Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
The coronavirus continues to spread around the world, preparing communities for what could be a global pandemic.
Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in 58 countries - Canada included - and travel restrictions are becoming more common.
The contagious disease that causes respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and, at worse, death, originated in Wuhan, China, in December.
Since then, anyone who has recently travelled to or through China (usually within the last 14-28 days) may be barred from entering a host of countries, including Australia, Bahamas, many Caribbean islands, India, Indonesia, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Turkey, USA and Vietnam, among others.
READ MORE: Jamaica issues travel restrictions in response to coronavirus
Airports everywhere are implementing preventive measures, too.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a published document listing all the countries where restrictions are in place. (Click here to view it).
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday (Feb. 28) upgraded the global risk from the new coronavirus to "very high."
READ MORE: Canadian tour ops monitoring Italy’s COVID-19 situation
Quebec's first presumptive case of COVID-19 was announced Thursday (Feb 27). Ontario reported a sixth case of COVID-19 that same day, and seven other cases are in British Columbia.
There are currently no vaccines available to protect you against human coronavirus infection.
READ MORE: Mexico confirms first cases of coronavirus
The Government of Canada maintains that the public health risk associated with COVID-19 is low for Canada and for Canadian travellers. However, it recommends that Canadians avoid non-essential travel to China.
Canadian travel advisors speak
The Canadian travel agent community is monitoring the situation closely.
“I feel like it is something we certainly need to keep our eye on and not ignore or turn a blind eye to,” Kelly Klassen of Travel Professionals International (TPI), told PAX.
However, Klassen added that the industry should also “not freak out and put it into perspective.”
“In most cases, those people who do contract the virus have flu-like symptoms and recover. Hysteria due to the coronavirus happens because we confuse precaution with risk,” Klassen told PAX.
Klassen is urging travellers to be especially critical of news headlines, notably clickbait articles that promote fear over facts.
She says she hasn’t received any cancellations over coronavirus just yet, adding that the situation wouldn’t prevent her from travelling herself.
“I would advise people to carry on with their travel plans,” she said. “…and make sure they wash their hands diligently when travelling.”
Lorena Suarez-Balkowski, director of Wander Travel Advisors, told PAX that she has cancelled all group bookings to China “for obvious reasons.”
But not permanently.
“We’re looking at new dates, either at the end of the year or next year” Suarez-Balkowski told PAX. “This is to protect our clients.”
Though she is monitoring the situation closely, Suarez-Balkowski insists that her agency is “not going to give up on China.”
“We cannot live in fear,” she said. “China is a wonderful country.”
Suarez-Balkowski clarified that she hasn’t cancelled every group in the books, noting that she is still sending clients to destinations such as Greece and Dubai and providing everyone with the necessary precautions.
“We have to make sure clients are enjoying their life through travel,” Suarez-Balkowski said. “The travel industry is not going to stop.”
Barbara Scrocco of TravelOnly says some of her clients have called to cancel or postpone trips.
"Some are waiting to book at a later date when things settle down," Scrocco told PAX.
She said the "the most important thing is to protect our clients and always put their best interest at the forefront of everything we do."
Ethel Hansen Davey of Uniglobe Enterprise Travel Ltd. has one client who is considering cancelling his vacation plans to Rio de Janeiro this March.
Brazil confirmed its first case of coronavirus this week on Wednesday (Feb 26) – the first reported case in Latin America.
“His concern is not actually that there has been a case or two in Brazil,” Davey told PAX, “…but the possibility of being on a plane with a contagious patron.”
Davey, who has no intention of cancelling her own travel plans this March and May, recommends her clients check the Government of Canada website, and often, for accurate updates and to “ignore the media and social media hype.”
“I do wish that the news outlets would be more forthcoming with accurate information about who is actually at risk of serious complications or even death from this virus,” Davey told PAX.
She advises people to adapt “serious handwashing” when travelling, especially after clearing security.
“Those trays have been handled by many before you and I don’t know how often they are sanitized. Anyone? Go immediately to the nearest restroom and carefully wash your hands,” Davey said.
Packing antibacterial wipes in a ziplock for the plane to “wipe down your tray table, armrests, and windowsill” goes a long way, too.
“Take responsibility for your own health and safety,” she said.
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