As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, health experts say Canadians travelling abroad for March Break need to consider if any trip is worth the risks.
Michael Gardam, chief of staff at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital and an infection-control expert, said even though only a handful of countries are dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, travellers need to be mindful that the global situation is changing rapidly. In the past two months, airlines have cancelled flights, hotels have locked down guests and governments have issued sweeping quarantine measures, preventing many people from returning home after a vacation. Last month, more than 3,700 people were trapped on the Diamond Princess cruise ship for weeks in Japan as part of a coronavirus quarantine.
“Those unknowns make travel much more unpredictable now than it would have been six months ago,” Dr. Gardam said, adding that Canadians should consider how they would handle, and pay for, hospitalization in a foreign country.
“Basically, because of those reasons, I’m not travelling outside of Canada this year," he said.
More than 88,000 people have become sick from the coronavirus and more than 3,000 people have died from it since the start of this year. More than 60 countries have had at least one confirmed case, including Canada and the United States. Most confirmed cases are in China, and more than 44,000 people have recovered from the virus.
The spread of the virus has made many people nervous about travelling. Anyone who is thinking about going abroad needs to consider several important factors, said Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto. These factors include where people are going and what they’ll be doing there, as well as what may happen in the event of new confirmed cases.
“This is something that is all up to your individual risk threshold as to whether or not you think it’s okay to go wherever you plan to go. I think that’s still valid, but I think there’s more of a sense of uneasiness when things are changing so rapidly,” Dr. Hota said.
Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, said this is the biggest crisis the travel and tourism industry has faced since Sept. 11, 2001. “People are in a panic."
Peter Wong has been agonizing over a March Break trip to Rome he booked in December for him and his 15-year-old daughter, Marissa.
“I’ve basically been pulling my hair the last week or so,” said Mr. Wong, who lives in Ajax, east of Toronto. “I’m nervous for sure.”
As of Monday, he plans on taking the trip.
“We’ve not heard enough bad news out of Rome that we’re going to cancel,” he said.
He has looked into whether or not his travel insurance covers the costs of cancelling the trip. It does not.
Making a successful claim on a travel insurance policy depends on whether the Government of Canada has issued high-level travel advisories to a specific destination, said Will McAleer, executive director at the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada. These are travel advisories at level three, “Avoid non-essential travel,” and level four, “Avoid all travel.”
“When [government travel advisories] are put into place, that’s often the trigger for a trip cancellation-insurance claim. That allows [people] to cancel their trip and receive proceeds through that travel insurance policy,” he said.
However, there are some caveats: one is that you booked your travel before the advisory went up; another is that the advisory is still up when you’re supposed to be travelling.
You can purchase insurance that allows you to cancel for any reason but it usually comes at a higher premium, Mr. McAleer said.
Checking travel advisories issued by the federal government is the first step anyone thinking about travelling should take, Dr. Hota said. There are currently coronavirus-related advisories for China, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, northern Italy, Singapore and South Korea.
Of those, only China, Iran and northern Italy have been classified as level three, “Avoid non-essential travel.”
Wherever you may be travelling, ask yourself what types of activities you’ll be participating in, Dr. Hota said.
Will you be out hiking in the open air or in close contact with many other people?
You also have to be prepared for how a country may react if there is any new coronavirus development.
“Is it possible you’re going to have flight cancellations and border closures?” Dr. Hota said.
If you are symptomatic during your trip, there is a chance you may be prohibited from boarding a plane home, she added.
With a report from Carly Weeks