels around the Caribbean are facing a significant business downturn as COVID-19 spreads, and some are temporarily closing their doors. The shutdowns include Saint Lucia’s BodyHoliday and Rendezvous resorts, which will close their doors to guests from March 20 through May 31.

The upscale resorts will close “in order to support the preventative measures being implemented, and due to the decrease of guests able to arrive to Saint Lucia,” said Rebecca Platt, director of sales and marketing at SunSwept Resorts, which owns both properties, in a statement sent to travel agencies. The properties will resume operations on June 1.

The Saint Lucia resorts draw sizeable numbers of European travelers, who now face restrictions and quarantines when traveling to the country. Sun Swept is providing travelers who are booked but unable to travel to Saint Lucia in face of the restrictions with waivers of standard cancellation charges.

Guests will also receive a credit to re-book within 12 months of their original travel dates. Vacationers who cannot travel to the resorts during the re-booking period will receive a full refund. Also, guests who make new reservations through May 31 can cancel the booking without penalty within seven days of arrival.

Meanwhile, Excellence Resorts will temporarily close Excellence Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic on March 20 due to coronavirus. The company’s decision is “a strategic measure that will optimize our operations through these challenging times, said officials in a statement. The property will re-open on June 5.

Current and future reservations will remain open even after the closing date; guests visiting during this period until the reopening date will be accommodated at Excellence Punta Cana’s sister property, Excellence El Carmen.

No cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the Excellence properties. “Our team will continue to reinforce our heightened cleaning and disinfection procedures to guarantee an enjoyable and healthy stay,” said Domingo Aznar, vice president of sales and marketing. Guests at Excellence Punta Cana on March 20 will receive free transportation to Excellence El Carmen.

Barceló Hotel Group is also planning the closure of unspecified properties among its Punta Cana resorts, said Raúl González, Barceló’s CEO, in a statement on the company’s website.

“Unfortunately, we are in the process of closing some of our hotels, therefore if you have a reservation in the upcoming days, please do not hesitate to contact us so we can assist you,” said González.

Guests who cannot travel on their original dates can reschedule through December 22, 2020, at Excellence Punta Cana at their original rate or any of the company’s other properties.

González added, “We have made our booking policy as flexible as possible so that you have the possibility to modify any reservation. We are very aware of the responsibility that this moment requires, and our entire team is dedicated to managing all incoming requests.”

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Travel

Which countries have coronavirus travel bans?

As increasingly extreme measures are being taken to halt the spread of coronavirus, or Covid-19, new travel bans and advisories are being introduced on a daily basis.

Here are the key travel bans you need to know about.

India

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As of 12pm GMT on 13 March, the Government of India has suspended all tourist visas and e-visas granted on or before 11 March.

“All existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/international organizations, employment, project visas, stand suspended till 15 April 2020,” it said in a statement.

Visas of those already in India remain valid, however, and they may contact the nearest FRRO for visa extension or conversion.

All those entering India, including Indian nationals, are advised against non-essential travel.

Those arriving having visited China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Spain will be put into a 14-day quarantine.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has closed its borders to travellers from 15 nations, including the UK, amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis declared a 30-day state of emergency, with foreign nationals travelling from Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Norway, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, China, South Korea, Iran and the UK all banned from entering the country.

Czech citizens have also been barred from entering the above nations.

Foreigners with permanent Czech residency and cross-border workers will be exempt from the ban.

The ban comes into effect at 11pm GMT on 13 March.

Italy

One of worst-affected countries in the world, Italy has been on lock-down since 9 March, when a national quarantine was imposed. The Italian authorities have advised against travel for tourism purposes throughout Italy, and said that tourists already on holiday in Italy should limit their movements to those necessary to returning home.

Although airports remain open, airline schedules are subject to change and flights are being cancelled all the time, with the majority of carriers ceasing to operate direct flights between Italy and the UK after 13 March. 

The Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to Italy and says: “British tourists in Italy should contact their airline operators as soon as possible to arrange return to the UK.”

Train companies are also reducing services, including to Milan Malpensa airport, and some cross-border bus companies are cancelling their services. Although ports remain open, cruise ship passengers are barred from disembarking.

As part of the new measures, many businesses are closed, including ski resorts.

Slovakia

Slovakia is stopping all international travel to and from the country and introducing border checks. 

Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said that the country’s international airports would close and international bus and train travel would also be halted.

Guatemala

Guаtеmаlа аnnоunсеd іt іѕ bаnnіng citizens from Eurореаn соuntrіеѕ, Іrаn, Сhіnа, Ѕоuth Коrеа аnd Nоrth Коrеа from entering tо рrеvеnt thе ѕрrеаd оf thе соrоnаvіruѕ. The rules came into effect on 12 March.

US 

A new travel advisory issued by President Trump on Wednesday night has banned entry to the US for foreign nationals who have visited European countries in the last two weeks.

The ban, which is aimed at quelling the spread of coronavirus in the States, applies to those who have been to countries within the Schengen Area, but not to the UK and Ireland. 

The 26 Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Legal permanent US residents and the immediate family members of US citizens will still be permitted entry back into the States.

The advisory is in place for 30 days, starting from 11.59pm on 13 March (3.59am on 14 March in the UK).

It follows the entry ban on all foreign travellers who have been in China or Iran in the last 14 days.

Australia 

Australia has imposed travel bans on foreign nationals from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, and requires Australians and permanent residents returning from those countries to self-isolate for a fortnight.

Citizens are also being asked to “reconsider your need to travel overseas at this time, regardless of your destination, age or health”. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “Only essential travel should be considered if you are going overseas from this point forward.”

Japan

Japan has banned entry to passengers who have been in affected regions of China, South Korea or Italy within the last 14 days. Japanese nationals, their spouses and children are exempt.

Thailand

Thailand has suspended its visa exemption policy for travellers from Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy. 

Visa on arrival has also been stopped for 18 countries: Bulgaria, Bhutan, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Malta, Mexico, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu and China.

Travellers must apply for visas in advance and present a medical certificate to show they don’t have coronavirus.

Norway

Anyone arriving in Norway from outside the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, plus Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands) is being told to self-isolate for two weeks, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not, according to the Norwegian Health Directorate. 

The restrictions run until 26 March.

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Travel

US citizens advised to reconsider travel abroad amid coronavirus outbreak

As the coronavirus outbreak rages on, countries are closing their borders in a bid to slow the spread.

Among them is the US, with President Trump announcing a ban on foreign nationals who have visited the Schengen area in the last 14 days from entering the US.

The ban, which will come into effect on 13 March, will last for 30 days.

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The US State Department has also updated its advice for citizens.

A global level 3 health advisory was issued on 11 March warning US citizens to “reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of Covid-19“.

The State Department added: “Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveller mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions. Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.”

The whole of Italy went into lockdown soon after the country announced that it would be isolating northern Italy.

While the advisory doesn’t physically ban US citizens from travelling, for those who do, it might mean their insurance is invalidated.

The State Department’s advisory further adds that those who are planning to travel should check individual advisories issued for each country they’re visiting, as well as sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and so they can be located in an emergency.

On top of Donald Trump’s Schengen travel ban, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued a level 3 warning due to “widespread sustained transmission” of coronavirus, with citizens warned to avoid non-essential travel to a number of European countries.

The list includes: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.

US residents who have visited these countries will need to self-isolate for 14 days after their return and monitor their health for symptoms of coronavirus.

The US State Department usually only issues advisories in relation to security concerns while the CDC issues notices in relation to health concerns.

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Travel

New travel insurance policies may not cover coronavirus disruptions

As coronavirus continues to spread, its impact is being felt around the world.

The tourism industry has been hit particularly hard as a result of fewer people travelling, with costs mounting to as much as £87bn in the aviation industry alone.

With thousands of holidays cancelled at the last minute due to new rules imposed by governments to limit the spread of the deadly bug, some travel insurers are pulling products that will cover holidaymakers if there is disruption.

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As an example, Italy, with over 9,000 confirmed cases, is now the worst affected country outside of China.

In response, the entire country has gone into lockdown, with the UK government warning citizens to avoid all but essential travel there and airlines cancelling flights at the last minute.

Those with upcoming travel to Italy will have seen their bookings cancelled at the last minute.

While travellers who have booked a package holiday will have been covered by ABTA or ATOL, those who have booked separate flights and accommodation, as well as any excursions, may have to turn to their travel insurance to recoup some of the sunk cost.

But as unexpected costs like these add up, travel insurers are having to adjust the products they offer. For holidaymakers, it means a new need to double check your policy will cover you if you do decide to travel.

Aviva are among the first to adjust their policies.

As well as their “core” travel insurance product, Aviva used to offer ”travel disruption” and “airspace closure”, which customers could buy as add-ons. 

However, in response to coronavirus, the company has pulled these two add ons for new customers.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “Following a review of Aviva’s travel insurance, we have decided to adjust our cover to reflect the current risks posed by Coronavirus.

“This means that while new Aviva direct travel insurance customers can still purchase our core travel insurance, they will not be able to select our ‘travel disruption’ or ‘airspace closure’ add-ons.”

It means that those who have purchased new policies will only be covered if they decide to cancel their holiday if their flights have been cancelled or have been delayed for more than 24 hours.

However, you won’t be covered if you decide to cancel or want to return early under the core policy.

The company stressed that customers who had previously bought policies with the add ons are still covered – they are just not available to new policyholders for the time being.

Aviva added: “Insurance is designed to provide cover for unforeseen and unexpected events and is priced on this basis. The outbreak of the Coronavirus means there is an increased likelihood of disruption to people’s travel plans.”

Another insurer, Sportscover Direct, also announced that customers who purchased policies between 11am 9 March and 10.30am 11 March could be subject to a coronavirus exclusion.

It reads: “It is understood and agreed that this insurance does not cover any loss, damage, liability, cost or expense of whatever nature directly or indirectly caused by, arising out of, contributed to by, or resulting from “COVID-19” or any mutation or variation thereof.”

The exclusion does not apply to products sold before or after those periods – The Independent has approached Sportscover Direct to clarify this.

The Association of British Insurers told The Independent: “These are decisions by individual insurers. Insurance is not designed to protect against the inevitable, so some policies are being temporarily modified. There is still availability in the market and people should speak to a broker if they are not sure.”

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Travel

Coronavirus ‘ghost flights’ to end under temporary new rules

New rules introduced by the European Commission in response to coronavirus means airlines will no longer have to operate “almost empty” flights.

At the moment, airlines have to operate at least 80 per cent of scheduled flights or risk losing their airport slots to competitors.

But due to the impact of Covid-19, airlines have seen demand plummeting.

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While they are able to cancel some routes, some carriers have been forced to fly near empty planes, known as “ghost flights” just to meet the requirements to keep their airport slots.

In a press conference, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced on 10 March that these rules will be temporarily relaxed to help the aviation industry cope with the impact of coronavirus.

She said: “The coronavirus outbreak has a major impact on the European and international aviation industry. We see that the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis and traffic is expected to decline further.

“This is why the commission is putting forward very rapidly legislation regarding the so called airport slots.

“We want to make it easier for airlines to keep their airport slot even if they do not operate flights in those slots because of the decline in traffic.”

Ms von der Leyen added that it will be a temporary legislation that will help the industry as well as the environment.

It’s hoped that the relaxing of the new rules will mean the end of the ghost flights.

Coronavirus is continuing its spread across Europe and the rest of the world.

Italy has declared that the entire country is on lockdown, with flights to the country from the UK now cancelled by many airlines.

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Travel

Latest travel advice for Spain and France amid coronavirus outbreak

The whole of Italy has gone into lockdown amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Now that the FCO has advised “all but essential travel” to the country, holidaymakers can finally start recouping some of the costs of any cancelled trips.

Those with travel booked to other European countries may be similarly worried about what’s happening with their holidays.

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Here’s the latest advice from the Foreign Office on travelling to Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.

FCO advice on travelling to Spain

Spain currently has 589 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 10 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Its most high profile case was a hotel in Tenerife, H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which was put on quarantine due to an outbreak.

But while travellers may face additional screening when entering Spain, there is no travel advice from the FCO warning against travelling to the country.

For the latest on-the-ground advice in Spain, the Spanish government has a dedicated website in English.

FCO advice on travelling to France

France currently has 1,116 cases of coronavirus according to the WHO, with 19 deaths.

The FCO does not advise against travelling to France.

However, the French government has now banned gatherings with more than 1,000 people. If you’re booked to travel to France for an event, make sure you check with the organisers to see if it’s still going ahead.

For those who have travelling from a country where “the virus is actively circulating”, the French government has said that they should monitor their temperature twice a day for 14 days, wear surgical masks when with relatives or outside the house, and avoid non-essential activies and at-risk individuals.

The French government also has a website with dedicated advice, which is updated daily but in French only.

FCO advice on travelling to Switzerland

Switzerland currently has 332 confirmed cases of coronavirus and two deaths according to the WHO.

Like France, Switzerland has banned events involving 1,000 or more people, until 15 March 2020. You should check with organisers if the event you’re going to is going ahead before you travel.

There is no travel warning for Switzerland from the FCO, but local government may have additional screening procedures on entry.

For the latest advice, travellers can check the Swiss government’s dedicated website.

FCO advice on travelling to Austria

Austria has 112 confirmed cases of coronavirus at present, and zero deaths according to the WHO.

There may be additional screening for entering the country but the FCO does not currently advise against travelling to the country.

If you’re travelling for an event, make sure it’s still happening. The Austrian Interior Minister has announced a ban on indoor events of more than 100 people and outdoor events of more than 500 people.

FCO advice on travelling to Slovenia

Slovenia has just 16 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and no deaths according to the WHO.

The FCO has said that anyone with holidays booked to Slovenia should check with tour operator, hotels, or transport providers regarding any impact on travel. However, it does not advise against travelling to Slovenia.

You can find the latest updates from the Slovenian government on any travel restrictions in English on its dedicated website.

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