The only thing spreading faster than the new coronavirus itself is the travel anxiety associated with it. Thousands of cases have popped up around the world, and while they are primarily in China, everyone is on high alert from South Korea to Italy to the United States.
What are everyday people doing in the face of such unprecedented anxiety? The USA TODAY Travel team spoke with people who planned – and in some cases, are still planning – to travel to Asia and beyond as the outbreak continues.
As of Monday, there were nearly 89,300 cases worldwide, most of which are in Asia. But the number of cases in Europe and the Middle East has recently surged, and the Caribbean, too, has its first cases..
Daily coronavirus updates:Get USA TODAY’s Daily Briefing in your inbox
If these travelers’ stories are any indication, this is just the beginning of the impact the coronavirus will have for all travelers in 2020.
The latest flight cancellations: Delta, American suspending flights to Milan as coronavirus cuts spread to Italy
How to protect your trip:What travel insurance covers for coronavirus — and what it doesn’t
Amid coronavirus outbreak, are people still going to see Japan’s cherry blossoms?
Amanda Anderson and her friends wanted to experience cherry blossom season and celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday in Japan this spring. Then they heard more and more about the new coronavirus, and their anxiety festered about their late March excursion.
“Someone in our group works in medicine and the more that continued to come out about the coronavirus, the more hesitation she felt, and ultimately we all felt,” the Charlotte, North Carolina-based 32-year-old Anderson told USA TODAY. The group pored over medical articles to make an educated decision.
The cherry blossoms are a popular tourist attraction, bringing reportedly more than 60 million people to and within Japan every year. The best viewing period for 2020 across much of the countryis late March through early April, according to forecasts.
Anderson and her friends were able to cancel their Japan Airlines flights, which were booked through JAL partner American Airlines and use the credit toward other trips, though they aren’t rescheduling their Japan plans.
Because American Airlines doesn’t currently have a travel advisory or waiver for the country, Anderson said, “We really had to plead with customer service reps at the airline to help. Eventually, we were all able to cancel and retain the full value of our tickets.”
Still, Japan’s tourist organization remains optimistic in the wake of the coronavirus. “The cherry blossoms will certainly be blossoming this spring, and we expect there will continue to be great interest amongst American travelers in coming to see them,” Keiko Matsuura of the Japan National Tourism Organization told USA TODAY.
Disappointment has set in as no one in Anderson’s group had visited Japan before. But they haven’t given up on traveling to Asia just yet.
“Many Asian countries are on our ‘to-visit’ list, so we’ll likely reconsider a trip to the region in six to 12 months,” Anderson said.
For now, the group is looking into a weekend trip to the Caribbean instead.
Tim Hunter from PointsBlogger.com is taking a wait-and-see approach toward his Japan travel plans. Granted, he’s going a month after cherry blossom season because of better deals. He also plans to visit Thailand and Singapore, which currently have nearly 200 cases between them as of Monday.
“I am not nervous about Thailand right now, but a little nervous about going to Japan at the moment,” he told USA TODAY. “I will wait until April to cancel.”
‘Don’t want to be quarantined’: To go or not go to the Tokyo Olympics
Coronavirus fears are making people second-guess their travel plans for the Olympics.
Kendall Taylor, a 24-year-old real estate agent in New York, said he and his cousin canceled their trip to Tokyo after seeing headlines about the virus pick up.
“We’re not two guys that are afraid to go anywhere, but when you hear these cases … we don’t want to put ourselves in the environment that we could get it or possibly get it,” he told USA TODAY, adding that he felt he was at a higher risk because he planned to travel to multiple areas in Japan during his 15-day journey.
Though Taylor was able to get most of his money back from his $1,100 Air Canada flight thanks to purchasing travel insurance, he and his cousin suffered a “huge loss” over his accommodations to the tune of $500 per person.
The decision was especially hard for the pair, who had always dreamed of going to the Olympics after growing up watching the games on TV, said Taylor, who had not purchased tickets to any Olympic events yet.
He said it hurts to cancel his trip, which he started planning in December, but he knew it was the best option for him.
“I don’t want to be in a situation where we get there and we get stuck or we get there and we can’t come back to America because it’s broken out bigger,” he said.
Jordan Moore, a 21-year-old American living in Japan said he isn’t scared of attending the men’s basketball semifinals at this year’s games, which he bought tickets for in January.
“I feel Japan is handling the virus very well and is taking great preventive measures. I’m not scared of it,” he told USA TODAY. “I just don’t want to be quarantined.”
He’s hoping things will be resolved by the time the Olympics roll around.
“I highly doubt it will still be a problem come July/August timeframe, so I’ll still be going as long as USA Basketball is going,” he said.
The fate of this year’s Olympic Games themselves is still being weighed.
In an interview last week with the Associated Press, Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, estimated that there’s a three-month window in which to decide the fate of this year’s games. Two days later, IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters that he would not “add fuel to the flames of speculation” and the IOC remains “fully committed to a successful Olympic Games in Tokyo starting on July 24.”
‘We never considered canceling’: Europe trip still a go for Tennessee woman
Grace Boerger arrived in Germany on Saturday for her first European vacation and is already on Plan C.
Her son and daughter-in-law surprised her with a two-week vacation for her birthday last fall and the trio was due to visit Milan, Florence, Cinque Terre and Verona.
They switched to Plan B a week ago after her daughter-in-law texted her with news of lockdowns in northern Italy due to coronavirus. The number of cases in the country surged to 1,694 Monday.
The revised itinerary had the trio visiting southern Italy instead, with stops in Rome, Naples, Sorrento and Capri. But the day they landed in Germany, where they were starting the trip to visit with relatives there, the U.S. State Department changed its alert level for northern Italy to its highest level so the family decided to skip Italy altogether.
On the agenda now: driving through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France and a possible trip to Belgium.
One upside to the repeated change in itinerary: She might get two trips to Europe.
“We are making plans to come back next year sometime and do all of Italy LOL,” she said via Facebook Messenger on Monday.
The 49-year-old medical assistant said the family never discussed ditching the trip to Europe.
“We never considered canceling,” she said. “It’s not that I’m not worried, but you practice flu and cold protocols, make sure you wash your hands, use hand sanitizer.”
Cruises and coronavirus
Cruisers around the world have watched and listened as passengers have found themselves stuck on board ships in limbo or in quarantine thanks to coronavirus fears or the virus itself.
What effect is all that uncertainty having on cruisers? Are they hesitant to schedule trips going forward? Are they canceling sailings they’ve already booked?
When the outbreak began in early February, frequent cruisers were already weighing the risks that come with the spread of coronavirus. Their reactions to the news were mixed.
Carole Jones, 47, from Minnesota, finished a cruise with Carnival Cruise Line earlier in the month.
Jones has six children, and on past cruises, her children have contracted norovirus. It changed the way they approached later cruises but hasn’t stopped them.
With the confined space of a cruise ship, Jones said she understands how viruses like coronavirus or norovirus can get out of hand quickly. Now, they take wipes to sanitize their cabin, don’t eat at any buffets and try not to use any public restrooms on board.
“We were on the (Carnival) ship when first quarantine happened overseas,” she told USA TODAY, referring to the Diamond Princess being placed under quarantine in Japan from Feb. 5-19. “It definitely made us nervous.”
Jones’ family has another cruise scheduled in a few months that leaves from California and sails down the coast of Mexico. At this point, they aren’t planning to cancel. But they also aren’t committed to going.
“We have not (put) more money towards the cruise, either. We have kept it at the standard $150 deposit,” she said Friday. Carnival Cruise Line, she added, requires a deposit and they typically pay off their cruises month by month. Now though, they’re holding off until the final fee deadline.
“The cruise industry does a great job, but something like this is new,” Jones said. “We’ll see where we are in three more months.”
Others are determined to not let the virus keep them from their plans.
Sylvain Plasse, an actor from Toronto and frequent cruiser who has completed more than 100 sailings, told USA TODAY in a message that “we have to continue living.” He had no plans to stop cruising but is taking precautions.
“(Coronavirus) definitely will not deter me from cruising; however … I am avoiding Asia at all costs,” he said. Many cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, have already canceled or changed their Asia itineraries.
John and Melanie Haering, who experienced the Diamond Princess quarantine firsthand – which landed John in a hospital in Japan with coronavirus – say that they would go on another cruise again.
“Absolutely and even on Princess,” Melanie told USA TODAY.
“We have been through a horrific experience, we could have potentially died, we were separated, we felt fear, we shed lots of tears,” John told USA TODAY Thursday. “If we let that bad experience shape how we live the rest of our lives then that is a bigger tragedy. One bad cruise does not make them all bad.”
‘We do a lot of crying’: American couple in quarantine for coronavirus separated in Japan, US
Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantine:It had flaws, ‘was not ideal,’ Japan panel acknowledges
Travelers weighed visits to Tokyo Disneyland — then it closed
Natasha Rooney last visited Tokyo Disneyland at the end of January. But even if her trip had been scheduled for this week, she wouldn’t have canceled her plans.
But then the park announced it would close for two weeks as a precaution against the virus, from Feb. 29 until March 15.
“Gosh, I guess I would change my plans now,” Rooney told USA TODAY, adding, “I’m surprised they closed the park.”
Rooney, 36, from London, returned to the park last month with her partner after frequenting Tokyo Disneyland when she lived in Japan from 2014 to 2016. She recalled a dengue fever outbreak close to where she lived at the time and thought the Japanese government handled containment of that illness well.
“Japan has a reputation for being incredibly clean and cautious and their health system is extremely advanced,” she told USA TODAY before learning of the closure. “So I would still go on the trip if it was planned now.”
Tokyo Disneyland, which Disney earns royalties from but is owned and operated by a third-party Japanese corporation, had been the one Disney park in Asia open amid growing coronavirus anxieties. Two Chinese parks, Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, have both been closed since Jan. 25.
Though coronavirus cases were just beginning to climb in Japan during her visit, Rooney noticed an increase in employees wearing face masks. Notices posted outside the park entrance, as well as on the Tokyo Disneyland website, requested that guests “feeling unwell due to possible cold symptoms” refrain from visiting and asked that anyone who felt unwell while in the park alert an employee.
In her spare time, Rooney runs a travel-focused YouTube channel dedicated to Japan and Disney parks around the world. Through discussion with other fans, she’s heard from many who were still planning trips to the Tokyo park and some who were reconsidering.
Prior to the closure announcement, she estimated that 15% to 20% of the people she’d spoken to had either canceled their trips or were seriously considering doing so. “I always recommend people do what is right for them, and if they have pre-existing illnesses or are traveling with older people, then maybe consider canceling.”
One of those people who did cancel their trip: John Connell, who decided to cancel a planned family vacation to the Japanese capital and Tokyo Disneyland after seeing announcements last week that entry to the upcoming Tokyo Marathon would be restricted to just a few hundred elite participants due to coronavirus concerns.
For him, the decision to cancel made sense from a health standpoint, but is now resulting in a time-consuming back and forth with flight-booking agents, who have offered to refund only a fraction of the money he spent on airfare.
“When they started canceling public events, we decided that was a risk we didn’t want to take, especially when traveling with a young child,” Connell, 40 from Wirral, England, added. “My sister-in-law lives in Japan and supported our decision not to go, although she has said things don’t seem too bad there.”
And how does the Mouse House view the impact of coronavirus on its parks? Incoming Disney CEO Bob Chapek – announced Tuesday as Bob Iger’s successor – recently told CNBC the impact coronavirus is having on Disney Parks and Cruises is “certainly a bump in the road,” but he believes the strength of the Disney brand “will way outlast any type of short-term blip” from coronavirus.
“Doesn’t mean that we won’t get surprised tomorrow, but we’ve got the strength to get through them all,” he added.
‘It was going to be lovely’: Coronavirus anxiety thwarts Japan trip with child
Susannah Darrow made her family’s plans late last summer. She, her husband and 4-year-old daughter were going to spend the last week in March and the first week in April in Japan, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
“It was going to be lovely,” said Darrow, who manages a consulting firm in Atlanta. “We were very excited.”
But in recent weeks, Darrow kept seeing news about the spread of coronavirus and wondered if she might need to alter that plan.
Then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert for Japan advising travelers to “practice enhanced precautions.”
That was enough for Darrow to cancel the trip, not wanting to risk exposing her young daughter to an unpredictable situation.
“If had it had just been us, we might have been less likely to cancel,” she said, adding that she and her husband considered leaving their daughter with her grandparents.
Instead, the three of them will fly to Los Angeles, which was originally going to be their springboard to Japan, rent a car and drive along the Pacific Coast all the way to the Canadian border.
“We have friends in different spots along the way,” she said.
Darrow said she’ll have to eat the cost of one hotel room. But the couple, who are frequent travelers, booked other accommodations in Japan through Airbnb, which they were able to could cancel without penalty.
What about the transpacific flight?
“This was a total fluke,” she said. “For once in my life, I insured the airfare. We’ll be able to get that back.”
Darrow said her daughter, whose safety drove her decision to scrap the Japan trip, is looking forward to their adventure, even if it’s a different one.
“She’s fine to go anywhere,” Darrow said. “She’ll be excited either way.”
Disney World:Workers who traveled to Italy to stay home amid coronavirus fears
Contributing: The Associated Press