Coronavirus outbreak spread sparks fears for American travelers

With spring and summer coming, some Americans are concerned about or reconsidering their travel plans as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.
A health worker sprays disinfectant inside a Vietnam Airlines plane in Hanoi on Feb. 21, 2020.
A health worker sprays disinfectant inside a Vietnam Airlines plane in Hanoi on Feb. 21, 2020.Kham / Reuters file

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/ Source: NBC News
By Daniella Silva and Daniel Arkin

Summer Mutz's dream of visiting Europe was finally arriving this weekend — a trip to Rome, Vienna and Paris with a friend. But with the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe and the number of cases in Italy surging, what once seemed like a wonderful milestone was now a source of fear and anxiety.

"I literally could not stop thinking about it all night," said Mutz, 23, of New Jersey.

Mutz said a recent case of bronchitis and the fact she has an autoimmune disease have left her worried about her health and wondering if the trip is worth the risk. She was also concerned about being in a situation where she’d potentially be quarantined and stuck in a country she did not know.

“It’s all I can think or talk about right now,” she said.

The coronavirus outbreak has spread from China to at least 40 countries around the world, affecting markets and disrupting travel with more than 81,000 cases worldwide and more than 2,700 deaths. A recent increase in cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea have heightened concerns about the ability to contain the virus' spread.

With spring and summer coming up, some Americans are concerned about or reconsidering their travel plans as the virus continues to spread.

“We’ve seen a record number of calls from customers who are concerned about their future trips and wondering about their options,” said Kasara Barto, public relations manager at Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison service.

Barto said fear of traveling or viral outbreaks were not covered as reasons for cancellation under standard travel insurance plans.

For travelers currently planning trips or for those who recently booked, a "cancel for any reason" policy upgrade could be a good option, Barto said. The policies allow travelers to cancel their plans for up to three days before the trip and receive a refund of up to 75 percent, but the insurance must be purchased within two to three weeks of making a first booking, Barto said.

They also come at a price and cost about 40 percent more than standard trip cancellation policies, she said.

Ronni Kenoian, manager of marketing at InsureMyTrip, said the company had seen a recent 60 percent increase in customers adding "cancel for any reason" coverage to their trips. They had also seen a 40 percent increase in calls, she said.

Kenoian said anyone who has already booked a trip but does not have insurance should call their travel agent or supplier, especially if they were scheduled to go to an area affected by the virus.

“A lot of travel suppliers are reimbursing or shifting schedules without any fees,” she said.