Needless to say, when we chose Southeast Asia as our next travel block, we didn’t anticipate the coronavirus outbreak.
In the last week, many family members, friends, and acquaintances have reached out to check in with us. It certainly makes me feel special knowing so many people are concerned.
I thought I might take an opportunity to share what we’ve learned about the virus and what we’re doing to protect ourselves.
We are currently in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia and feel completely comfortable being here.
The bottom line (and my new favorite response) is we are cautious but not concerned. And frankly, it is the same approach we would take if we were home.
Traveling through Asia during the COVID-19 outbreak
When the first news about the coronavirus outbreak hit the streets, we were in Singapore leaving for Vietnam.
Everyone started to mask up. In fact, on one of our first days in Vietnam, there were lines of people around the block waiting to buy masks from the pharmacy.
Way and I already knew at that point that masks were not effective in stopping the spread of the virus. It only took a few days for the panic to subside and for the public to take the masks off.
From my perspective, the governments in Vietnam, Cambodia and now Malaysia (the countries we’ve been in) have done an excellent job in educating people about the disease. And even more importantly, what to do about preventing it.
There are advertisements, billboards and even messages in elevators everywhere we go educating people on how to prevent the spread of the virus. I’m sure if I understood any of these languages, I would report that there are PSAs on all the popular television and radio shows.
And while the default in Asian countries is to wear a mask, even the PSAs say that is not enough.
I will admit that Way bought some masks a few days after the panic subsided in Vietnam. They are mostly to use if we get sick, though, not to prevent us from getting sick.
To be honest, I feel pretty safe here.
The Malaysian government has mandated screening of people coming into the country and we were questioned at length about our Chinese visas. Don’t worry, it has been 18 months since we’ve been there.
The thing that makes me feel the safest, though, is access to medical care. Medical treatment is readily accessible to everyone and people aren’t faced with huge bills for seeking treatment.
Even more importantly, employment and pay protections are in place for those who have symptoms or are diagnosed which gives people peace of mind. This means people will go to the hospital early and that makes everyone safer.
Read this thread about the frustrations of one person trying to get tested in Seattle.
I live in Seattle, I have all symptoms of COVID-19 and have a history of chronic bronchitis.
Since I work in a physical therapy clinic with many 65+ patients and those with chronic illnesses, I decided to be responsible and go to get tested. This is how that went.
— sketchy lady (@into_the_brush) March 3, 2020
Coronavirus prevention tips
We have read the news, talked with healthcare officials, and tapped into the brains of some very smart researchers. It all boils down to doing what you do to prevent getting the flu.
Here is what we know to be effective coronavirus prevention measures (from the World Health Organization):
- Wash your hands often
- Maintain your distance from anyone who is coughing
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
- Cough into your elbow or a tissue
- Stay home if you have symptoms
- Seek medical care early
In KL, they have designated hospitals to test for and treat the coronavirus. Before leaving home, it is advised to make sure the hospital or clinic has the ability to test for the coronavirus. This is especially true in the US where testing kits are not available everywhere.
One of the best things I read on preparing for an outbreak was on twitter. It’s a multi-part thread, but you can start here:
"If the virus is everywhere, what's the point of preparedness?"
— Dr Emma Hodcroft (@firefoxx66) February 29, 2020
Our coronavirus travel tips
Now that the coronavirus is a thing, the scariest part for us (and for many) is that there is a lot of unknowns. How far will it spread? How severe will it get?
So, our plan is to follow the WHO’s guidelines for virus prevention. Additionally, there are a few other measures we are putting in place to help keep us healthy.
1. Avoid large crowds when possible
We have made a point over the last few weeks to take the path less traveled. And frankly, that suits us anyway. We will try to avoid the really touristy spots.
There a few spots that are pretty touristy (Batu Caves) that I want to see. We will just have to wait and see. And if we decide against it, we will just have to plan another trip to Malaysia.
Unfortunately for the local economies, (but fortunately for us ?) crowds are not as large because the region is suffering from a large decline in tourism.
2. Remain flexible
This one is easy for us because we are already flexible.
We are willing to change plans if a large outbreak is reported in an area. Airlines and hotels are being quite flexible in this regard which makes our decision-making much easier.
Additionally, what we see or do in a country may change based on the information we have.
3. Eat well and get plenty of sleep
The best prevention (besides washing your hands) is to keep your body healthy. We are prioritizing good, quality foods skewing heavily towards vegan.
We are also making sure we are getting good rest. To be honest, this is never an issue for us because we love our sleep!
4. Stop obsessing over the news
We plan to stay informed, but we will not obsess. Reading every headline and going down every rabbit hole serves no purpose other than to create needless anxiety.
5. And finally, we won’t panic
If we suspect we have the coronavirus, we will not panic. We self-quarantine and treat it like the flu until we know how to seek medical help.
By the way, everything we are doing to help us stay safe while traveling through SE Asia is decent advice for preventing the coronavirus and the flu for anyone anywhere.
If you know us, then you know we are NOT medical doctors. We don’t even play them on TV. So, please consult your doctor for advice about your specific situation.
If you have questions about our travel plans, our perspective on the coronavirus, or anything, for that matter, let’s carry on this conversation on our Facebook page.