The World Health Organization officially declared the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness that has been linked to birth defects in thousands of babies, an International Health Emergency.
The New York Times reports that the WHO bestowed the distinction, which is rarely used, on the outbreak during a conference in Geneva to discuss the virus.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O, said that clusters of microcephaly in regions with Zika cases “constitute an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world.”
The “emergency” classification triggers action and funding from around the world, makes the WHO the global coordinator of the outbreak, and gives the organization’s decisions the force of international law.
WHO emphasized that “international response is needed to minimize the threat in infected countries and reduce risk of international spread.”
One way to minimize the threat or spread of the infection is to avoid travel to affected areas.
Which Airlines Are Offering Refunds, And Trip Rebooking Without Charge?
Several airlines reported last week that they would refund or waive cancellation fees for travelers who do not want to travel to certain countries hit by the virus.
United Airlines will refund or waive change fees for people who cancel trips to the affected areas. A rep for the company tells Consumerist that the policy is intended for those who fall within the CDC guidelines, including pregnant women, and those who plan to become pregnant, and extends that policy to their travel companions.
If other customers have questions about the policy they can contact United and the airline will work with them on a resolution.
American Airlines will also offer refunds if passengers can provide a doctor’s note stating they are unable to travel to San Salvador, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, Panama City, and Guatemala City.
JetBlue announced Thursday that it would allow passengers to receive a refund or rebook their flights without charge if they were scheduled to travel to certain regions.
Delta Air Lines has posted a notice for travelers to the Zika virus regions, noting that they “may qualify for a change to alternate destinations, travel dates or a refund. Customers may make fee-waived changes to future reservations/tickets. However, changes need to be made by February 29, 2016.” Travelers should contact the airline for their specific travel options.
Spirit Airlines will refund or rebook customers who are pregnant or traveling with a pregnant woman to the affected regions, a spokesman said.
Alaska Airlines also followed suit, implementing a “flexible travel policy for customers with current reservations to the destinations reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be affected by the Zika virus.” Ticketed passengers can change their ticket to another Alaska Airlines destination at no charge.
Virgin America travelers who are pregnant and traveling to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos — the only cities the airline travels to in the affected regions — can call the carrier for options on travel waivers.
Frontier Airlines tells the Plain Dealer that it would give pregnant women a credit for future travel if they choose to change their plans to avoid areas affected by the Zika virus. To quality, travelers must provide a doctor’s note.
International carrier Grupo LATAM will waive all cancellation or flight-change fees for pregnant women who want to cancel flights. The policy applies to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, French Guiana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela.
Lufthansa says any pregnant passenger, and their companion, can rebook a flight to any of the affected countries free of charge, CNN reports.
Emirates Airline also offers pregnant travelers the ability to cancel their trips for full refunds.
“Customers holding a ticket issued on or before 29 January 2016 for travel up to April 30, 2016 may choose to rebook to an alternate destination in the Americas not affected by the virus, or refund their travel to destinations reported to be affected by the Zika virus,” a rep for the airline tells 7Days UAE.
British Airways will allow pregnant customers with flights to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, or to Mexico City or Cancun to change their booking free of charge, delay their journey or choose an alternative destination, CNN reports.
Consumerist has reached out to other domestic airlines for clarity on their policies related to travel to Zika-affected areas.
W.H.O. Declares Zika Virus an International Health Emergency [The New York Times]