How Marriott's New Cleaning Protocols Will Make Future Guests Feel at Ease

When travel restrictions brought on by the coronavirus eventually do lift, Marriott’s new cleanliness initiative will help guests feel comfortable as soon as they arrive for a much-needed trip.

a man holding a box: Meet the Global Cleanliness Council.

Helmed by a variety of experts, the hotel company’s newly announced “Global Cleanliness Council” will aim to uphold new cleaning protocols at each of their locations. In addition to Marriott’s senior leaders from roles like housekeeping and food safety, the council will include food safety scientists, infectious disease specialists and professors of food microbiology, according to a press release shared on Tuesday. 

“We want our guests to understand what we are doing today and planning for in the near future in the areas of cleanliness, hygiene and social distancing so that when they walk through the doors of one of our hotels, they know our commitment to their health and safety is our priority,” President and CEO of Marriott International, Arne Sorenson, said. “It’s equally important to us that our associates know the changes we are making to help safeguard their health as they serve our guests.”

As part of the initiative, Marriott will also roll out new technology, including electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant, to clean rooms and public spaces. Ultraviolet light technology will also be used to sanitize keys and devices shared by guests and associates.

Upon check-in guests will notice a difference as the company is especially increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting routines around high-touch areas around the hotel.

Partitions at the front desk will help to maintain a safe distance between people and hand-sanitizing stations will be increased throughout hotels. Guests will also be able to check into and unlock their rooms with their phones, eliminating the need touching or exchanging keys. The furniture in public areas will also be strategically rearranged to ensure social-distancing measures between guests.

Earlier this month, Marriott launched a program to provide free hotel rooms to first responders and medical workers in the U.S. cities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

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How to claim money back on a trip cut short due to coronavirus

How to claim money back on a trip cut short due to coronavirus and advice on a future walking holiday in the Alps: The Holiday Guru solves traveller queries

  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

The Holiday Guru is always on call to answer your questions.

This week a reader asks for help with claiming a refund after they had to abandon their tour around Asia, while another seeks tips on how to plan a challenging hike in the Alps for when we can travel again…  

Q. We flew back after five days of a 16-day holiday in Malaysia, Singapore and Borneo due to coronavirus, paying for our own new flights as the rep said we would receive a full refund from our travel company, Mercury Direct. Nothing has come. Can you help?

Doreen and Wayne Holland, via email.

A reader asks for help with claiming a refund after they had to abandon their tour around Malaysia, Singapore (pictured) and Borneo

A. Mercury ( has apologised for this ‘error’ and will refund you for the flights and the unused part of the holiday. A spokesman said: ‘We apologise unreservedly for any stress this has caused.

‘Our first and only priority has been to repatriate all of our clients safely back to the UK, without anyone losing out financially.’

Q. I am dreaming of going on a long challenging walk in the Alps to rid myself of ‘cabin fever’ when all the current restrictions are over. Any recommendations?

Joan Edwards, via email.

The Holiday Guru recommends a two-week hike from Eiger (pictured) to the the Matterhorn in Switzerland

A. Inntravel offers a selection of walks including a rigorous two-week hike from the Eiger to the Matterhorn in Switzerland — from £2,495 pp including hotels, half-board meals and luggage transportation, but excluding flights (


Holiday Guru is here for you. Send questions to [email protected] or write to Daily Mail Travel, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT — and include your contact details.

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How Travel Agents Are Coping With COVID-19, Preparing for Recovery

In anticipation of the economic recovery that’s bound to follow once the COVID-19 health crisis abates, Development Counsellors International (DCI)—a leading travel and economic development marketing firm—looked to travel advisors to discover the ways in which they’re coping, and how marketing organizations might best help agents to prepare and position themselves well for the industry’s rebound.

A group of 457 travel advisors, 73 percent of whom hailed from the United States and 27 percent from Canada, participated in a March 2020 survey to provide some insight into the challenges agents currently face, and what their present needs and future expectations might be.

Current Climate

Amid the onslaught of travel notices and restrictions, border closures, and transportation shutdowns that have occurred over the past several weeks, travel advisors been kept busy—perhaps even more so than usual.

79 percent of advisors reported that they now spend the majority of their working hours rescheduling client bookings, and 71 percent of advisors reported spending much of their time providing their clients with reassurance, relevant up-to-date information, and clarification on new restrictions or policies.

A staggering 90 percent of respondents reported seeing cancellations of existing bookings and 82 percent have seen a decline in future 2020 bookings. While some share of clients may cancel entirely, 64 percent of advisors have also seen clients looking to postpone and reschedule their travel plans.

53 percent of those surveyed said they’ve seen a decline in interest in 2021 trips, though it’s impossible at the moment to make accurate predictions about such far-reaching effects of the coronavirus on travel.

Despite the pervasive air of uncertainty affecting everyone at present, North American travel advisors’ outlook for the near future seems optimistic, as evidenced by their reported anticipation of returning to business mostly-as-usual within the next few months.

Maintaining Momentum

Although at present they’re largely focused on mitigating fallout from the coronavirus epidemic, travel advisors are also apparently readying themselves for the time when travel resumes its normal pace.

The research showed that agents are demonstrating a marked interest in pursuing professional development opportunities, such as specialist courses and webinars. 38 percent reported that they’re actively engaging in these types of continuing education during the slowdown.

Since trade shows and FAM trips are all on hold, advisors are finding their own ways of staying updated on the products and destinations they sell; which is why DCI suggests that DMOs and operators ought to keep their websites and online marketing materials continuously refreshed, so that agents can be set to start selling once travel resumes.

Future Forecast

The data clearly shows that the majority of travel advisors are eager to get back to business as usual and attend events, at least in their home markets. Nearly one-third of respondents said they anticipate participating in destination sales events within their home markets as early as May 2020, with that number jumping to almost 60 percent who expect that it will happen by June.

In terms of taking a FAM trip, advisors seemed slightly more hesitant. For domestic trips, 26 percent of advisors mostly said they’d be willing to take a FAM trip within the U.S. by June, 18 percent by May. It will take a bit longer for them to reestablish enough confidence to volunteer for international FAMs, with a majority of respondents indicating that September is the earliest they’d consider traveling outside the U.S. Yet, more than 30 percent still said they would contemplate doing so by May or June.

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ASTA Webinar: How Your Business Can Apply for CARES Act Financial Assistance

Travel agents who could currently use a helping hand will want to log on to the American Society of Travel Advisors’ (ASTA) upcoming webinar on Friday, March 27, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. ET to learn all about the new forms of financial and regulatory relief being made available to businesses through Congress’ new ‘Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security’ (CARES) Act.

Through an unprecedented grassroots and lobbying effort, ASTA has been petitioning Congress, and successfully impacted the size and scope of the relief options afforded by the new bill.

In this exclusive webinar, experts who helped shape this legislation will present detailed information on the bill’s provisions and offer insight to help agents understand what options are available to them in terms of government-issued financial assistance, which options best suit their business and how they can begin the process of application.

Due to anticipated high traffic volumes, if viewers are unable to access the live presentation, please note that all registrants will also receive an emailed link to the recorded version immediately following the webinar, which will also be posted on the ASTA website’s Video Resources Library. Travel advisors are invited to register here.

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6 Flight Attendants On How Their Jobs Have Changed Since Coronavirus

a group of people standing in a room

United has reduced its flights in April and May by 90 percent. Delta has cut 80 percent of international flights, and 70 percent of its network overall. As for the third of the Big Three, American—which was already on wobblier financial ground than its rivals—has removed 75 percent of international flights from its network though early May. And on Sunday JetBlue joined them in drastically slashing services, telling employees that it will only operate essential flights, which includes less than half its usual network this week.

Of course, the employees providing service to fliers on those essential flights are the flight attendants. “It’s been tough, on a personal [and] psychological level,” says Mathew, 40, a New York-based flight attendant who’s been with one of the major airlines for 12 years. “Folks keep asking ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling?’ They mean well, but it’s traumatizing.” It’s a reminder, he says, of the challenges he currently faces simply by turning up for work.

Paul Bowles, 24, has been flying for just two years, and is based out of Minneapolis. “It’s depressing. I worked a trip last weekend, and my friend was trying to fight back tears as we did the beverage service on an almost empty flight,” he says. “I am keeping my bags in the garage when I get home, and washing my uniform after the trip.”

Another New York-based flight attendant, who is in her late 30s and asked to be referred to as LJ, also works for a major carrier continuing to fly; under current guidelines, if she does not work as rostered, her income will be impacted. “I feel like a walking Petri dish. We are exposed to so much and we live all over the country, so we are carting back whatever we have been exposed to back to our homes,” she says. “I would rather be home and self-quarantined for everyone’s safety.” Onboard, she’s resorted to ad hoc remedies which she hopes will ward off sickness: lining her nose with Vick’s vaporub and taking Airborne regularly. “Hand sanitizer is the daily norm for me, all day every day, so my hands look like the crypt keeper.”


While the largest union representing flight attendants, AFA-CWA, issued a press release earlier this month outlining its demands to protect cabin crew in flight, it did not call for mandatory self-isolation. For Dana, a three-decade veteran of the skies based out of LAX, the issue is broader than perceived cleanliness of aircraft right now. “Many flight attendants don’t understand how they can be allowed to work on planes with more than 50 people when cities, states, and nations are calling for ‘social distancing’ and to avoid large groups,” she says, noting that on international routes, many countries now require self-quarantine for travelers on arrival. Flight crews, however, are usually exempt.

Airlines official policies on how to implement social distancing at 30,000 feet differ. According to a United spokesperson, the airline now follows the directives of CDC when seating fliers. “We would like to give customers the opportunity to do so when flight loads permit. Therefore when possible, United is trying to seat customers in such a way that there is an acceptable distance between them, in accordance with CDC recommendations, unless they are traveling together. We believe this will help to lessen traveler anxiety.” A Delta spokesperson says that the airline has updated its operational weight and balance policy so that customers can distance themselves on board, and gate agents will also be primed to help with seat reallocation.

There have been other changes made, too. Onboard service standards have adjusted to address the health of both staff and travelers: no more glassware or hot towel service in many premium cabins, and no self-serve snack stations. The rules against wearing plastic gloves while conducting food service have been relaxed, and cleaning of the aircraft intensified: Delta, for example, published details on its various social channels showing how it is fogging interiors. (The process essentially coats every surface with an EPA-approved disinfectant, which can be then cleaned before customers board.) The airline has also co-opted its own museum into a reservation center so that reps can continue handling the enormous volumes of calls from passengers while maintaining social distance for their safety.

GALLERY: The world’s most beautiful libraries

Slide 1 of 23: While we all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this is one case in which evaluating something based on its appearance is not only accepted, but encouraged. From Seattle to Tokyo, these beautiful libraries are known for noteworthy exteriors—think soaring architecture and bountiful gardens—and interiors featuring designs like frescoed ceilings or walls made entirely of glass. And that's nothing compared to the millions of books housed within their walls. So whether you're a bookworm or an architecture lover, start adding these 22 libraries to your must-visit list. This article was originally published in September 2014 and has been updated.
Slide 2 of 23: Easily one of the most beautiful libraries in the U.S., the George Peabody Library (part of Johns Hopkins University) contains over 300,000 volumes stacked in five decorative tiers. The books are impressive, sure, but the cathedral like-atrium, marble floors, and wrought-iron details are the main draw here. Is it any wonder the library has become one of the most popular wedding venues in Baltimore?
Slide 3 of 23: Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the Seattle Public Library's central branch building juts out of the downtown skyline. The glass-and-steel edifice stands 11 stories tall, and due to its location on a hill you can enter and exit on different floors. The inside pops thanks to a vivid green color used as a decorative touch on walls and in the elevator—fitting, since Seattle’s nickname is “the Emerald City.” Head to the 10th-floor reading room to take in views of the city, including Elliott Bay.
Slide 4 of 23: If the Vancouver Central Public Library looks familiar to you, that’s because it was modeled after another famous building: Rome’s iconic Colosseum. The nine-floor library complex takes up an entire city block, and includes office space, coffee shops, and retail on the ground floor. One of its most striking features is a rooftop garden designed by Safdie Architects.

Slide 5 of 23: Not only is this Spanish library a work of art, it’s also part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally commissioned by King Philip II in the 16th century, the library’s most dazzling feature is a series of seven frescoes that depict the liberal arts (music, rhetoric, astronomy, and so on). The town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, which is about 45 minutes outside of Madrid, has long been a favorite of Spanish royals, and there’s plenty more to see here beyond the library, including a monastery, gardens, and the pantheons of former princes and kings.
Slide 6 of 23: Completed in 2007, Tokyo's Tama Art University Library may be modern in design—think concrete arches, glass walls, minimalist furniture, and tidy rows of computers—but it still manages to have a classic, almost ancient feel. Perhaps the 100,000 books add a touch of archaism, or perhaps it's because the sleek structure sort of resembles a vaulted wine cellar. Either way, this complex structure certainly belongs on every architecture lover's bucket list.
Slide 7 of 23: This particular temple to books was originally built in 1648, but was renovated to its current state in 1999. It's colloquially known as the “black diamond” thanks to the shiny black metal segments on either side of the clear glass middle section. Inside, you'll find a veritable treasure trove of European works with a special focus on Denmark (of course), with all of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s original manuscripts and the original copy of the first-known Danish book. The building is also home to the national photography museum, a café, a performance hall, and a large abstract fresco by renowned Danish artist Per Kirkeby on the inside of the ceiling.
Slide 8 of 23: The Strahov monastery in Prague was originally founded in 1143. Despite wars, fires, and other disasters, the order endured and built its library in 1679. The library's best-known features are its remarkable ceiling, which is covered in Biblical frescoes, and the "compilation wheel" that turns to rotate shelves in order to make books easier to find without knocking any of them over.
Slide 9 of 23: Yes, this is a library, but really, it's more like a palace devoted to books. Its limestone exterior was inspired by the famous Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, where it was built before being shipped to Rio de Janeiro. And the interior is just as stunning: There’s a red, white, and blue stained glass window letting natural light in through the ceiling, while a silver, marble, and ivory altar welcomes visitors into the building.

Slide 10 of 23: If China's Tianjin Binhai Library looks familiar, it's probably because photos of the building's futuristic design went viral when the building opened its door in 2017. (It received over 10,000 visitors per day back then, and continues to be Tianjin's top tourist attraction.) Designed by Dutch firm MVRDV, the library features a huge luminous sphere (called 'The Eye') in the middle of an auditorium, cathedral-like vaulted arches, and undulating floor-to-ceiling shelves. There's just one catch: The highest, inaccessible shelves don't actually have books on them—instead, they hold aluminum plates printed with book images. But hey, smoke and mirrors can be beautiful too.
Slide 11 of 23: Stockholm's public library was designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund, who is also known for his work on the Skandia cinema and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Woodland Cemetery. The round main hall has books in every Nordic language and a white, textured roof that was designed to look like clouds.
Slide 12 of 23: The next time you're in London, set aside some time to take a day trip to Oxford—specifically the Bodleian Library. The library has been in use since the 1300s (that's practically a thousand years), and its 12 million printed items continue to attract researchers and travelers from around the world. Aside from housing museum-worthy tomes (like the first editions of Jane Austen’s Emma and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species), the library's many buildings are as beautiful as they come—make sure to stop by the 15th-century Divinity School and Old Bodleian Library.
Slide 13 of 23: Located next to Senate Square and the Helsinki Cathedral, the National Library of Finland is easily one of the most stunning buildings in the country. The main building was designed in the early 19th century, with architect C.L. Engel pulling inspiration from Classicism with Corinthian columns, central rotunda, and halls coated with coated with stucco marble. Renovations in the 2010s restored the building's wooden floors and ceiling murals to their former glory and added an underground kirjaluola (Finnish for “book cave”) to store some of the library's three million books.
Slide 14 of 23: If you've ever wondered what a multimillionaire's personal library looks like, look no further than the Morgan Library & Museum. Spread among three buildings once owned by financier J.P. Morgan, this Madison Avenue landmark includes galleries, libraries, a performance hall, and, of course, Morgan's private book collection. Trust us, the library is worth the hype, with gold decorations, fresco-covered ceilings, and three floors of bookshelves—some connected by secret passageways.

Slide 15 of 23: Situated in a concrete cube in the heart of southern Germany, this isn't your average library. The main attraction—a five-story reading room shaped like an upside-down pyramid—looks more like an M.C. Escher drawing than a library, until you notice the hundreds of thousands of neatly stacked books, that is. Cozy? Not really. Beautiful? You bet.
Slide 16 of 23: The Welsh capital has a long history of supporting libraries: Its first one was built in 1861, mostly with public money. The latest incarnation, completed in 2009, is patterned with tall, thin panels of blue, black, and green glass designed to resemble the spines of books. A steel sculpture called Alliance, which represents Cardiff’s journey from past to present, sits in front of the library. At night, the sculpture glows as words in Welsh and English are projected on it.
Slide 17 of 23: Dublin's Trinity College houses the Book of Kells, a ninth-century manuscript penned by monks in amazingly intricate fonts and illustrations. Each page is like its own work of art. When you’re done perusing the famous tome, pay a visit to the library’s Long Room; staring down the 200-foot-long hallway stacked with 200,000 old books might just give you chills.
Slide 18 of 23: As much as we love them, printed books may not be the most eco-friendly things in the world. But everything else about the Beitou Public Library in Taipei, Taiwan, is ultra-green, thanks to a design meant to keep energy and water consumption at a minimum. The two-story wooden building's slanted roof almost makes the library look like it’s winking at you. There are balconies along the sides, too, complete with rocking chairs where you can curl up with your favorite novel.
Slide 19 of 23: Located near the southernmost tip of Norway, Vennesla's library is more than a collection of books—it's a city cultural center and meeting place. The building hosts a coffee shop, open meeting spaces, classrooms for adult education courses, and a cinema. The long, thin wooden beams on the library's interior were designed to look like the inside of a whale.
Slide 20 of 23: Biblioteca Vasconcelos is truly something to behold. Inside, you'll find more than 470,000 books stacked in hanging shelves, with curious details like see-through floors and a white whale skeleton on display. Outside, the 820-foot building (made of concrete, steel, and glass) sits in the middle of a lush botanical garden containing flora native to Mexico. So if you're looking for a little nature with your culture, you know where to go.
Slide 21 of 23: Alexandria was once home to the most famous library in the world. Now, Egypt pays homage to its biblio-heritage with this sleek granite building. The circular structure, designed by Norwegian firm Snøhetta, is covered in carvings done by local artists and sits next to a large reflecting pool. Although there are plenty of books in three languages (Arabic, French, and English), there are also museums, a planetarium, and a lab dedicated to restoring and preserving ancient manuscripts.
Slide 22 of 23: This library is a study in contrasts. On the outside, it’s an ultramodern glass box, but the inside of the building looks like it could have been a set on a Harry Potter movie. Located in Adelaide, this library places particular emphasis on Australian history, works by indigenous authors, and maps. For modernists, the library maintains a Flickr account where people can submit their own images of South Australian life.
Slide 23 of 23: The Central Library is one of downtown Los Angeles's most significant buildings. On the outside, it's a prominent example of Art Deco design, but on the inside, there's an elegant rotunda whose centerpiece is a bronze chandelier, a sweeping staircase that used to lead to the card catalogues (everything's digitized now, of course), and decorative stencils depicting important moments in California history.

While we all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this is one case in which evaluating something based on its appearance is not only accepted, but encouraged. From Seattle to Tokyo, these beautiful libraries are known for noteworthy exteriors—think soaring architecture and bountiful gardens—and interiors featuring designs like frescoed ceilings or walls made entirely of glass. And that’s nothing compared to the millions of books housed within their walls. 

This article was originally published in September 2014 and has been updated.

George Peabody Library, Baltimore

Central Public Library Branch, Seattle

Central Public Library, Vancouver

The Library of El Escorial, Spain

Tama Art University Library, Tokyo

Royal Library of Denmark, Copenhagen

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague

Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro

Tianjin Binhai Library, China

Stockholm Public Library, Sweden

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

National Library of Finland, Helsinki

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York City

Stuttgart City Library, Germany

Cardiff Central Library, Wales

Trinity College Library, Dublin

Beitou Public Library, Taiwan

Vennesla Library and Culture House, Norway

Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt

State Library of South Australia, Adelaide

Richard J. Riordan Central Library, Los Angeles

And as airlines—and the airports that service them—are looking for major bailouts from the government, flight attendants are as concerned for their financial wellbeing as their health. There are persistent rumors that restrictions on flying might extend to an outright ban on domestic service, and much like after 9/11 or during the 2008 recession, many expect furloughs—effectively unpaid, extended leave until economic conditions improve. According to Bowles, his colleagues are already prepping for such a scenario. “I’ve seen threads on Facebook where we’re sharing our side hustles so we can support one another, as some take a personal leave of absence,” he says. “I’m offering to review and revamp resumes for those who take that leave and are looking for work.” Bowles is concerned for his own future as well. He and his husband, also a flight attendant, have a rental property they use to generate extra income—unfortunately, the tenants are cabin crew, too.

“It’s extremely tense, as people are worried about their jobs. Think of it like a reality television show where you are waiting to be eliminated,” says Joe Thomas, 47, who has been cabin crew for 12 years and runs the blog Flight Attendant Joe. “It’s not only tough for airline employees, but for the families they have to leave behind. I have a hard time explaining to my husband that I have to go to work, because he wants me to be home and safe.” Thomas says that many crews are posting more goofy videos than ever about life working on a plane. “Humor in a time like this is helpful.”

There is, however, hope in a return to normalcy. “Our customers have been so very supportive, and they’re grateful to get where they’re going because now they have to, not just want to,” Mathew says. “We’ll be on this carousel for a few months and come July or so, we’ll be back to talking about how expensive tickets are and calming down someone who was forced to check their bag.”

In the interim, however long that may turn out to be, most attendants are taking it day by day. “There is a certain level of grief that comes with this virus. I actually miss people and the beauty behind traveling,” says Jennifer Jaki Johnson, 36, who has been working for a major carrier for six years, while running the travel and style site Jetsetter Chic. But she also notes that many of the flights still operating serve vital purposes: transporting soldiers home to loved ones, rescue animals to new homes, and even donated organs in cargo to key hospitals. “The flights may not be filled—there might only be 10 people—but we’re saving lives. On the bright side, that’s a beautiful thing.”

WATCH: 50 people from 50 states explain how not to offend the locals

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How Suppliers Are Helping Travel Agents During COVID-19 Outbreak

Amid the ongoing chaos wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, there is one decided bright spot: suppliers are standing by their travel advisor partners with advice and support to help them move forward.

“Suppliers are absolutely going above and beyond to help advisors take care of our clients during these uncertain and challenging times,” said Susie Chau of Carpe Diem Traveler. As a case in point, Chau’s DMC partner, Charmed by Spain, helped her deal with clients who were in Spain when the country declared emergency earlier this month.

“They quickly reorganized transportation to take them to Valencia where their flight was scheduled to depart from and booked their hotel with a flexible check-out date. The local guides even offered that my clients could stay with them in their homes if they could no longer stay in the hotel. They truly treated them like family and put them at ease.”

She added that the hotel’s owners cooked them meals on their last day in Spain when they were quarantined to their room. “My clients were so grateful for the warm treatment they received from all of the suppliers involved,” Chau said.

Suppliers are also working hand-in-hand with agents to “field the insurmountable number of cancellations and changes coming their way, so realistically, all they can do right now is make sure that we are up-to-date with their policy changes as they come in,” said Hannah Nowicki of Sunset Travel & Cruise in Chicago. “Our consortium, MAST Travel Network, and ASTA are offering webpages with updates and tools on how best to respond to concerned clients, as well as the media. ASTA is offering weekly webinars with updates from the travel industry and their advocacy work.”

Also, Nowicki noted that suppliers are keeping the agency well informed. “Things are changing by the hour and it takes a lot to make sure that all agents are well-informed with the new information and policies as they come in,” she said.

For his part, James Ferguson of Travel Edge gave a shout out to the cruise industry. “The cruise lines have been particularly forgiving with very liberal cancellation policy updating regularly in concert with the rapidly changing scenarios,” he said. “In particular, Crystal Cruises offered my client an upgrade (at a nominal cost) from their regular suite to the Penthouse for their July 25, 14-day Grand Europe river sailing – which the clients gladly accepted.”

Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations Inc. praised Delta Vacations for disseminating crucial information to agents on a real-time basis. “They are immediately updating policies to help cover travel agents by allowing new rules to help agents protect the money spent on the booking in terms of an agency service fee, offering flexible future credit options, and are the first company out to update their waiver policies…” he said. “Delta Vacations President Jennie Ho and Vice President Kristen Molloy have been open to travel agent suggestions, and are responding in such a fast manner.”

He also praised AIC Hotel Group’s Hard Rock Hotels “for being the first resort brand to proactively release a very flexible rebooking program for worried travelers. Many key resort partners from around the world have followed AIC’s action plan.”

Doncsecz also praised Apple Leisure Group for doing an amazing job at implementing self-help technology through to help agents update their bookings, he said. “This will hopefully alleviate wait times for their various companies within their umbrella.”

For Travel Experts, getting information out to its member advisors has been key from the get-go.

“When the coronavirus began to impact the travel industry, we immediately created our own internal information center for the posting and updating of all supplier information and their policies regarding Covid-19,” said Sharon Fake, the luxury host agency’s director of operations. “This information center for our travel advisors is very well-organized for easy access by the advisors and has been the primary resource our advisors are using. It is updated the moment new information is presented.”

Other suppliers that are arming agents with resources include Apple Leisure Group, Travel Leaders Group and Cruise Planners.

“During the downtime we are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of vendors have been reaching out via webinars, phone and email with information about promotions once the pandemic eases up,” said Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel.

She had been planning to attend the now-canceled Visit Scotland Expo on April 1 and 2 in Aberdeen Scotland.

“Several vendors I was scheduled to meet have reached out to me via phone and email. Yesterday I Skyped with the Fife Arms, a luxury hotel in Braemar, Scotland,” Schoeder said. “This is a great way for me to learn about the hotel when I cannot see it in person. Vendors and agents who are pro-active during this trying time will be ready to move forward once the pandemic has settled down.”

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How to visit Paris in style… once the current crisis has passed – A Luxury Travel Blog

For most people at the moment, travel is the last thing on their mind, understandably. For others (like me), it’s something they live and breathe. Indeed, this current climate has only made me more determined to save this industry and keep inspiring people across the globe to reach for new experiences and explore. I hope that this article will inspire you to keep dreaming, stay positive and look forward to the future!

Paris is widely considered to be the capital of fashion. The French have been known for their ability to start style trends (whether fashion or culinary) ever since the epoch of Louis XIV at the court of Versailles.

No matter your reasons for visiting Paris, whether it be with family, on business, or a solo trip – you’ll probably want to do so in style. Style in the sense here means more than just clothes, it is also about attitude and an overall way of being. Achieving that French je ne sais quoi can seem a bit intimidating for visitors to the City of Light- but it is actually more achievable than you might presume. We’ve broken down all the ways you can visit Paris in style- from the outfits you pack in your suitcase, to where you decide to stay, how you pass your time in the city and perhaps one of the most important – where you dine.

What to pack

First comes first, you’ll want to be quite methodical when it comes to choosing what to pack in your suitcase. Whilst in Paris, if you want to blend in with the locals, you’ll want to dress appropriately. In Paris, you will never witness the natives wearing athleisure wear unless they are actually working out. There are a few cardinal rules to follow. The French, and Europeans in general, tend to dress up more so than what Americans may be accustomed to.  First, despite how comfortable yoga pants are, most Parisians will only actually wear them inside the yoga studio (they’ll usually change their clothes at the studio). And even in the heat of summer, you can forget the French wearing flipflop sandals. These are only considered appropriate for the beach- for the practical reason that if you’re walking the streets of the city your feet are bound to get really dirty in flip flops.

Because you’ll want to make sure you’re appropriately dressed and your outfit doesn’t scream tourist, you’ll want to follow these French fashion tips. Start with the basics- jeans are your best friend. They are casual but can be dressed up with blazers, sweaters, a fashionable top and worn with boots or high heels. For the rest of your Parisian wardrobe opt for items of clothing that are mostly neutral colors – black, navy, tan and white. You can therefore mix and match several outfits and won’t have to worry about bringing an oversized suitcase to the airport. To these basics, add accentuating touches using brightly colored scarves and jewelry (both of which are easy to pack!).

For your shoes, as you likely will be spending a lot of time on foot exploring the city or wandering the galleries of its world famous museums, you’ll want to be as comfortable as possible. But this doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style. The French are crazy about baskets (sneakers), so choose trendy pairs that not only feel good on your feet but catch the eye, too.

As for beauty, the French seem to have deceivingly simple beauty routines. It is true that French women wear less makeup than their American counterparts, but what is valued here in France is a more detailed attention to skin and hair care. Preserving what nature gave you by using top quality skin and hair care products seems to be the rule the French follow. This rule does not just apply to women, Parisian men are known to be very conscious of their skin and hair care, as well.

If you’re taking excellent care of your skin, no need to cover up with lots of makeup. Take the best care of yourself possible and you’ll be already starting with a beautiful canvas, to which all you need to add is bright red lip stick.

To give your Parisian vacation a bit of style – think about choosing a hotel or private apartment that really speaks to the type of experience you would like to have while visiting France.  Whether it be one of the iconic five star luxury Parisian hotels (The Four Seasons George V, Plaza Athenee, The Ritz Paris, Le Meurice)…or a hip boutique style hotel like Hotel Particulier in Montmartre, where you’re staying stages the important backdrop for your trip and will set the tone for your experience and over all mood. If you opt for staying in a private apartment, you’ll really have the opportunity to live like a Parisian. Consider looking for a private apartment rental in stylish neighborhoods like the Marais or St Germain-des-Pres.

Beat jet lag

Flights arriving to Paris from the US and Canada depart in the evenings and land in the morning, usually quite early.  The key to having a great arrival to France without being in bit of travel fog is to ensuring you get great rest on the plane ride over the Atlantic. It is certainly worth it to travel by first class if it is within your budget, or to upgrade to seats with more leg room. That way, when you arrive in Paris you’ll be feeling refreshed.

If you do find yourself very tired during your first day in Paris because of the time change, try your best not to give in to the tiredness and avoid sleeping.  If you can make it through that first day and get to bed at a relatively normal time, you’ll usually wake up at a regular time in the morning on your second day and be ready to take on the city.

For your arrival to Paris, whether by plane or by train, navigating the RER train and the metro with large suitcases can be quite a hassle. You may consider hiring a private car service that will meet you at the airport or train station and bring you to your hotel or apartment rather than having to wait in line for a taxi. Alternatively, there are also shuttle buses that run directly from the airports to landmarks in central Paris like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Gare de Lyon and Opera. These buses are quite comfortable and have Wifi onboard.

Now that you’ve arrived in Paris and are settled in your hotel, how will you spend the rest of your visit to the City of Lights in style?

Private museums and custom tours

Depending on what your interests are, Paris has something for everyone. If you happen to be a  museum aficionado, you might consider reserving a high quality private tour for you and your party. These are especially convenient when visiting such monuments as the Louvre Museum and the Chateau of Versailles. When visiting in a group, you’ll typically have a special entry and avoid long waits in line. Depending on the  agency you choose, most private tour guides will typically meet you at your Parisian accomodations and then travel with you in a chauffeured car or van to the site you will be visiting.

Even if you’ve been to a museum before, touring with your own private guide is the best way to experience French monuments. You’ll be able to ask questions and learn so much more than you would otherwise get from an audio guide.

In addition to museums and historical sites, many agencies also offer customizable itineraries for your visit, so you can pick and choose what you’re going to see and do in Paris based on your particular interests.  Plus, private guides will always have local insider knowledge about the best restaurants and spots to try in Paris during your visit.

Fine dining

Paris has no shortage of fine dining. The French capital boasts over 100 Michelin starred establishments within the city. From traditional French cuisine, to contemporary and fusion – there is choice that will suit everyone’s taste.

The following Parisian restaurants all have three Michelin stars and are certainly worth the visit while you’re in Paris.  In addition to award-winning gastronomic fare, these restaurants each possess exquisite style and luxurious ambiance:

Arpege – chef Alain Passard’s restaurant has been open for over 30 years and features organic vegetable inspired dishes that come straight from the restaurant’s own vegetable gardens.

Guy Savoy – located in an 18th century neoclassical building and former home to the Paris Mint, Guy Savoy is famous for its classic cuisine with contemporary twists.

L’Ambroisie – within the elegant Place des Vosges in the Marais, L’Ambroisie has had three Michelin stars for 30 years and proposes traditional French dishes.

Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen – The Pavillon Ledoyen is located in the gardens of the  Champs-Elysees in and has been the home to the prestigious restaurant since 1792. Chef Yannick Alleno is known world-wide for his audacious modern cuisine.

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée – the iconic restaurant features a natural Haute-Cuisine menu of fruit and vegetables that have been hand picked in the morning and then make their way onto your plate that evening.

Épicure – located in the elegant Le Bristol Hotel, Epicure is known for unforgettable French cuisine.

Le Cinq held within the Four Seasons Hotel George V is the sophisticated Le Cinq restaurant, proposing refined French cuisine made with modern techniques.

Pierre Gagnaire – this posh restaurant located not far from the Champs-Elysees is known for having the most inventive menu in Paris.

Le Pré Catelan – nestled within the Bois de Boulogne in the western part of Paris, Le Pre Catelan has been around since 1875 offering haute cuisine in a bucolic setting.

While it isn’t hard to find extraordinary gastronomy in Paris in stylish settings, don’t forget that in addition to fine dining another great option is to visit one of the city’s many open air markets.  Experience the joy of choosing fresh vegetables, poultry and meat, and then finding the perfect cheese and wine. As you walk down the cobblestone streets, baguette in hand, you’ll really begin to feel like you’ve adopted the Parisian style.

Maria Pasca is the Communications & Marketing Director at My Private Paris. My Private Paris is an award-winning boutique travel agency that fully tailors high-end tours and experiences in Paris with the finest local guides.

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How Coronavirus Is Impacting Disney World and Disneyland

With the busy spring break season upon us and COVID-19, aka novel coronavirus, today declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, families with plans to head to Walt Disney World and Disneyland have a lot of questions about how the virus could or should impact their travel plans.

a group of people walking on a city street: Main Street U.S.A and Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Internationally, four Disney parks remain closed in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Shanghai, although Shanghai has begun reopening its shopping and dining district. A Disneyland Paris worker tested positive for coronavirus but that park remains open.

Domestically, Walt Disney World and Disneyland also remain open for business. Dr. Pamela Hymel, Chief Medical Officer, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said in a statement on the Disney Parks Blog that “Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort are open and welcoming guests and we continue to implement preventive measures in line with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as state and local health agencies.”

What Steps Is Disney Taking to Keep the Parks Safe?

In her statement, Hymel detailed the additional steps Disney is taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other diseases in the parks, including “frequent cleaning and disinfection of targeted areas,” “easy access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitizers,” and “frequent cleaning of outdoor locations, including walkways and queue.”

Hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the parks, and today new portable handwashing stations began showing up at Walt Disney World. Disney has published the locations of many of the hand sanitizer stations at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Should Travelers Keep Their Plans to Visit Disney Parks and Resorts?

It’s well known by now that the CDC is recommending that high-risk individuals, mainly older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease, avoid crowds, cruise travel, and non-essential air travel.

But, for healthy individuals, it remains more of a personal choice. A statement by a coalition of 150 travel-related organizations issued by the U.S. Travel Association seeks to reassure healthy travelers:

“Though the headlines may be worrisome, experts continue to say the overall coronavirus risk in the U.S. remains low. At-risk groups are older individuals and those with underlying health conditions, who should take extra precautions. The latest expert guidance indicates that for the overwhelming majority, it’s OK to live, work, play and travel in the U.S.”

A Doctor’s Take

We asked Dr. Colleen Nash, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Rush University Children’s Hospital and Medical Director of the Pediatrics Antimicrobial Stewardship Program for her advice on how families should decide whether to take a Disney vacation. She recommends families evaluate the potential outcomes.

“Visiting a theme park or partaking in any activity involving very large crowds always poses a risk of (any) infection transmission,” she says. She suggests those considering travel evaluate the health of those in their party as well as family members back home and how illness could potentially affect them.

Even for healthy individuals, she recommends considering “how coronavirus infection (if it were to happen) could impact your family and if that is a tolerable risk and potential time away from school, work, normal daily activities, say, if you had to undergo quarantine.”

For those comfortable with those possible outcomes, there aren’t currently any official recommendations that go against proceeding with travel plans.

What’s It Like to Be at Walt Disney World Right Now

I visited Walt Disney World last week and found almost no discernible difference in the experience from other times I’ve visited the parks. This week, aside from the noticeable uptick in hand-sanitizing stations and handwashing stations, it feels like business as usual for vacationing families. Meet-and-greets, buffet meals, and other higher-contact experiences haven’t been reduced.

Len Matela of Western Springs, Illinois, is currently at Walt Disney World with his wife and three sons and said the main difference their family noticed was that guests were utilizing personal hand sanitizer and hand-sanitizing stations more frequently.

“We’re not germaphobes so it’s not stressing us out,” Matela says. “If you didn’t watch the news or look at your phone and continuously see new information about the virus spreading, you wouldn’t notice any changes.”

Matela says concerns about the virus haven’t impacted their vacation at all. “We’re having a blast,” he says, noting that worries don’t seem to have had an effect on crowd levels yet. “Selfishly we were hoping for smaller lines and less of a crowd!!”

What If Disney Does Decide to Close Walt Disney World or Disneyland?

Should the spread of coronavirus or official government recommendations lead the domestic parks to make the decision to close, as was the case in Asia, it’s safe to assume Disney will offer refunds of park tickets and resort stays, as they’ve done in Asia. Should guests electively cancel a Disney vacation, standard resort cancellation terms will apply. Park tickets are changeable but non-refundable.

Now that most major airlines have issued waivers and have given travelers the flexibility and peace of mind to change their flights without fees, guests who are planning or looking forward to planned Disney vacations should feel reassured that any official park closures will likely see them fully reimbursed or able to change their vacation plans without fees.

How to Stay Healthy During Your Disney Vacation

We asked Dr. Nash what families can do to stay healthy during a Disney trip, and they are much the same as recommendations you’ve been hearing across the news media—mainly, wash your hands!

She recommends frequent, meticulous handwashing or hand sanitizing before and after meals and regularly at the parks, particularly after each ride.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of washing your hands (and doing it well, at least 20 seconds, with soap and water OR using alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and not touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth),” she says. “This provides so much protection against many infectious diseases and cannot be overstated.”

WATCH: 9 of the most exclusive Disney spots to visit (provided by Business Insider)

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How to get a refund on a nonrefundable hotel room

Look at your travel itinerary. Notice anything? Look closely, because your hotel reservation may be totally nonrefundable.

Hotel Room. Yina Ma/Getty Images

What that means is, if you have second thoughts about traveling and want to get a refund on a nonrefundable hotel room, you might be out of luck.

Sometimes, you don’t even have a choice. Consider what happened to Liam Goodman. He booked a last-minute nonrefundable hotel room in New York from Priceline. When the property ran out of rooms and he had to stay at another hotel, Priceline didn’t refund his money.

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“Priceline says I never checked in and was a no-show,” says Goodman, a photographer from Beacon, New York.

Nonrefundable hotel rooms are becoming more popular

Nonrefundable – or “prepaid” – hotel rooms seem to be becoming more common. The deal is simple: You pay in advance for a hotel room, and you get a modest discount. Unlike airline tickets, there’s no chance for a refund, even if you change your mind within 24 hours of making the reservation.

If you’re stuck with one of these nonrefundable hotel rooms, don’t worry. There are actually ways to get your money back. But maybe the best strategy is to avoid these tricky hotel reservations in the first place.

Goodman wishes he had. He could have avoided the trouble by asking his original hotel to “walk” him to a comparable property, which is a hotel industry standard practice. Instead, he contacted Priceline for help – and got turned down. I asked Priceline about his case. The company reviewed its records and discovered that he wasn’t a no-show after all, and the agency offered him a full refund.

So you want a refund for a nonrefundable room?

I asked frequent travelers how they’ve received refunds for nonrefundable rooms. Turns out, many have:

When the hotel isn’t as advertised. I’ve seen many cases where the hotel fell short of expectations. All bets are off when that happens. Take a lot of photos and appeal to the highest level possible – and, if necessary, to your credit card company. If the answer is still “no,” you might be able to salvage your stay. For example, when Heidi Vanderlee discovered she’d have to share a bathroom with another guest in her London hotel, she appealed to her online travel agent. After a lot of back and forth, the online agency fixed her reservation, allowing her to upgrade to quarters with a private bathroom. “Could have been a much worse outcome,” says Vanderlee, a publicist who lives in New York.

When you’re sick. That’s what Grant Sabatier discovered recently when he fell ill and canceled a nonrefundable hotel room in Washington, D.C. A valid medical excuse can secure a full refund. But he had to call the hotel three times before it saw things his way. “This has only worked for me when booking directly with a hotel,” adds Sabatier, the founder of the financial advice site Millennial Money. 

When your circumstances change. Hotels understand that your plans can change. Chris Michaels recently asked for a refund for two nonrefundable nights at a chain hotel in Chicago. “In a friendly manner, I explained to a front-desk employee that I was part of the large tournament in town and that my team had been eliminated from the tournament. I also said I was a rewards member of the chain and I’ve stayed at that location in the past,” recalls Michaels,the founder of a personal finance site Frugal Reality. “The hotel offered to charge me a $50 cleaning fee to get out of the remaining balance for the night. Needless to say, I paid it and headed home.”

When you have a death in the family. Alex Beene had to cancel a nonrefundable reservation when a relative died. The hotel forwarded him to a “skeptical” manager. “But when I offered to provide documentation, he offered to go on and refund my stay and offered me condolences,” says Beene, who works for the state of Tennessee. “Just the idea that you have written justification for canceling a nonrefundable stay will show the hotel how serious you are about the claim.”

What if you don’t have a case?

Sometimes, people just want a refund on a nonrefundable room without a valid reason. And why not? Hotels can often resell the rooms, so it’s only fair that we should receive at least some of the money back, right?

Frequent hotel guests like Anna DiTommaso, who owns a web design firm in Dallas, say it’s worth a try at least. 

“The hotel has the legal right to keep the money,” she says. “But I’ve found that if you have a reasonable excuse for canceling the room, most places will offer you a refund without you even having to ask.” 

I agree. “Prepaid” rooms and nonrefundable rates are not customer-friendly. The discounts are too small and the risks too big. Often, guests don’t even know they have a nonrefundable rate until it’s too late. Yep, hotels bury the terms in their fine print, just like other travel companies.  

Bottom line: Nonrefundable hotel rooms shouldn’t exist. But they do. Now you may have a way around them.

Ways to avoid getting stuck with a nonrefundable hotel room

Travel insurance. If you have to cancel your hotel stay for a covered reason, you can receive reimbursement for your nonrefundable hotel cost from your insurance company. Seven Corners CEO Justin Tysdal recommends a “cancel for any reason” benefit. “It allows you to cancel your trip for any reason you wish,” he says. “That way, should anything unexpected occur, you can cancel your trip and receive at least 75% of your nonrefundable trip cost back.”

Change the date of your reservation. Sometimes, nonrefundable hotel rooms can be changed to a future date. Andy Abramson, who runs a communications firm in Los Angeles, says for some hotels, once you move the date, you can ask for – and receive – a refund. “I’ve used this trick several times.”

Resell the room. Yes, it’s possible. “You can resell your nonrefundable hotel bookings to other people and receive a refund that way,” says Galena Stavreva, CEO of, which facilitates these room changes. She says hotels allow for changes of the name of the main guest under the reservation. Booking and Expedia facilitate name changes as well. You can recover some or all of your hotel room costs.

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Here's how coronavirus could become a pandemic—and why it matters

In the two months since the novel coronavirus was announced in China, it has expanded across the globe. Outbreaks have been reported in more than 50 countries with more than 85,000 confirmed cases and 2,900 deaths worldwide. Stock markets posted their biggest tumble since the 2008 recession this week as case counts of the virus, which causes the disease named COVID-19, rose sharply in places like Italy, Iran, and South Korea. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it’s just a matter of time before the virus thrives in America as well.

a group of people wearing costumes: A woman wearing a mask to prevent contracting the coronavirus reacts as employees from a disinfection service company sanitize a traditional market in Seoul, South Korea, February 26, 2020.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a press briefing on Wednesday. On Saturday, Washington state announced the first U.S. death due to the novel coronavirus.

Given this globalized spread, the term “pandemic” is beginning to circulate among officials and the news media.

But public health authorities are stopping just short of officially labeling this emergency as a pandemic: In her remarks, Messonnier noted that the world is moving closer to meeting the criteria for a pandemic. Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said this week that we’re on the precipice of a pandemic.

So what exactly is a pandemic—and what happens when a major public health agency, like the WHO, declares one? While calling this global health crisis a pandemic might not change the facts on the ground, it can stoke public fears and propel a shift in strategy toward mitigating harm.

What is a pandemic?

Global health crises tend to grow in phases. This chain of events starts with an “outbreak”—a sudden rise in confirmed cases of an disease that’s contained to a small geographic region like Wuhan. If the disease spreads just beyond that community—like how the novel coronavirus spread across China—then it becomes an epidemic.

Pandemics, according to their classical definition, are epidemics that cross international boundaries and affect a large number of people worldwide.

“It’s all about geography,” says Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and the director of operations with the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response. “It’s not about severity, it’s not about high versus low case counts. It’s…do we see spread across the globe?”

Not every widespread epidemic is considered a pandemic. Seasonal influenza, for example, checks those boxes—but its cyclic nature is what differentiates it from pandemic influenza, which can spread anywhere across both hemispheres regardless of the weather. (Will warming spring temperatures slow the coronavirus outbreak?)

A pandemic declaration also takes into account who is infected and where. If a person catches the coronavirus in China and travels back to their home country, they do not count toward the tally that ultimately decides a pandemic declaration—and neither does anyone they infect. Sauer says these constraints arose out of the lessons learned during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, when the ease of global travel made it seem like the disease was spreading faster and more widely than it was. (Here’s how coronavirus spikes outside China show that travel bans aren’t working.)

Instead, public health authorities are looking for local transmission of COVID-19. That’s the stage where the virus begins spreading outside of China among people who have not recently traveled to the Asian nation. Early in an epidemic, most of those cases can be traced to travelers from the outbreak’s original site, in this case China. But as local transmission progresses, that contact tracing breaks down. At this turning point, the coronavirus can spread unnoticed, making it extremely difficult to control.

Some public health experts argue that the novel coronavirus has already achieved pandemic status when measured against these definitions: Cases have been confirmed on six continents, including 2,300 in South Korea and 650 in Italy. In many of the countries, outbreaks are being sustained locally, with the latest examples simmering in California, Oregon, and Washington.

On Saturday, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said the fatal case in Washington could not be traced to a known infected patient nor to a traveler from China. Meanwhile, the White House announced 14-day bans for any foreign nationals who have traveled through Iran, while the State Department issued its highest possible warning for travel to parts of Italy and South Korea. President Donald Trump said he is considering additional travel restrictions for the border with Mexico, even though the southern neighbor has only two confirmed cases versus the 62 reported in the U.S.

So what is stopping the WHO from calling this epidemic a pandemic? “In reality, it’s semantics,” Sauer says. “But semantics become important when you’re talking to the general public about these issues.”

Why pandemics do—and don’t—matter

Words matter. In a press briefing on Wednesday, director-general Ghebreyesus urged caution against rushing to cry “pandemic.”

“Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems,” he said.

Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University professor who is also director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, highlights that “panic” is literally in the word “pandemic.”

In 2009, people around the world panicked when the WHO described H1N1 influenza as a pandemic, Gostin says, and then the organization was later criticized for raising public alarm when the virus turned out to not be very lethal. H1N1 now returns seasonally and is part of our annual vaccine preparations.

“So the fact that this may become a pandemic is certainly a concern because this is much more deadly than the flu,” Gostin says, “but it’s something we’ll want to delay as long as possible until we get a vaccine, which should probably be within 12 to 18 months.” (Learn about how coronavirus compares to flu, Ebola, and other major outbreaks.)

From a legal standpoint, though, it doesn’t matter whether the WHO calls this a pandemic or not.

Gostin—who points out that the WHO doesn’t even actually “declare” pandemics—says the organization has already declared something far more significant: a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). That declaration legally allows the WHO to make recommendations on how member countries should handle an epidemic. It also mobilizes funding and political support.

So, what happens if COVID-19 is called a pandemic?

While “pandemic” might be merely a label without legal significance, it does have its value. A pandemic signifies that authorities no longer believe they can contain the spread of the virus and must move to mitigation strategies, like closing schools and canceling mass gatherings.

This is precisely why some public health experts argue that the WHO and other global agencies should go ahead and make the call, Sauer says. The sooner that public health authorities and first responders transition to mitigation measures—like the ones we see each year with the flu—the better.

In the U.S., the CDC has already shared its strategy for protecting communities in light of a coronavirus pandemic. It includes “social distancing measures” like closing schools and recommending telework to prevent infected people from spreading the disease to their classmates and colleagues. Events and mass gatherings could be postponed or even canceled. Even this summer’s Tokyo Olympics could be canceled if conditions seem too dangerous. And the CDC would advise delaying elective surgeries to ensure the availability of hospital beds.

Gostin says these social distancing measures are not something that a public health organization would recommend lightly as they impact families, communities, and economies.

“Kids still have to be educated, their parents still have to be able to go to work, and people want to get out and enjoy themselves as well,” Gostin says. “So it’s not something that we’d want to do. Only if it was necessary.”

Individuals can also take preventive measures of their own, including regularly washing their hands, covering their sneezes, and wiping down surfaces.

But Gostin says there’s one thing people really need to remember if the WHO starts calling this a pandemic: “It’s important not to panic.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with the news of the first U.S. death, additional instances of local transmission in the U.S., and the travel restrictions implemented on Saturday, February 29. The story was originally published on February 28. 

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