With the big news that the coronavirus from China is spreading, and cases are being confirmed in other countries, it is natural for people to worry. Sitting on a plane or at an airport near an infected person is of course a risk. And why would you want to put your vacation ahead of your health & safety? Some people consider cancelling trips, and many of these are due to pressure from family members who worry. But we need to look at facts, and consider everything carefully and rationally. If you have full holiday insurance that will cover the costs because you decide not to go, then cancelling your trip may not be a big deal. But most people who ‘decide to cancel in fear of the risk’ will surely lose out financially.
Chinese New Year 2020 has just passed (January 23rd-25th), and many people booked and planned their trips many months in advance. Thailand is a very popular tourist destination for Chinese people, and Phuket is the most-visited island. This may be a reason why people worry, or a reason why more cases are reported in Thailand’s southern island than in other areas. But at the moment, very few* cases have been reported, the authorities are on high alert, and nobody has been made seriously ill. Thailand also has millions of tourists pass through every year, and we need to understand and appreciate the ratio of healthy & happy tourists compared to the few who fell ill. It’s not fair to compare Thailand with a place that receives far fewer visitors. In addition to Thailand, cases of the virus have been confirmed in Australia, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Nepal, Vietnam, The USA, and France. Of the people who have succumbed to the coronavirus, these have nearly all been in China and the victims were old, weak, or had pre-existing conditions. Your typical scuba diver is healthy and fit, and likes the outdoor lifestyle.
*As of January 28th, fourteen cases have been reported in Thailand, nearly all of whom are Chinese nationals, and five from the same family. One Thai is included in those 14. Nearly half of the infected people in Thailand had been treated and discharged from hospital. The Thai government claims to have 100% control of the situation and the precautionary measures are in line with international standards. This includes at all five of the country’s international airports. Also, according to our source (Bangkok Post) the Prime Minister of Thailand says that the country ranks 6th in the 2019 Global Health Security Index, behind USA, UK, Netherlands, Australia & Canada, in that order.
Due to the Chinese holiday dates, and employees and students taking annual leave to enjoy a scuba diving vacation in Thailand, the majority of the guests have already joined scuba diving trips to the Similans. And many have already returned home. Starting in February, the number of divers at the Similans who come from China will drop dramatically, and the ratio will return to normal.
We accept that being stuck on a plane with infected people is a risk. The air is circulated in a small space, crowded with hundreds of people. Airports tend to be more airy, but you’re still likely to be mingling with strangers at close quarters. But please understand that the airports already have screening processes in place, and everyone is on high alert. Probably the part of your vacation which has the highest risk is the plane journey. So if you’re planning to join or have already booked a Similan Islands scuba diving trip, the safest place for you is far out at sea!
Some dive centres and boat operators are more flexible than others when it comes to last-minute cancellations. The operators of our flexible liveaboards can usually just postpone your trip, because the boat is out at sea anyway. An empty bed this week will be filled by you in the future. But the boats which run scheduled trips have already secured and prepared all the beds and cabins for the set dates. They may be unable or unwilling to allow a cancellation without some financial penalty because as businesses, they need to cover costs and they have their own terms, conditions & policies. It’s important to have adequate insurance cover for situations like this. And please be careful when reading your insurance policy small print because there may be clauses which mean you’re unable to get fully compensated.
In summary, we welcome all our divers and feel that being a fit and healthy scuba diver, far out at sea, is the safest place in Asia for anyone worried about the coronavirus. None of our guests or business associates or staff have reported any cases, and the best measures are in place to minimize any spreading of this virus.