I booked the flights and accommodations for the Chiang Mai trip long before I heard about coronavirus. But by the time we were packing, people were hoarding face masks and hand sanitizers.
Fortunately for us, we still have the washable face masks we bought for use in the kitchen. And Alex is never without a bottle of hand sanitizer.
We wore the cutest face masks but they were really unnecessary
The face masks we wore primarily to calm down my husband who naturally worried. I wore mine on the flight to Chiang Mai but not on the flight back to Manila over a week later. By that time, I had read up and had more information to share with the worried husband and father.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.” Do click that link to the WHO website. And read the myth busters section too.
More information became available after we got home.
The risk of catching a serious viral infection on an aircraft is low. The air supply to a modern airliner is very different from a movie theater or an office building. The air is a combination of fresh air and recirculated air, about half each. The recirculated air goes through filters of the exact same type that we use in surgical operating theaters. That supplied air is guaranteed to be 99.97% (or better) free of viruses and other particles. So the risk, if there is one, does not come from the supplied air. It comes from other people.“How to Avoid Coronavirus on Flights: Forget Masks, Says Top Airline Doctor” in Bloomberg
A hand sanitizer is useful but frequent washing with soap and water is better
In the condominium building where we stayed, almost everyone wore face masks. The employees including the guards, the guests… And bottles of hand sanitizers were strategically placed in the lobby. We observed how many of the guests used them before going out and after arriving. Some of them were literally rubbing the liquid on their entire arms.
And we could only roll our eyes in disbelief. Surely, if you just left your room, you would have washed your hands first? And if you just got back from a day of shopping and sightseeing, you can go directly to your room to wash yourself, or your hands at least, with soap and water?
Ahhh… but people are in a panic. And fake news don’t help, do they?
Okay, we had our own supply of hand sanitizer. Alex never leaves home without one. It’s a habit she acquired over 10 years ago amid the AH1N1 pandemic.
That’s the backpack she carried every time we went out in Chiang Mai. The bottle of hand sanitizer is attached to mock-buckle for easy access.
We used hand sanitizer to clean our hands at times when soap and water were not available. Inside a vehicle, while walking out on the streets, when sampling street food… Then, we washed our hands thoroughly when we got back to our apartment. We also bathed twice a day — before going out and before going to bed.
What kind of hand sanitizer should you use?
From what I’ve read, for a hand sanitizer to kill 99.9% of bacteria, it must contain at least 70% alcohol. If the alcohol level is too low (below 60%), well, it’s probably good for making your hands smell good and nothing else.
So, forget about those pricey branded and often scented hand sanitizers. You can easily make your own. Just mix distilled water with alcohol in a spray bottle and carry it with you everywhere you go. In Vietnam, children are making their own hand sanitizers.
Should you postpone traveling until a coronavirus vaccine has been developed?
Wow, that can mean don’t travel for the next decade.
As the NY Times put it, “While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.”
My take is this: If you haven’t booked anything yet and you’re the type of person who gets nervous about everything you read and hear (including fake news on Facebook and other gossip mills), it might be kinder to your heart and mind to stay home until more is known about coronavirus or until it has been better contained.
I’m not the nervous type but I still wouldn’t book flights to Wuhan and surrounding areas.
Update on March 21, 2002: The situation has escalated…