We've got news for you.

Register on SowetanLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

What if your holiday turns into a hotel room quarantine?

Wendy Knowler Consumer journalist
Passengers arrive at Cape Town International Airport from Hong Kong on January 29 2020 after being screened by health officials due to the outbreak of coronavirus in China.
Passengers arrive at Cape Town International Airport from Hong Kong on January 29 2020 after being screened by health officials due to the outbreak of coronavirus in China.

“I don’t want to spend my holiday in quarantine, thanks!”

Johannesburg's Elinor Bodinger is among scores of South Africans whose international travel plans have been thrown into turmoil by the rampant, unpredictable spread of the coronavirus or Covid-19.

She booked to fly to Phuket via Singapore on Singapore Airlines at the end of April. “I’ve been trying to move my flights but the airline says I have to pay a penalty fee, which they will only waiver if the SA government or the World Health Organisation (WHO) ‘issues a directive’,” she said.

“They are not helping to curb this disease!”

Today (Friday) Thailand announced that visitors arriving in the country from China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Iran and Italy — all deemed to be high risk for Covid-19 — must “self quarantine” for 14 days, reported Bloomberg.

That means isolating themselves in homes or hotel rooms, and reporting to the authorities daily or being “checked on by officials”. Those breaching the quarantine will face a 20,000 baht (R9,900) fine.

Separately, the country’s health ministry said people coming from Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands and the US were  recommended, rather than required, to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

So for now, at least, those arriving in Thailand from Singapore will not be forced to abandon their travel plans and hole up in their hotel rooms for a fortnight instead, ordering room service meals.

About 40 million tourists visited Thailand last year. One person in that country has died from Covid-19, 16 people are currently hospitalised and an unspecified number have been discharged.

On Friday an angry Bodinger told Marilyn Lewis, CEO of Singapore Airlines’ general sales agent operations in SA, in an e-mail: “You are forcing me to travel to Thailand through Singapore and possibly spend my holiday in quarantine!

“How can you do this to your passengers?”

Lewis responded: “The rules are the rules.”

And so it is with all travel operators as they respond to panicked customers wanting to cancel or postpone imminent travel plans, even to countries which have yet to have a single reported case of Covid-19.

Unless authorities issue a formal advisory making a country a no-go zone, based on WHO recommendations, normal cancellation rules, involving hefty cancellation penalties, apply.

Many are playing a waiting game, holding on to their bookings in the hope that the WHO will declare their destination a red zone, meaning they will be refunded in full.

Sally George, Singapore Airlines’ Johannesburg-based market development manager, confirmed to SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE that Singapore was not listed on the travel advisory.

“Please bear in mind that the Covid-19 situation is fluid, we do publish information on our website regarding travel restrictions, rebooking and cancellation.

“There is much hysteria and misinformation around Covid-19 and we are following guidelines set out by WHO as well as our head office.”

Dozens of SA school tours to Europe, planned for later this month and in the midyear school holidays, are now also hanging in the balance, with parents wanting to cancel or postpone, but resisting having to sacrifice any of the money they paid.

Urgent meetings were held at schools this week to discuss options.

Keshnie Dessai of Alberton, whose 14-year-old daughter and 40 other pupils, parents and teachers booked to tour five European countries — Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands from March 15 to 30 — attended one such meeting on Tuesday night.

“The tour has now been postponed to next March, and of the R45,000 we have paid, R31, 500 will be refunded to us,” she said.

Flight Centre said it issued R140m worth of travel quotes at its annual Travel Expo last weekend, “proving that South Africans are eager to travel despite the weak exchange rate and coronavirus concerns”.

Granted, the biggest selling destinations were local, followed my Mauritius and Zanzibar.

Travel insurance providers are tweaking their policies to cater for Covid-19-related calamities.

Those now opting for Hollard Travel insurance policies, for example, are covered for medical expenses should they contract the virus, or if they are forced to cancel their travel plans as a result of the disease.

Those who don’t want to risk travelling to another country will also have a valid claim, provided they bought their policy within 24 hours of paying their trip deposit, and cancel it more than 48 hours before departure.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.