The Diamond Princess cruise ship, marooned for weeks in the Japanese port of Yokohama after 705 of its passengers tested positive for the new coronavirus, is one of the most dramatic narratives surrounding the outbreak, with trapped vacationers, mandatory quarantines and emergency government airlifts.
With COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, spreading around the world, many potential travellers are nervous. Sectors from across the travel industry are increasing health, safety and screening procedures and implementing heightened sanitation protocols to keep people as safe as possible on each leg of their journey.
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AIRPORTS AND AIRLINES
As the virus crosses borders and oceans, hubs such as Toronto’s Pearson International Airport are making health a top priority. “We’re working in close collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada Border Services Agency to ensure that all proper measures are taken with all international arriving passengers,” Robin Smith, senior communications adviser for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, says. “Toronto Pearson has installed extra hand-sanitizer stations and implemented more frequent cleaning – an additional 1,000 hours of cleaning time per week – which means a much higher level of focus on high-traffic areas that include the arrivals and departures halls, customs hall and bathrooms.”
Airlines, too, have intensified cleaning and disinfecting routines in light of COVID-19. In addition to their standard cleaning agents, WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell says, “we have added two more disinfecting products to our arsenal: hospital-grade Clorox wipes and spray. These new products are used on tray tables as well as general seating areas to ensure all guest contact surfaces are thoroughly disinfected.” Sunwing, Air Canada and Air Transat also confirm that they are following cleaning and disinfecting protocols outlined by the Public Health Agency of Canada, including the use of hospital-grade products.
And what about that much-maligned recirculated airplane air? “The idea that all aircraft air is recirculated is a common misconception,” Bell says. “All WestJet aircraft are equipped with an industry-leading air-circulation system containing a HEPA filter, similar to what is used in hospital environments. These filters achieve a viral-removal efficiency of greater than 99.99909 per cent and bacterial removal efficiency of greater than 99.99996 per cent. These aircraft also introduce fresh air into the cabin every two to three minutes.” Indeed, each airline we contacted uses a similar filtration system.
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As a mode of travel that hosts passengers for long stretches of time, cruise ships are being very careful about who they allow on board – not only to protect travellers, but out of concern for the communities they visit. With routes navigating remote and vulnerable Arctic destinations, Adventure Canada will deny boarding to passengers with COVID-19 symptoms, as well as passengers who have travelled through or from any of the heavily affected areas, such as Iran and China. Similar steps are being taken by cruise lines including Viking, Royal Caribbean and all members of the Cruise Lines International Association. These new passenger- and crew-screening processes (think: mandatory health questionnaires, travel history checks and non-touch digital temperature scanners) will be accompanied by elevated cleaning and sanitation measures.
Global hotel brands such as Accor and Marriott, each with thousands of properties across the world, are monitoring the pace and scope of the outbreak. In light of the fluidity of the situation, they are keeping up with current cleaning and sanitization measures “designed to address a broad spectrum of viruses including COVID-19,” Sabrina Bhangoo, director of public relations for Marriott International, says. “Our associates are expected to follow the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations for everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.” Those recommendations include regular hand washing, continuous cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces, and perhaps most importantly, encouraging employees to call in sick when they are experiencing fever or respiratory symptoms.
TRAINS AND RAIL TOURS
Across Canada, Via Rail has implemented its own illness control lan and is communicating with partners such as Metrolinx and Amtrak to ensure the safety of train passengers. “Our plan includes both preventive and reactive measures to address any potential communicable disease and is part of our normal operations,” Marie-Anna Murat, VIA’s senior director of corporate communications, says. These practices include regular and thorough cleaning of all hard surfaces in train cars. Via Rail is also taking additional measures to be ready should the situation change. “We made sure to acquire more prevention equipment and we’ll be ready for distribution and deployment when it will be required,” Murat says. Via’s concern over COVID-19 extends to employees, too. The company has enlisted a committee to update front-line workers in call centres, stations, ticket offices, on-board trains and in maintenance centres with the latest news about the outbreak and how to deal with it.
Canadian rail-tour operator Rocky Mountaineer also anticipates an intensification of both passenger-screening processes and preventative health and sanitation procedures as they look toward the start of their travel season in mid-April. “This will include pre-board screening of all guests and crew to report illness, if they have been in contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or if they have travelled to an area with apparent community spread. We also will enhance sanitation on board with additional disinfection both during and between travel days,” Mark Southern, the company’s chief operating officer, says.
Public transit systems in cities such as New York and Toronto are taking action. When news of the novel coronavirus broke early this year, Metrolinx began readying the Greater Toronto Area’s transit system.
Those efforts entail increasing cleaning schedules from once a month to daily. GO Transit, the TTC and the Union-Pearson Express, also use Aegis Microbe Shield, a product that “provides antimicrobial activity” on the surfaces where it’s applied, Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx’s senior manager of media, says. In laypeople’s terms: Germs generally don’t like living on it. Aikins admits, however, that the agency is still awaiting data about the shield’s effectiveness in combatting COVID-19 specifically. Results are expected in a few weeks.
If this information still fails to ease your COVID-19 angst, consider delaying your travel. Many providers such as Air New Zealand and Viking Cruises are waving their standard rescheduling fees for travellers who aren’t reassured by heightened health and safety measures. For those who decide to go ahead with their travel plans, Dr. Carrie Schram, a Toronto family physician with a masters in public health, offers the following advice: “The two most important things are: Wash your hands; don’t touch your face. There’s a great quote right now circulating on social media from Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer in B.C. She says, ‘Wash your hands like you’ve been chopping jalapenos and you need to change your contacts.’ That’s actually the best advice I’ve seen about this virus. If you have to cough or sneeze in public, do it into your sleeve or into your elbow and use hand sanitizer after. Always consider the people around you.”
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