TORONTO — Cindy Perry was all set for a March break trip to California with her wife and their two children, but the novel coronavirus outbreak that is sweeping the globe made her reconsider her plans.
After weighing her options, the Toronto mom ultimately decided to cancel the trip to a region where COVID-19 — the disease caused by the new coronavirus — has already killed two people and sickened more than 130 others. About 20 of those cases were acquired through community spread.
"Given the low rates of testing that have been going on in the U.S., just a handful of community cases likely means that it's pretty widespread," Perry said.
Travel restrictions that might have come into effect while the family was out of the country were also a concern for Perry.
"Obviously California is not a place where we can easily get ourselves back to Canada if, for example, they decide to cancel flights into and out of the States," she said.
The global spread of the virus comes during one of the busiest travel times of the year for Canadians, looking for a getaway while kids are out of school.
Both Air Canada and WestJet are waiving fees associated with changing flights booked from March 4 and 5, respectively, through to the 31st. WestJet is also removing normal change and cancel restrictions for customers who have booked a basic fare for travel beginning on or before March 31.
The airline has also expanded and increased the frequency of sanitation procedures, in light of coronavirus concerns. In addition to regular cleaners, airline staff are now also using 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," WestJet said in a statement.
"The Clorox and (regular) Sanicide products are used to accomplish the cleaning of our galleys, lavatories, tray tables, seat armrests and headrests, seatbelt buckles, the PSU panel (above seats with lights and call buttons), overhead bin door latches and lavatory door handles."
Toronto's Pearson International Airport has added extra hand sanitizer stations in the arrivals areas and is more frequently cleaning those spaces, including kiosks and bathrooms. High-traffic areas are regularly disinfected, the airport authority said.
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has recommended Canadians avoid travelling on all cruise ships — which have seen several outbreaks — to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"Cruise ships have passengers from around the world who may be arriving from areas with known or unknown spread of the novel coronavirus," she has said.
Public health and the federal government are strongly urging people to check the online travel advisories which are updated hourly. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also urged Canadians to register with Global Affairs before travelling outside the country.
"March break is coming up and if you’re travelling, we recommend you check out travel advisories from @TravelGoC. We also encourage you to use the Registration of Canadians Abroad service to receive important updates before & during your travel," he tweeted on Tuesday.
Canadians are expected to monitor themselves for symptoms when they return home and report to public health if they suspect they may have been infected.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said Canadians with international travel plans during March break should do a "precautionary assessment."
"Do you need to go on the trip? Where are you going on the trip? What are your risk factors of you going on the trip? Do you have health conditions? What's the risk factor of taking your children on the trip? What kind of behaviour are you going to be involved with at that end? What kind of ability are you going to have to limit your social distancing in those settings?" he said.
"It's one thing to be in a very crowded international venue versus you're just going down and have an AirBnB somewhere and sit on the beach with your kids."
For Perry, her decision to cancel her family's California trip came largely for fear of getting stuck there, but she would also worry about contracting the illness and spreading it to more vulnerable people. She was able to cancel all of the rental cars and hotels at no cost, got her Aeroplan points back and only had to pay a few-hundred-dollar fee, so Perry is trying to look on the bright side.
"The kids are disappointed, but it's still a week off school," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press