March is typically one of the busiest travel months of the year, and many Canadians are slated to vacation abroad despite the discouraging and potentially dangerous effects of COVID-19. If you’re one of those travelling, here are some predeparture steps you can take to prevent outbreak-related issues from going from bad to worse on the road.
Take out travel health insurance. While this precaution may seem obvious, it should be noted that not all policies are created equal. Check to make sure your coverage includes medical evacuations to Canada and the costs of a medical escort; does not exclude or limit coverage for the regions or countries being visited; is renewable from abroad; includes an in-house, worldwide, round-the-clock emergency contact number and translation services for health-care providers; pays medical bills up front (compared with reimbursement); and includes quarantine situations and associated costs, such as having to extend your trip.
Stock up on supplies. Alleviate concerns over shortages abroad by bringing your own supplies of latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves (in the right sizes); and alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes. Likewise, refill all prescriptions prior to departure.
Do your homework. Check with your destination’s foreign diplomatic mission to find out if authorities have enacted any restrictions related to COVID-19, such as entry requirements, border closings and flight suspensions; read all Government of Canada travel advice and advisories, especially a new information and frequently asked questions page about COVID-19; and sign up for the Registration of Canadians Abroad service to receive notifications in case of emergencies abroad.
Check your itinerary. As the COVID-19 situation evolves, many countries are implementing policies and restrictions designed to contain outbreaks. Check with your travel agent, or directly with resorts, cruise lines, airlines and other travel suppliers, to make sure your itinerary is not being affected. This is particularly important for cruise passengers, as your ability to disembark in certain destinations could be affected.
Talk to your travel agent. It is their job to inform you of the terms and conditions of every travel supplier involved in your itinerary, including refunds or possible penalties for changes and cancellations related to COVID-19.
According to the Travel Industry Council of Ontario – Quebec, B.C. and Ontario are the only provinces that regulate travel sellers – there is no provision in the Travel Act of 2002 requiring members to provide a refund or offer alternate travel services owing to a government-issued advisory. That said, its members “may have a continuing obligation to inform customers of a deteriorating situation in the travel destination after the travel services have been reserved.”
Should booked accommodations become untenable owing to the virus, members “may be responsible for taking reasonable measures to ensure that the accommodations sold to customers are in the same condition as described by the registrant at the time of sale, when the time comes for the customer to use those travel services.” If the accommodations are not in such condition, members “must promptly notify the customer, and must offer the customer a choice of a full and immediate refund or comparable alternate services acceptable to the customer.” If the accommodations are sold as part of a package, the refund or comparable alternative services apply to the entire package.
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story suggested stocking up on surgical masks; however, public health officials around the world have said masks are not a good idea for the general public – they are in short supply and should be reserved for the sick and for health-care professionals.