As global cases of coronavirus have hit 118,000 infected and 4,000 dead and the World Health Organisation declares the outbreak a pandemic, countries are beginning to shut their borders.
Italy in on a full-scale lock-down, preventing anyone from entering or leaving its borders in an attempt to quell the spread of the virus, while numbers of cases are rising rapidly in Europe and in the US.
Current cases of Coronavirus in Latin America
Latin America hasn’t escaped infection, although numbers remain significantly lower than in other parts of the world.
The following countries have so far reported cases*:
|Country||Confirmed Cases||New Cases (12.03.20 )||Confirmed Deaths|
Current travel restrictions in Latin America
In order to prevent further spread of the virus, many countries in Latin America have imposed travel restrictions on people flying from countries with high numbers of recorded cases.
As of 16.03.20, these stand as follows:
|Country||Travel restrictions?||Type of restriction||Source||Additional notes|
|Argentina||Yes||The government has closed the borders to all but Argentine residents for the next 15 days (starting from the 15th of March 2020).||Pagina12.com|
|Bolivia||Yes||All flights from Europe to Bolivia will be suspended from Saturday morning until 31st March. The government has requested that anyone arriving from “high-risk countries” should self-quarantine for 14 days||Ascoa.org|
|Brazil||No||LATAM has suspended flights between Milan and Sao Paolo|
|Chile||Yes||All borders closed from Wednesday 18th of March for a 14-day period to non-Chilean nationals.||Biobio.cl||National parks throughout the country, including Torres del Paine, have been closed as of today until further notice. There is rolling coverage of the situation in Chile here (Spanish)|
|Colombia||Yes||All borders closed from Monday 16th March 2020 for 14 days.||The tourism board is providing an overview of up-to-date information here.|
|Ecuador||Yes||All flights cancelled and all entrances by land or maritime borders prohibited from 23.59pm Sunday 15th March.||ElComercio.com|
|El Salvador||Yes||All non-El Salvadorian nationals are prohibited from entering the country||El Salvador Government|
|Guatemala||Yes||7-day quarantine for residents of Italy, France, Germany, Spain, China, South Korean and Iran||Guatemala Government|
|Guyana||Yes||The government is requesting people currently in China defer travel||Guyana government|
|Panama||Yes||Anyone who has been in China in the last 14 days must complete a form at immigration|
|Paraguay||Yes||All flights from Europe have been suspended for an indefinite period of time. Cannot enter the country if currently in China||Paraguyan Government|
|Peru||Yes||All borders closed from Saturday 15th of March 2020 for 14 days.||France24.com|
|Suriname||Yes||Entry ban on travellers who have been in China in the past 14 days||De Telegraaf|
|Uruguay||Yes||From Tuesday 17th of March 2020, border with Argentina closed. Quarantine for travellers arriving from China, South Korea, Japan,Singapore, Iran, Italy, France, Spain and Germany||Subrayado.com|
Americas Society Council of the Americas is updating coverage of coronavirus in Latin America and is an excellent source for up-to-date information.
Should you cancel your trip to Latin America in the next month or two?
There are various things to consider before you decide to travel.
Travel restrictions and quarantine
If you are planning on visiting a country in Latin America that has implemented travel restrictions on your country, then you will be required to face quarantine or self-imposed isolation and refusing to do so is being considered in many countries as a criminal offence.
There is also a high likelihood that more countries in Latin America will impose travel restrictions on visitors from countries such as the US and those in Europe, as the spread of the virus continues.
Therefore, it is essential that you monitor the situation; let’s face it, you don’t want to arrive into a country and find yourself facing 14 days of quarantine in your hotel room.
You also need to consider the impact of an enforced period of quarantine on your plans; what are the rules of the company you work for if you get quarantined and are therefore unable to return to work?
If this occurs, you may well miss your return flight and instead be forced to rebook at the last minute. While flight prices have dropped considerably since the beginnings of the outbreak, buying a long-haul ticket at short notice is never cheap.
Airlines have started releasing information about their cancellation policies for customers planning on travelling across the world.
Forbes has an incredible master list of all carriers here that is being updated daily.
Companies that operate in Latin America but haven’t been included in the list are:
|Carrier||Cancellation policy||Further information|
|LATAM||Customers making new bookings between March 6 and 22, 2020 for international flights up to December 31, 2020 will be able change date and/or destination without penalty. It is not clear what the policy is for flights booked before March 6.||Here|
|Avianca||Avianca offers the option to change the itinerary without penalty to those who have purchased tickets or redeemed them with miles between March 4 and 31, 2020 on routes to and from the United States, Canada and Europe or between March 11 and 31, 2020 on routes to and from other international routes operated by Avianca. It is not clear what the policy is for flights booked before March 4.||Here|
|COPA Airlines||They are only currently allowing changes to flights for passengers who have recently been in China, Italy, South Korean or Iran||Here|
Websites such as Booking.com and other aggregate sites generally have a fee-free booking period that is indicated when you are making your reservation. Booking.com also has released a statement indicating that coronavirus constitutes “Force Majeure/Forced Circumstances”.
This means that, for travellers who are unable to travel to areas currently worst affected by coronavirus or who are trying to visit a country where a travel ban again their departing country has been implemented, they are requesting that hotels refund any pre-payment.
In practice, this should mean that if you are prevented from travelling to Latin America because a travel ban has been implemented against your country, you should receive a refund.
They indicate that due to the number of enquiries, this could take some time for guests to receive their refund.
Airbnb has refund policies in place, but these are generally determined by the host’s own rules (which you are provided with at booking). You can find a full list of cancellation policies here.
At present, the platform is implementing a policy that rewards hosts that provide refunds to guests beyond the obligatory 48-hour refund window – although hosts are under no obligation to provide refunds. You can read their Extenuating Circumstances policy here.
Are you covered by travel insurance for cancellations related to coronavirus?
Unfortunately, this entirely depends on the type of policy that you have taken out for your trip.
As many websites are reporting, few travel insurance policies are offering coverage in the event of cancelling trips because of coronavirus, so it is essential that you consult the small-print in your policy to see whether pandemics are included in coverage.
Some companies such as Alliance are providing some support to customers who have had to cancel trips to areas highly affected by coronavirus, but this doesn’t look like it’ll help those cancelling because of travel restrictions.
This article from the New York Times also has some helpful information about travel insurance and other key queries related to the coronavirus and its impact on travel.
If you’re from the UK, Money Saving Expert has the most up-to-date information about travel insurance policies.
But should you be travelling at all?
This is the hardest question to answer. I’m not a medical expert, but there’s enough information on the internet about how governments are trying to “flatten the curve” to prevent the spread of the virus and allow healthcare systems to deal with the unprecedented pressure on their resources.
I’m personally staying put in Medellin, Colombia. I’d planned to be here for the next two months anyway, but, if I need to stay longer, I will. Returning to the UK or travelling anywhere else at the moment doesn’t personally seem like a sensible strategy.
But I get it; if you’ve booked a trip that has been in planning for an entire year, it’s not as easy to decide that you just won’t go.
So, if you’re torn, you need to consider the following:
What are the current travel restrictions to and from the country you plan to visit?
a) the possibility that you’ll be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days?
b) the possibility you won’t be allowed to return to your country of origin?
c) you’ll be transferring through a country that is currently considered as high-risk (e.g. Spain) and this will mean you will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival?
Have you consulted the latest WHO medical guidelines about travel?
They currently say that evidence shows that “restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations”, however, “in certain circumstances, measures that restrict the movement of people may prove temporarily useful, such as in settings with few international connections and limited response capacities.”
They also go on to say that “travel measures that significantly interfere with international traffic may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries to gain time, even if only a few days, to rapidly implement effective preparedness measures,” which feels appropriate to the situation in Latin America, where the virus is only just arriving.
Are you elderly or with serious chronic health problems?
This unfortunately puts you at significant risk of suffering complications with the virus. The WHO is currently recommending that travellers in this category delay or avoid travel to affected areas. However, at present, Latin America doesn’t have many cases of coronavirus.
Are you travelling to visit or will come in contact with elderly people or those with serious chronic health problems?
If you are travelling from an area with a high number of coronavirus cases, you should consider the impact of the possible transmission of the virus from you to someone who is elderly or with serious chronic health problems. This is perhaps the greatest issue with travelling at the moment.
Does your travel insurance cover you for coronavirus testing or medical care associated with the virus?
I just double-checked my policy with True Traveller and it covers me for any medical expenses related to coronavirus. However, it’s not a given that this is the case. If your policy doesn’t and you catch the virus while travelling, you can expect very medical bills that can become very expensive very quickly.
Should you cancel a future trip to Latin America?
Information and travel restrictions are changing fast, so there is no predicting what the situation will be like in a few months from now.
Given that many airlines are offering the chance for customers to re-schedule tickets booked within certain time frames (refer to the information above or check with your issuing carrier’s own guidelines for concrete information about this), it is highly likely that you can rearrange your flights without cost for a date in the future.
If I had a trip booked six months from now, I would revise the cancellation policies on my flights and hotels, not cancel anything but instead wait and see how the situation develops.