Due to ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, ITN is publishing its first online-only issue

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the May 2020 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

It is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that I welcome you to this, the 531st issue of International Travel News, and, boy, have things changed since a month ago!

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which was identified in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, in December, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. As of press time, the virus had spread to 212 countries and territories.

President Trump, after restricting travel by Americans to and from various countries, banned nonessential travel to the US by non-US citizens and residents traveling from various other countries, including Canada and Mexico plus all of Europe. Many countries simply banned foreigners from entering or restricted entry to only those coming from countries with no reported cases of the disease. 

On March 19, the US Department of State advised against all international travel, telling Americans abroad to return immediately or prepare to stay overseas indefinitely.

Travelers returning to the US were screened for signs of COVID-19. Even those not showing symptoms were asked to self-quarantine for at least 14 days, as it can take that long for symptoms to appear, and even asymptomatic people can spread the virus.

In fact, many municipalities, regions and countries have imposed “shelter in place” directives, telling people to leave their homes only for essential purposes. In some places, curfews are being enforced. 

The purpose of these restrictions in each locality is to prevent a spike in the number of cases of COVID-19, which would overwhelm medical facilities. By keeping everyone from getting sick at the same time, lives can be saved. At press time, all Americans had been asked to shelter in place until at least the end of April. 

With these directives causing travel to come to a virtual standstill, airlines worldwide are operating skeletal flight schedules, cruise lines have canceled all impending cruises, and tour operators have canceled or pushed back scheduled tours.

ITN subscriber Ron Merlo of Glendale, California, wrote that he and his wife were scheduled to take Viking’s “Elegant Elbe” cruise in Central Europe, April 7-12. On March 11, Viking emailed to let him know they had decided to temporarily suspend operations of their river and ocean vessels embarking from March 12 to April 30, 2020.

Ron wrote, “Fortunately, Viking issued us Future Cruise Vouchers of 125% of all monies previously paid to Viking, or we can take a refund equal to the amount paid. Further, if the voucher cannot be used in 24 months, a full refund equal to the original amount will be paid.

“We decided on the 125% voucher. We’ll need to purchase travel insurance again, but if we select the same cruise as before, the voucher can be used for upgrades in cabin size and airplane seating class.”

He added, “It might be of interest to ITN readers to hear what fellow travelers with canceled reservations were offered by the tour companies, cruise lines and airlines that they were scheduled to travel with.”

If you are an ITN subscriber whose scheduled tour, cruise or flight was postponed or canceled, tell us how the company handled things, what their terms were and what the results were. If possible, forward any pertinent emails. 

Email editor@intltravelnews.com, putting “COVID-19 Cancellations” in the subject line. Include your mailing or billing address. Letters will be shared in a future issue.

The pandemic has created some unique situations. For one thing, you’re reading the first online-only issue of ITN; it is not being mailed out this month. This magazine’s income, including funds to print and mail, is heavily dependent on advertising, and most of our advertisers have temporarily ceased promoting travel, so it is through the generosity of ITN’s publisher, Helen Noble, that our staff is continuing to produce this publication.

Like so many others, we are waiting for the height of the crisis to pass and for mass testing to pinpoint cases — or for a vaccine to be developed — so that people can feel comfortable congregating again and returning to work… and play. 

In 2002 and 2003, 27 countries were struck by an epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, also caused by a coronavirus. It was contained using public health measures — having people wear surgical masks and wash their hands well and isolating anyone who was infected.

In 2009 and 2010, there was a pandemic of H1N1 “swine flu.” Today, a vaccine for H1N1 is included in the flu vaccine widely distributed each year.

Authorities are hopeful that a vaccine against COVID-19 will be available for mass distribution in 1½ to two years, after testing for effectiveness and side effects is completed.

Meanwhile, you take your bright spots where you can get them. On March 24, China ended a 2-month lockdown in Hubei province, and on April 8 it eased restrictions on the lockdown that started in late December in the city of Wuhan.

While it might be difficult to sit still now, in time, prudent public transportation policies will be put into place, smart health practices will become second nature, and we will again feel free to mingle, meet new people and enjoy the journey.

While we’re waiting, we can read about travel, and dream, and plan. Enjoy this issue of ITN, and stay healthy!