Coronavirus travel disruptions

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 17th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we are glad you are! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Well, it may be St. Patrick’s Day, but those celebrations have come to a screeching halt. No massive parades. Instead, canceled events of all sorts. 

To get an idea of what some of these effects are like first-hand, we are joined now by three WORLD reporters who have been out and about during these disruptions.

First up is Sarah Schweinsberg. 

Now Sarah, last week, you were on a reporting trip in the San Francisco Bay Area. And that area really came into the headlines last week because a cruise ship docked in the Port of Oakland with at least 21 coronavirus cases on board. Tell us about that.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Yeah, Mary, it was interesting driving North, straight out of downtown San Francisco, driving across the bridge there. I looked to my right and there is the 2,400 passenger Grand Princess cruise ship anchored there. And I think with that ship being anchored there, it led a lot of Silicon Valley companies like Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, Airbnb to ask their employees to work from home, which really cut back on the traffic in the area, which was nice for me. But you know, it’s become difficult for some employees who do rely on that heavy traffic downtown, um, for their cafes and shops. And now yesterday, as you heard earlier authorities have now banned non-essential gatherings of any size there and are asking people to only go out into public for essentials. 

REICHARD: What was flying like in the midst of a lot of these disruptions to everyday life? 

SCHWEINSBERG: To me traffic in the airport was a lot less dense than it usually is. You know, usually you’re wheeling down the hall and you have to weave and zag around people to walk in a straight line. And that was not a problem at all. There’s a commercial air traffic website that is tracking the number of flights globally and they’re saying that it’s down by 5% compared to this time last year. And then I was on my way to another city and another conference over the weekend, and en route to the airport, my conference got canceled. There was a lot of confusion over how to change and cancel flights. Could I get flight credit? Would I be reimbursed?

I did get that situation resolved. Thankfully, I canceled my flight, and I was reimbursed. Now every airline is a little bit different. But Forbes has put together a master list of all airlines and their cancellation flight change policies right now. That’s really helpful to know how to best handle your situation, whatever that looks like. And I think we’re going to link it here. So check the transcript later and you can look at that list.

REICHARD: Starts at 5:47 on my track with Leigh: Alright thank you, Sarah. OK now let’s toss it to Leigh Jones who just got back from a family vacation to Disneyland in California.  Leigh, it seems you made it into and out of the park just in time for it to close Friday night through the end of the month. This marks only the fourth time the park has ever closed. So, Leigh going into last week did you have any worries that the park could close while you were there?

LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: Well, not before we left, but certainly by the time we got there we were getting more alerts on our phones about all the other things that were closing and the things that were being postponed. I think though our bigger concern was whether we would be able to get home because we kept seeing news alerts about the possibility for travel bans and things like that.

REICHARD: What did you observe in other guests and how they responded to the growing spread of coronavirus throughout the week? 

JONES: Well, definitely by the end of the week we started to see more, um, face masks. And the park was definitely, the traffic was lighter on Friday, but for the most part it was sort of like being an a in another world. I mean we were in lines with people, we were on rides with people, the princesses were all out in the park and welcoming kids. There was no social distancing or anything like that. 

REICHARD: Well, things have certainly changed. And you were traveling with your 6-year-old daughter, right? How did you explain all this to her? 

JONES: We’ve just been very honest about the fact that it’s a bad sickness and it’s affecting a lot of people. Um, we’re keeping her away from her grandmother for a couple of weeks because it’s, you know, possible that we picked up the virus while we were traveling. And, um, so we’ve just really tried to, um, remind her about how much we trust in God’s sovereignty, that the coronavirus is new to us, but it’s not news to God and just using this as a real object lesson in trust and knowing that he is working all things for our good.

REICHARD: Well, we’re glad you’re home safe and sound now. Take care out there! Finally now,  we turn to Emily Belz who has travelled quite far—all the way to Kenya to report on medical mission efforts there. She’s currently in a mission hospital there about 150 miles west of the capital city, Nairobi. 

Emily, for a long time Africa didn’t see a large spread of Covid-19. But the numbers are starting to grow with 25 countries now reporting cases. Kenya just confirmed its first on Friday. Are you seeing the hospital preparing for a possible spike in cases where you are? 

EMILY BELZ, REPORTER: It’s really changing hourly here. The hospital has set up an isolation area. Even today at the hospital they’ve had to cancel events. There was a free cervical cancer screening that was going to take place. Um, and the government canceled it because more than 500 women were gonna show up. A few days ago we had a meeting with the entire hospital staff, which is about 800 people. And the CEO, you know, went over some of the basic things that they’re trying to do, but then he prayed for everyone. He prayed that the people at the hospital, the staff would be prepared to help the people of Kenya.

REICHARD: Are people in the community worried about the virus? Or does it still seem like a far off problem at this point. 

BELZ: Even though there are no confirmed cases in this particular area, um, people are still using a lot of hand sanitizer. Um, the hospital is going through a lot of masks, um, and we’re seeing ripple effects already. This weekend we found out that a surgical team of pediatric cardiothoracic surgical team that was supposed to come here, canceled their trip. Um, and they would have done a lot of cases for these babies with congenital heart defects. And so that’s really devastating. So some of those babies are going to die because of travel restrictions and just the way that this virus is playing out. But I would also say that I’ve seen a lot of resilience from the health care workers here. And I think, you know, part of that is that Africa has faced a lot of new emerging viruses before. I think that for many of the workers here at this hospital that goes back to their Christian faith and believing that they’re here to serve and to sacrifice, uh, to keep people alive. And so I’ve been seeing that every day here.

REICHARD: Many African countries’ healthcare systems aren’t as advanced as those in the West or in China and South Korea. Can healthcare systems there handle a pandemic spread of a virus like Covid-19? Are doctors and public officials worried? 

BELZ: Here at, I’m at Tenwek hospital, they have a very high level of medical care here actually. But they are busting at the seams. They just don’t have any margin for a pandemic to happen. I don’t know where they would put people, honestly. It’s just full to the seams here.

REICHARD: Emily Belz at a missions hospital in rural Kenya. Thanks Emily.

Since we recorded this interview, the president of Kenya has now closed the country’s borders to all non-residents trying to enter. And the government has ordered anyone who recently entered the country to self-quarantine, so Emily Belz will be in quarantine until the end of the week. We will keep you updated on her situation.

(Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) A Delta airplane sits at the International Terminal at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta as travelers try to return to the United States amid new European travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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