Following a worldwide outbreak of coronavirus, Cruise Critic answers some of the questions travelers have. Read on to learn about what the virus is, how cruise lines are handling the unfolding situation, whether it's safe to visit China and whether travel insurance will cover you if you cancel.

What is coronavirus?

The outbreak of the deadly virus known as the novel coronavirus (or 2019-nCoV) has been traced to a market in Wuhan, China. There have been more than 70,000 cases of the respiratory illness identified worldwide, most of them in China -- specifically the inland province of Hubei. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

Which countries are affected?

The novel coronavirus has spread in China, and additional cases have been identified in more than 25 other countries, including Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Russia and United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. State Department has implemented a Level 4 warning for mainland China, recommending that people avoid all unnecessary travel to China. Hong Kong and Japan are both under Level 2 warnings, which suggest travelers exercise increased caution.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include fever, cough, respiratory infection and shortness of breath. According to the CDC, the symptoms may occur two days to more than three weeks after exposure. Not all cases of coronavirus are severe, and some people with the virus might not even know they have it.

How does it spread?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it is believed the spread of the virus is mostly through close contact, specifically "respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread."

The risk to the general public outside of China and Hong Kong is low at this time.

Have there been any cases on cruise ships?

Yes. Diamond Princess, was placed under a two-week quarantine near Tokyo. During the quarantine period, which ended February 19, more than 500 passengers and crew tested positive for coronavirus.

In a separate case, after passengers disembarked Holland America's Westerdam on February 15, an 83-year-old American woman tested positive for the virus in Malaysia. No other passengers have reported symptoms, and all 747 of the ship's crew members tested negative and were cleared by Cambodian authorities.

What are cruise lines doing about it?

All cruise lines have implemented screening, prevention and control programs, with all members of the Cruise Lines International Association denying boarding to all people who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation.

Additionally, CLIA member cruise lines are denying boarding to all people who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having Coronavirus, or who is currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to Novel Coronavirus.

Cruise lines are also canceling sailings and making itinerary changes.

Should I cancel my cruise to China?

All cruises to and from mainland China have already been canceled, with many cruise lines canceling through March. If you have a cruise to or from China coming up in March or April, you should reach out to your cruise line for more information.

The U.S. Department of State has issued the following recommendation to cruise travelers: "U.S. citizens should reconsider travel by cruise ship to or within Asia. ... This is a dynamic situation and U.S. citizens traveling by ship may be impacted by travel restrictions affecting their itineraries or ability to disembark, or may be subject to quarantine procedures implemented by the local authorities. While the U.S. government has successfully evacuated hundreds of our citizens in the previous weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities. U.S. citizens should evaluate the risks associated with choosing to remain in an area that may be subject to quarantine and take the appropriate proactive measures."

How will I be affected on my upcoming cruise?

In addition to the typical pre-cruise health form, when you board you might have your temperature checked. If you have a fever of more than 100.4F and/or are showing signs of respiratory illness, you might be denied boarding. If you become ill with a respiratory illness during your cruise, the onboard medical center will likely evaluate you for coronavirus.

In addition, ports of call might screen disembarking passengers for fevers, and some ports are turning cruise ships away if there are any reports of respiratory illness onboard.

I have an upcoming cruise, and I’m concerned about coronavirus. Should I still buy travel insurance?

Travel insurance companies are continuing to update their position statement in regards to this dynamic situation. For those with an upcoming cruise, travel insurance will only provide limited coverage for coronavirus if you purchase a basic comprehensive travel insurance after the outbreak was first declared.

Does my travel insurance cover me if I cancel my trip?

An outbreak of virus is not covered under most travel insurance plans for trip cancellation purposes. If you purchased a Cancel for Any Reason optional upgrade, however, there should be some level of trip cancellation protection available but only if you cancel your trip at least two days prior to departure.

Does travel insurance cover if I get sick while traveling?

You might be able to claim benefits under the trip interruption coverage and the emergency medical coverage. The medical coverage should reimburse you for medical expenses incurred during the trip. It is important to keep all receipts and detailed documentation related to medical care received while on your trip.

You can read more in our cruise travel insurance primer.

Does travel insurance cover me if I'm quarantined?

Policy definitions can vary regarding what constitutes a quarantine. You'll have to check your specific plan to determine whether or not you're covered.

Does travel insurance cover me if the cruise line cancels my sailing?

Cruisers who have "cancel for any reason" coverage might be able to get back a portion of their nonrefundable trip costs if the cruise line cancels the entire cruise prior to departure. However, cruisers should first work with their cruises line to see if refunds are being offered, including for airfare and nonrefundable hotel reservations.

What will happen to cruise itineraries long-term if the disease continues to spread?

Cruise lines are repositioning some ships for the short term. It is too soon to tell whether there will be major itinerary changes down the line.

More Information

You can find information about coronavirus on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website.

You might also be interested in information about travel vaccinations and how not to get sick on a cruise.

Still have travel insurance questions? Chat with experts from InsureMyTrip on our message boards.