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Situation Updates

The latest updates on developing situations around the world and the actions we are taking to help travellers.

COVID-19 – Business updates

Posted: 20 Mar 20 - 10:58 am

Last updated:17 Mar 20 - 09:00 am

Update: 17 Mar 20 - 09:00 am

As ever the situation remains fast-moving and thank you all for patience and positivity. Below are some recent FAQs that have arisen that will be helpful for you.
Our previous blogs on COVD-19 can be found here.

  • For the last week, we have advising and assisting those clients currently travelling come home. Why?

The situation is very fast-moving and whilst there may be no travel restrictions on where you are travelling, the likelihood is that there will be. If you come home now we are able to help you and manage the situation. In a few days’ time, we are uncertain that we will be able to give you that assurance and control might be out of our hands

  • For the last week we have been advising all clients due to travel before the end of May to postpone. Why?

The situation is very fast-moving and whilst there may be no travel restrictions on where you are travelling, the likelihood is that there will be. If you postpone your holiday we are able to help keep costs to a minimum and plan your trip for a time when you can travel without anxiety.

Today (March 17th) Dominic Raab told the House of Commons that British nationals should avoid all non-essential foreign travel to tackle the spread of coronavirus, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised.

  • What if I don’t want to postpone but wish to cancel my holiday?

While we will endeavour to keep cancellation fees to a minimum, it is very likely you will incur costs as a result of cancelling outright. In this situation we would recommend you contact your travel insurance provider to recoup any losses you incur.

  • But Package Travel Regulations state I am entitled to a full refund if the FCO advise against non-essential travel?

We are aware of the legislation set out in the European Travel Regulations 2018 and our responsibilities. We are led to believe that there is a very high chance that these legislations and our responsibilities being downgraded, changed or removed altogether in the coming days in light of the unprecedented level of turmoil being experienced throughout the industry. This has already happened in some other European countries.

We would, therefore, ask you to postpone your holiday and would expect very little in the way of any charges for you to do so beyond any peak season hotel surcharges or similar. Your payment would continue to be protected by ATOL.

If there is anything above that you are unsure of or would like to talk about any travel plans that you might have, please do not hesitate to call me or my team – that is what we are here for, to help you in these uncertain times 01285 601 586.

I thank you for your patience and continued support during these challenging times. We have been humbled by the notes of concern, the generosity and the flexibility shown to us.

Useful weblinks

WHO (World Health Organisation) COVID-19 advice               

Foreign Commonwealth Office up-to-date advice

Updated WHO recommendations for international traffic in relation to COVID-19 outbreak

Up to date cases by country, including recovery numbers

Update: 11 Mar 20 - 00:00 am

Coronavirus has spawned many armchair experts and the country has become divided between those who say “it’s just flu” and those who feel they need to stockpile a years’ supply of loo roll. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. Let me/Steppes Travel, try and supply some.

I must add, if there is anything below that you are unsure of or any travel plans that you might have, please do not hesitate to call me or my team – that is what we are here for, to help you in these uncertain times 01285 601 586.

For me, I emerge from this gauntlet of considerations with a positive result and will be travelling with my family to South East Asia, later this month. All things being equal.

It is down to us all to make individual risk assessments, taking into consideration not only our own health but also the health of those people with whom we may come into contact. For me and my family, COVID-19 may be a minor inconvenience even if we become infected. However, I am well aware this may not be the case for people more vulnerable, with whom we may come into contact.

It is worth noting the longer-term economic implications of not travelling and that WHO continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. The key is to take all the necessary precautions and following the guidance of the WHO, which we will be doing.

Below are some questions answered but please also refer to our previous posts: How is coronavirus affecting travel.

How does the virus spread?

It’s not yet known exactly how coronavirus spreads, but similar viruses are caught from either breathing in droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes, or touching surfaces with them on.

It is thought that coronavirus probably doesn’t hang around in the air in the same way as flu does, so, people need to be in closer contact with each other to catch it. The NHS guidance on coronavirus defines ‘close contact’ as being within two metres of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

Am I likely to catch Coronavirus on an airplane?

As reported on the BBC yesterday:

It is a common belief that you are more likely to become ill on an aeroplane because you’re breathing stale air.
In fact, the air on a plane may well be better quality than in the average office (and almost certainly better than a train or a bus).


There are more people per square foot on a busy plane, which can increase the risk, but the air is also being changed at a faster rate.


Professor Quingyan Chen at Purdue University, who studies air quality in different passenger vehicles, estimates that the air on a plane is completely replaced every 2-3 minutes, compared with every 10-12 minutes in an air-conditioned building.


That’s because while you are on a plane, the air you breathe is being cleaned by something called a high-efficiency particulate air filter (Hepa). This system can capture smaller particles than ordinary air-conditioning systems, including viruses.


The filter sucks in fresh air from outside and mixes it with the air already in the cabin, meaning that at any one time half the air is fresh and half is not. Many ordinary air-conditioning systems merely re-circulate the same air to save energy.

How do I know if I have Coronavirus?

I am no medical expert but the best advice I have seen/read is the below infographic from the World Health Organisation:

WHO coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms chart
WHO coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms chart

What precautions should I take?

As per World Health Organisation advice, washing your hands regularly is one of the most significant preventive measures published for risk areas.

Will I be screened for COVID-19 while travelling?

Most probably, yes and hence you should allow for extra time at entry and exit ports. Not only does it take time but it also can be a little unnerving.

I’m nervous about coronavirus to go on the holiday I’ve booked — what are my rights?

Having booked through us, Steppes Travel, a tour operator, to any destination not covered by a Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel restriction and you don’t want to go, then normal conditions apply. That means you’ll be expected to pay an “appropriate and justifiable termination fee”, according to the package travel regulations. That fee tends to range from loss of deposit to 100 per cent of the holiday cost if you cancel within 14 days of departure.

What happens if I fall ill on holiday with Steppes Travel?

Immediately stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. You should also call your health provider and/or insurance company. If you are suspected of infection at an official health check, expect to be taken to hospital. And, of course, contact both us and our agents in situ.

If I’m quarantined, will Steppes Travel bring me home afterwards?

To be brutally honest, we are not obliged to but of course, we will do all that we can to ensure that you are well looked after and extricate you from such a situation as soon as possible. We will exert all the influence we can to do so.

Will I have to self-isolate when I get home?

For some, the joy of going away would be cancelled out by the considerable inconvenience of having to enter a state of self-isolation for 14 days as soon as you get back. The truth is, however, unless you have symptoms, you will only need to self-isolate if you have visited one of the aforementioned northern Italian towns, the two South Korean cities, Hubei Province in China, or Iran.

Otherwise, Public Health England advice is to self-isolate if you develop symptoms after visiting Mainland China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (if you travelled in the last 14 days). For everywhere else in the world, there is currently no advice to self-isolate after a holiday.

What are the risks if I do catch coronavirus?

One of the biggest considerations is a personal one – what it would mean if you were unlucky enough to catch coronavirus, or to start to suffer symptoms, while abroad. In particular, you will want to check your risk profile. According to the World Health Organization, those with pre-existing heart conditions, respiratory problems or hypertension are at a higher risk from coronavirus.

Age is also a big consideration. If you are aged 10–40 years old, the mortality rate is 0.2%. Above the age of 80, 14.8 % of people who contract coronavirus have died – though these risks may be lower in countries where medical care is more advanced.

Will I even have a good time, with all this worry?

Half of the fun of travel is the anticipation – looking forward to the event. The last thing that we want is that appreciation to turn into apprehension. We are here to give you assurance and advice. Call us if you have any anxieties.

On a positive note, we continue to hear from clients that are either just returned or still travelling that are having a wonderful time.

I have already made a booking with Steppes Travel but haven’t yet bought any insurance yet?

Our advice is to buy that policy as soon as possible. We are more than happy to recommend insurers.

Once again, if you have any travel concerns please do get in touch with my team on 01285 601 586.

Click to read the World Health Organization’s Q&A on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Update: 10 Mar 20 - 09:00 am

Misleading information about the global spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to flourish on the internet.

The Australian TV outlet 7News used a map predicting the spread of coronavirus in a discussion and posted a social-media video featuring the map that was viewed millions of times. The map was picked up by The Sun who ran a headline “Horrifying new map shows no country is safe from coronavirus’ deadly tentacles.” 7News then took the map down realising that it was incorrect. Damage done.

The missives issued by some UK private schools have been no better.

The issue is twofold: perspective and uncertainty. The FT Weekend reported last weekend that “When the US suffered a particularly bad flu outbreak in 2017-18, with an estimated 45m cases and 61,000 deaths, no one suggested banning travel.” How bad is coronavirus? To date, there have been 4,031 reported deaths. Based on data from the 81,000 reported cases of coronavirus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says 81% develop mild symptoms, 14% develop severe symptoms and 5% become critically ill.

Although many think it likely that the virus will soon be declared a pandemic, the WHO have not gone as far only stating that the virus “absolutely” has pandemic potential. Sounds scary but a pandemic is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time – it refers to geographic spread as opposed to severity. Again, uncertainty.

In such uncertainty, we have to focus on what we do know and what affects policies and insurance. We, other tour operators and airlines – the travel industry – are bound by the FCO travel advice. This is what we follow. If the FCO advice warns against travel to a destination or specific region then as per the Travel Package Regulations and our booking conditions, we are obliged to give you, our clients, either an alternative or a refund.

If you have upcoming travel plans with us, please give us a call if there is anything you are unsure or uncertain about. Whilst service remains key and we will do all we can to help you, until FCO advice changes re. a specific destination(s), should you wish to cancel we might not be able to retrieve all your monies. Read more here.

If you have travel plans and have not yet booked your travel insurance, I would advise you to do so. If you cannot travel due to health reasons then that is a matter for your travel insurance. For more information, click here.

During previous outbreaks due to other coronaviruses (Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), human-to-human transmission occurred through droplets, contact and fomites, suggesting that the transmission mode of the COVID-19 can be similar. The key principles for reducing the general risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections are frequent hand-washing with soap or gel, avoiding close contact with people who are ill and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

The situation is quick moving.

FAQs about coronavirus (COVID-19):

How is travel affected on the ground?

In most airports and seaports around the world, temperature controls have been established as a preventative screening measure. Other than that, our clients are reporting little disruption to their travels.

Tourist numbers appear down 60 to 70% in Vietnam and here, primarily the absense of Chinese and Koreans. Our flights were more like a private jet with only 7 in Qatar Business, and only 30 total on the flight from Da Nang. Good for us as long as COVID-19 remains well under control in Asia outside China, Japan, and Korea. In fact, we’re probably safer here than in Europe!

Steppes Client recently travelled to Vietnam.

Read more about their travel experience here.

Is coronavirus less prevalent in warmer climes?

Some tourists boards are claiming that you are ‘safer’ in their warmer climes quoting that “scientific evidence indicates that the new COVID-19 cannot survive temperatures above 22-25°C, so it is very unlikely that the virus could spread in this area.”

Whilst many experts have argued that it is not unreasonable to make this assumption and predict a slowdown of cases with warmer weather, there are some experts that are sounding a more cautionary note in that as we have not been through a single year with this pathogen, it is premature to assume that.

As per World Health Organisation advice, washing your hands regularly is one of the most significant preventive measures published for risk areas.

Given COVID-19 is it still safe to travel?

We follow the advice of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) with regards to COVID-19 and would urge you to do the same. As things currently stand there are travel advisories as a consequence of COVID-19 against certain destinations (or certain regions within some destinations) such as China, South Korea and Italy but the main advice for now is to continue with your plans as normal but with certain sensible precautions.

The vast majority of our clients continue to travel as normal – we heard today from clients in South East Asia who are thoroughly enjoying their travels. It is about maintaining a sense of perspective.

What sensible precautions can I take to protect myself and others from COVID-19?

It’s worth mentioningthat most of the advice below is applicable also for those not travelling and is just considered good hygiene practice even back home.

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and (ideally hot) running water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue to hand, then sneeze into the crease of your elbow.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Carry hand sanitiser with you at all times and use frequently.
  • The use of facemasks is generally not recommended outside clinical settings. Should you decide to use a mask, you should ensure you continue to use all the above recommended precautions in order to minimise the risk of transmission.

Will I be screened for COVID-19 while travelling?

Most probably, yes and hence you should allow for extra time at entry and exit ports. Not only does it take time but it also can be a little unnerving.

What should I do if I start to feel unwell whilst on holiday and think I may have COVID-19?

  • As with any illness, if you start to manifest any symptoms, please let your local guide know as soon as possible.
  • You can also contact the Steppes Travel 24/7 on our emergency numbers, details of which will be given to you with your final pre-departure documentation.
  • You should also contact your travel insurance provider so please be sure to keep these details with you.

What happens if the FCO advise against all but essential travel to the country or area to which we are travelling because of COVID-19?

If the FCO advice warns against travel to a destination or specific region then as per the Travel Package Regulations and our booking conditions, we are obliged to give you, our clients, either an alternative or a refund.

What if the FCO doesn’t advise against all but essential travel to our chosen destination but that destination announces that they will not accept travellers from my country of residence or a country to which I have recently visited?

The obligation in theory rests with you and this would be one for your travel insurance. However, call us and we will, of course, do what we can to help.

What if the FCO doesn’t advise against all but essential travel to our chosen destination as a consequence of COVID-19, but we nevertheless want to cancel our holiday?

We are happy to review the options for you but please note that you may have to pay cancellation charges as per our terms and conditions as we are in turn bound by our terms and conditions with our partners abroad.

What if we want to transfer our holiday to a later date?

We are happy to look at transferring your holiday to a later date and we will do our best to keep the costs to a minimum, including waiving our usual admin fee. However, please bear in mind that the closer to departure the more likely that we will incur costs transferring your trip.

What if we want to delay paying our final balance?

The short answer is that you should pay your final balance on the due date. However please call us to discuss any concerns that you might have.

Non-UK travellers: What happens if my government advises against travel but the FCO advice has not changed?

As a UK based company, we follow the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice. It is rare that another country’s travel advice is more stringent than the FCO advice but if so please contact us.

What happens if I get quarantined in the country of travel?

The decisions around quarantining are made by the public health authorities of each country. If a quarantine was to be enforced in the country, we and you would be bound by these restrictions but we would do all we could to assist you and work to expedite your return.

What happens if my town gets quarantined and I can’t make it to the airport?

Call us and we will do what we can. Legally speaking, our commitment to you begins at the point of travel and if you were not able to make it to the airport, you would need to contact your travel insurance provider.

What happens if I am told that I won’t be able to return to work or my kids won’t be able to return to school if we continue with our trip plans?

As with the above question, please talk us at the first available instance so we can discuss options. However, this may also be a matter for travel insurance.

This post was last updated on 10th March 2020.

First Post: 20 Mar 20 - 10:58 am

The latest COVID-19 updates.

Why Choose Steppes?

Our knowledge and expertise sets us apart. So too our curiosity. A curiosity of the world and of you, and your passions. It is this that drives us to create a journey that is really bespoke to you, all the while ensuring we travel and operate sustainably.

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