Travel in the time of coronavirus

Heidi Ng

I HAD just come back from a trip to the Holy Land and days later, Israel had closed off its borders to foreigners traveling to the country. To say that I am relieved is an understatement.

This new coronavirus is still new. As of this writing, South Korea, China, and Italy lead the tally of the countries with most infected people of the Covid-19. When we left for our trip to the Holy Land 20 days ago, people asked me if we should proceed given the tensions in the Middle east. I was not expecting coronavirus to eventually take over the concern over terrorism. I was hoping that instead of countries being pitted against each other, the world will unite in fighting this disease together.

These are my tips and observations if you still insist on traveling based on my just concluded trip.

1. Bring your own mask. There is this video from the Singapore health minister that encourages users to use mask if you do have the symptoms as not to affect others. However, might be better if you wear masks in crowded places. When we were in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, we used mask as the church was full of people. We also used masks when flying in and out of airports and inside the airplane.

2. Bring a lot of alcohol, sanitizers inside your pouch. Our tour guide, Sabina of Bridges travel, also brought so much supplies for the team. She had put alcohol and sanitizers in the bus so that anyone can freely use them. Moreover, she goes around to spray "holy" alcohol on our hands after we get up to the bus when we come from busy holy sites.

3. Being Asian, people will be afraid of you. When I was in Herod Springs, there was a group of children who were shouting Korean welcome phrases to me. When I said that I was not Korean but Filipino-Canadian, they warmed up to me and obliged to take photos with me. It was the same in all the places, when some groups saw us, they would cover their mouths and even shout Corona to our faces. There was no anger, more like done in jest and in fun. I guess a week ago, it was not as full blown as today in the media.

However some children loved taking photos with us and exchanged pleasantries with us. A boy in Egypt even gave me a flower.

4. Be prepared to be discriminated on. Sadly, when we were in Qumran national park, which lies at the foot of the vertical cliff of the Judean Desert, rising up from the shores of the Dead Sea, we encountered a Caucasian group from Imagine travel and tours, a supposedly a Christian tour company operating Holy Land tours in Israel. When their group was passing by our group, the tour guide said, "Don't cough. You know what I mean," to which one of the clients answered, "Yes, we know what you mean." Our Asian group was shocked to be discriminated upon. That day, there were only three cases of Covid-19 in the Philippines and for us to experience a supposedly "passive" warning regarding our group was not welcomed. We wanted to follow the group and ask for the tour guide's name to tell him that instead of fueling fear, he should be acting with more understanding, restraint and good will. We will not be traveling if we were feeling sick or if we thought we were a risk to other people. We were only given a few minutes to take photos and were not able to confront the tour guide of Imagine travel. Or maybe he should have made a more subtle wink to tell his group the Asians are coming -- Asians who might or not might have the virus. Just a gentle reminder that the virus does not pick a nationality or a race. We are all affected by it and the least we can do is be decent about it and not throw off remarks like he did.

5. Wash your hands ALWAYS. I cannot stress this enough. The whole group was very vigilant in washing our hands and we have wounds to show for it. When you keep washing your hands, moisture is lost and your skin becomes very dry. Bring an organic hand cream to keep your skin moisturized.

6. Strengthen your immune system by getting a lot of sleep and drinking up on vitamins, honey lemon, Lola Remedios, Berocca, Tongkat Ali or whatever natural vitamins or supplements that work for you. Our group in this trip like Sabina, Tita Mae were full on with their Diflam, Himalayan salt, Tylenol, and Bioflu and shared their loot to some of us just to keep everyone sick free. Oliver shared his Wakamoto Japanese supplements which is a probiotic energy supplement. Drink up with whatever immune booster whole food or tablets like probiotics if you are used to that. I cannot stress this enough. Being healthy is not enough, be extra healthy as we battle this virus in the days to come -- whether you are traveling or not.

Follow me on Twitter @missheiding and Instagram @missheidng.