Some Vancouver Island school trips cancelled due to coronavirus concerns

WatchSome school districts on Vancouver Island have announced international trip cancellations due to coronavirus fears.

Some international school trips with the Sooke School District, the Greater Victoria School District and Comox Valley Schools have been cancelled due to growing concerns over the novel coronavirus.

The Sooke School District has cancelled three international trips:

  • Royal Bay Secondary: Greece, March 18 – 28
  • Edward Milne Community School: Rome/Paris, March 16-23
  • Journey Middle School: Japan, March 12-22

The district said the cancellations came after consultation and review of travel advisories from the Government of Canada.  Other trips could go ahead but the Sooke School District said they are subject to cancellation as the situation continues to evolve.

Letters from the Sooke School District are being sent to the travel providers about the changes, as well as seek refunds or another solution.

The Greater Victoria School District (GVSD) said one international trip to Italy has been cancelled over spring break, which runs from March 16 to March 27 in the GVSD. Sixteen students from Mount Douglas Secondary School were supposed to go to Italy for a cruise. The federal government has issued a Level 3 (avoid non-essential travel) for northern Italy due to widespread transmission of COVID-19 in multiple regions.

“The school district is avoiding non-essential travel to this region,” GVSD said in a statement.

GVSD said it will continue to monitor other student trips to see if they need to be cancelled or postponed.

“Student safety is our first priority, and the school district will continue to assess each scheduled trip case by case,” GVSD said.

Comox Valley Schools (School District 71) had already cancelled a trip to China and has now called off an upcoming trip to Italy. Both were scheduled for the last two weeks of March. Those trips will be fully refunded.

A trip to Germany is being monitored, according to Paul Berry, director of health and safety for School District 71.

“So this may have been a once in a lifetime opportunity for those students and we certainly regret that but their safety is paramount for us,” Berry said.

“And of course you know how close proximity everything is in Europe and so we’re monitoring that one [German] very closely. If a decision was made by the government to issue a warning for Germany the same decision would be made. Spring break certainly leaves a lot of question marks in our mind but we’ll follow the advice of the Government of Canada and Island Health and we’ll monitor each family as they come back. We know that CBSA and points of entry are monitoring for locations where it is a concern.”

GVSD is also emphasizing it is increasing its cleaning and hand hygiene to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

“Efforts are being put in place to daily clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces. This includes desktops, chair backs, table tops, light switches, door knobs, handrails, water fountains and washrooms,” GVSD said.

“In addition, a letter has gone home to remind parents and guardians on the importance of handwashing and respiratory etiquette.”

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced four new cases novel coronavirus in B.C. on Tuesday, bringing the provincial total to 12. All the cases are in self-isolation at home.

The B.C. government is asking travellers from China to Iran to isolate themselves for 14 days when they return home from Canada.

READ MORE: PM promises resources for provinces fighting novel coronavirus

Ontario reported two more cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in Canada to 30. But it has infected and killed significantly more in China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.

Some Canadians planning overseas trips are being told by their employers to self-quarantine for weeks upon return in an effort to minimize the spread of a novel form of coronavirus.

Manulife Financial Corp. told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that it is requiring employees who have visited China, South Korea, Iran and Italy to observe a 14-day self-quarantine after they or anyone in their home has travelled to any of those countries.

Sean Pasternak, a spokesman for the Toronto-based insurance company, said Manulife has also suspended all but essential travel to and from mainland China. For personal travel, the company is encouraging employees to consider advice provided by health authorities.

“The health and safety of our employees globally is our priority, which is why we are monitoring the situation closely and taking necessary actions,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate if additional steps or revisions to our current actions are needed.”

Meanwhile, Home Depot of Canada Inc.’s director of corporate communications Paul Berto said in email that his company has put all employee travel to and from Asia and Italy on hold until further notice and any employees who have returned from Asia and Italy within the last two weeks are being told to stay home for 14 days before returning to work.

“This is a very fluid situation and we’re watching it closely,” Berto said.

Both companies have also said they will follow the government’s guidance on how to deal with the virus known as COVID-19.

Canada’s government is currently advising people returning from abroad to monitor their health for fever, cough and difficulty breathing for 14 days after they make it home.

Canadians who have travelled to Hubei province in China in the last 14 days are being told to limit their contact with others by self-isolating and staying home for two weeks from the date they left Hubei.

Jim Tiessen, the director of Ryerson University’s School of Health Services Management, said the policies Manulife and Home Depot have implemented are a good idea, but any companies that adopt coronavirus-related travel policies should be prepared to be flexible.

“They have to be selective on the countries they apply the strategy to and they have to be ready to change those countries because the situation is so fluid,” he said.

“Three weeks ago, it would have been okay to go to Italy and now they’re saying parts of Italy are not okay to go to and that happened over a weekend.”

Tiessen said a big component of managing the virus is being proactive.

Employees, he said, run the risk of travelling somewhere and then find themselves trapped abroad.

“And that’s even more of a problem because [employers] need them to be to do their work in the countries they’re working in,” Tiessen said. “They have to care about their workers first, which I’m sure they do, but there’s also a public relations angle to this because they don’t want to be known as the company whose workers came back as patients.”

If you are hearing of any school trips or event cancellations due to the novel coronavirus, please email [email protected].

With files from The Canadian Press

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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