You are here

Coronavirus: Travel Guidance for Harvard Affiliates

As outlined in the Provost’s February 20 letter to the Harvard community, Harvard University continues to strongly discourage travel to China until further notice, including over the spring recess and upcoming months.

Review our travel FAQs below and refer to Harvard University Health Services’ (HUHS) FAQs for campus health updates.

Current Situation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring an outbreak of a new coronavirus, named COVID-19, that originated in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. Health officials have confirmed more than 75,000 cases and 2,200 deaths in China. They've also confirmed more than 1,200 cases in at least 25 other locations, including the U.S. The respiratory virus can be spread by person-to-person contact, and more cases are likely. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Older adults and individuals with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease.

The situation is evolving rapidly as health officials learn more about COVID-19. At this time, there is no indication that the Harvard campus is affected. University leadership is closely monitoring the situation and preparing response protocols. Health officials in the U.S. are reminding the public that the likelihood of infection is very low. We'll continue to monitor the outbreak and update our guidance as needed.

Can I travel to mainland China?

Harvard University is strongly discouraging travel to mainland China until further notice, including over the spring recess and upcoming months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 warning: avoid nonessential travel to mainland China, and the U.S. Department of State issued a Level 4 alert: do not travel to China. We’ve raised mainland China’s travel risk rating to Elevated Risk.

If you believe that highly exceptional circumstances warrant your travel to China over spring recess or in the upcoming months, contact the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs at international_affairs@harvard.edu.

Getting into and out of China is difficult. Many airlines have suspended or reduced flights to and from China, and more airlines may follow suit. On February 2 at 5 pm EST, the U.S. government began restricting inbound travel from mainland China. Upon re-entry to the U.S., American citizens and lawful permanent residents who traveled to or transited through mainland China in the past 14 days will be subject to health screenings and, where appropriate, a 14-day quarantine or self-isolation. With limited exceptions, immigrants and non-immigrants who traveled to or transited through mainland China in the past 14 days will be denied entry to the U.S.

In China, authorities have quarantined numerous cities in Hubei province and shut down intercity transit. Travel on public transportation and airlines into and out of the quarantined locations is indefinitely suspended. Roadblocks and checkpoints have been put in place in several locations outside quarantined cities. Businesses may not be operating at full capacity or regular hours. More locations may be restricted with little or no advance notice. There's limited access to adequate medical care in the affected areas.

I'm currently in China. Should I leave?

Your decision to remain in country is personal, and your physical and emotional wellbeing are always the priority. Heed the advice of local health authorities. Remain flexible, as the situation is evolving daily and there are travel restrictions beyond your control. You may want to weigh the current situation and risks against your personal, academic, and professional needs and talk with your program advisor. Remember to register all international travel in International SOS MyTrips. And if you need medical, mental health, or security advice and assistance, call International SOS at +1-617-998-0000 or connect through the Assistance App.

On February 2 at 5 pm EST, the U.S. government began restricting inbound travel from mainland China. Measures include:

  • denying entry to immigrants and non-immigrants who have been in mainland China in the past 14 days, with certain exceptions
  • screening U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning from mainland China, and requiring a 14-day quarantine or self-isolation, as appropriate
  • funneling all flights from mainland China to the U.S. through 11 airports—Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Forth Worth, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Newark, New York JFK, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington-Dulles

Other governments may enact similar measures.

All Harvard University affiliates currently in China or who have returned from China since January 19, 2020 should complete a confidential health form so that HUHS can follow up with you and provide assistance and advice if necessary. If you were in China and returned to the U.S. on January 18, 2020 or earlier, no further action is necessary. Refer to HUHS’s Coronavirus update for more information.

Can I travel to other locations in the region?

Currently, there are no Harvard travel restrictions to countries and locations surrounding mainland China beyond the usual student pre-departure requirements for elevated risk and high risk destinations. Always check the GSS travel risk ratings prior to travel. Although the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases outside of mainland China is relatively low, the situation is evolving daily. Many governments in the region—including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and others—are taking precautionary measures and enacting travel restrictions and/or health screenings at ports of entry. Some airlines are temporarily reducing or suspending flights.

Remain flexible, expect travel delays, and be prepared to adjust your plans. The COVID-19 outbreak is evolving daily. Government agencies and transportation authorities may enact additional travel restrictions with little or no advance notice.

We encourage all Harvard travelers to do the following prior to any international travel:

  • Register your travel in International SOS MyTrips.
  • Sign up for International SOS alerts and download the Assistance App.
  • Consult with your healthcare providers or visit a travel clinic and ensure your vaccinations are current.
  • Check with your destination's embassy or consulate regarding any travel restrictions.
  • Confirm all flight, train, and bus reservations with your airline and transit providers.

If you become ill while traveling, call International SOS at +1-617-998-0000 or connect through the Assistance App. Case managers will advise you and connect you with appropriate medical resources.

What health precautions can I take to protect myself while traveling?

The CDC's advice to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission is similar to precautions for common colds and flu viruses:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; germs spread this way.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • In China specifically, avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and animal products (such as uncooked meat).

In addition to the CDC’s guidance, review HUHS’s advice for protecting yourself against viral illness.

If you become ill while traveling, call International SOS at +1-617-998-0000 or connect through the Assistance App. Case managers will advise you and connect you with appropriate medical resources.

What if I feel sick after traveling?

If you feel sick and have traveled to China in the past 14 days or have had close contact with someone who has recently traveled to China, you should seek immediate medical care. Before visiting your doctor or an emergency room, notify them of your recent travel and symptoms.

All Harvard University affiliates currently in China or who have returned from China since January 19, 2020 should complete a confidential health form so that HUHS can follow up with you and provide assistance and advice if necessary. If you were in China and returned to the U.S. on January 18, 2020 or earlier, no further action is necessary. Refer to HUHS’s Coronavirus update for more information.

Can I plan for spring and summer programs in mainland China?

University-related travel to mainland China remains strongly discouraged until further notice. For those planning programs and travel over spring recess or in the upcoming months, understand there are government, airline, and university restrictions beyond your control. The COVID-19 outbreak is evolving daily, and we simply cannot predict what may occur in the next few weeks and months. Government agencies as well as Harvard may impose new requirements if warranted by changing public health circumstances. Until further notice, University travel to mainland China requires approval from the Provost, and we encourage you to have a strong backup plan.

If you were planning to participate in an activity in mainland China during spring recess, you should check with the organizers to learn if alternative arrangements have been made. If you believe that your circumstances warrant exceptional travel to mainland China, contact the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, international_affairs@harvard.edu.

There is no one-size-fits-all guidance for summer programming and travel in mainland China at this time because the situation is fluid and the decisions will vary based on the activity. We recognize the uncertainty of the situation and encourage you to be as flexible as possible with your summer travel and programming in mainland China. For example, an individual traveler may be able to make last-minute adjustments whereas an organized program may need to manage more complex logistics and make decisions with several months lead time. Proceed with your planning if it makes sense for you to do so, consider alternative locations, and remain flexible. Given the uncertainty, know your cutoff date for making a decision. Elements to consider in your decision making include health and safety; what your contracts and agreements with in-country partners may allow; payment deadlines and refund policies; logistics; purchasing refundable flights; and allowing enough time for participants to make alternative arrangements if needed.

We hope for positive developments for all those affected by COVID-19 and for the travel restrictions to be lifted. Along with University leadership, we’ll continue to monitor developments and provide updates for spring and summer programs and travel in mainland China as needed.

Can I plan for spring and summer programs in the region?

Currently, there are no Harvard travel restrictions to countries and locations surrounding mainland China beyond the usual student pre-departure requirements for elevated risk and high risk destinations. Check with your airlines and embassies, as some governments in Asia and elsewhere have placed restrictions on travelers coming from or transiting through China. Government agencies as well as Harvard may impose new requirements if warranted by changing public health circumstances.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak is mostly centered in China, there are cases outside mainland China, and we simply cannot predict what may occur in the next few months. We recognize the uncertainty of the situation. Out of an abundance of caution, we encourage you to be as flexible as possible with your spring and summer travel and programming in the region. Proceed with your planning if it makes sense for you to do so, and consider alternative locations if the situation continues to worsen. Given the uncertainty, know your cutoff date for making a decision. Elements to consider in your decision making include health and safety; what your contracts and agreements with in-country partners may allow; payment deadlines and refund policies; logistics; purchasing refundable flights; and allowing enough time for participants to make alternative arrangements if needed.

We hope for positive developments for all those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Along with University leadership, we’ll continue to monitor developments and provide updates for spring and summer programs and travel in the region as needed.

What is Harvard doing to protect the campus community?

Leadership from across the university are meeting regularly to review the evolving situation and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and federal and state agencies. Refer to HUHS’s Coronavirus update for details.

How is Harvard handling visitors and students, scholars, or affiliates returning to campus?

Refer to HUHS’s Coronavirus update for information on how Harvard is handling visitors and students, scholars, or affiliates returning to campus.

You can also contact our International Safety & Security team, international_safety@harvard.edu, with questions related to travel or programming abroad.