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Monday, April 22, 2024
DEAD …. for now — Travel advice with coronavirus


The novel coronavirus, called COVID-19, may have some travellers panicked about an upcoming jaunt, but local expert says provided you’re healthy and not visiting a recent outbreak area, there’s likely no reason to drop your scheduled vacation.

Will McAleer, executive director and past president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada said travel insurance should never be an afterthought, especially with the latest outbreak of COVID-19. The landscape of affected countries is rapidly growing.

As of March 1, Canada’s public health department listed 24 confirmed cases in Canada – that number jumped from 13 on Feb. 27.

On March 2, almost 90,000 cases have been documented globally by an interactive dashboard to track the spread of the virus in real-time, created by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.

Currently, the Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed the public health risk to be low, but a new response structure has been announced by the province of Ontario to improve responsiveness to the virus, a March 2 statement from the province said.

“Our local public health units, hospitals, emergency health services, nurses and primary care providers, among others, have been critical in managing the early phases of this new coronavirus,” Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health said in the statement.

“This new structure will tap into an even broader network of clinical expertise, experience and capacity across the health sector to ensure extensive plans are in place to quickly and effectively respond to any and every possible scenario.”

The new structure has been put in place to provide leadership and strategic direction to guide the province's response to COVID-19, the statement said.

The new structure will be comprised of a command table, chaired by Deputy Minister of Health, Helen Angus; five regional planning and implementation tables, led by Ontario Health with support from local public health units; a scientific table, led by Public Health Ontario; an ethics table, led by the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics; sector or issues specific tables, with a focus on sector specific co-ordination; and a collaboration table, with members from key health sector organizations advising the command table.

“Although the risk to Ontarians remains low, it is important that we take decisive steps to prepare for any scenario as this is a quickly evolving situation globally,” said Elliott. “As we enter this next phase of preparedness, every Ontarian should have full confidence that these efforts by our dedicated public health professionals and health care leaders will continue to keep them safe.”

A representative from the Ministry of Health said in an email response, whether at home or abroad, people can take these everyday measures to prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses: wash hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, sneeze and cough into your sleeve, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoid contact with people who are sick and stay home if you're sick.

If travelling to an area that is known to have cases of the virus, be sure to avoid high-risk areas such as farms, live animal markets and areas where animals may be slaughtered. Also refrain from contact with animals, alive or dead, including pigs, chickens, ducks and wild birds, and don't touch surfaces with animal droppings or secretions on them.

McAleer said it is understandable potential travellers are concerned.

Whether there’s a global outbreak or not, he said it’s always important to find a policy that offers the best coverage, and sometimes that means finding a policy covering cancellations for any reason to protect against unforeseen situations.

“Keep an eye on what’s happening because it’s changing everyday,” he added, advising travellers consult the Canadian government's travel advisory website.

“I think it's a great concern to many travellers not only who may be away right now, but who are planning a trip.”

He’s been fielding questions about what can be done to continue with a trip, or what to do if it doesn’t seem safe, he said.

“What if I booked my trip a while ago, and I'm set to go to a place like China. I'd already bought my travel insurance, but I'm not going for another six months,” he said the key there is that it's a “wait and see” scenario.

The travel advisory would need to be up at the time of travel in order for it to be covered under the policy, so he advises people continue to monitor the issue leading up to the travel date while also keeping in contact with their insurance provider.

For trips to affected countries that have already been booked, McAleer said many airlines and travel agencies are offering more lenient cancellation policies.

“Airlines are being much more open with cancellation policies, particularly where there are large areas of infection.”

He said airlines like Air Canada have been relaxing some penalties associated with cancellations of flights to affected areas. As for those looking to book an upcoming trip, either now or in general, he said there’s a few factors to always consider.

The golden rules to always follow are to know your health, know your trip, know your policy and know your rights and responsibilities.

No matter when or where you’re travelling, it’s always important to know your health and any conditions you may have, he said.

“Know your limits.” And know what kind of trip you’re taking to better gauge the type of insurance you’ll need.

“If I plan on doing a little bit of mountain climbing or if I plan on doing bungee jumping or parasailing, high risk activities. Are they covered under my policy? You're going to want to find out because that can vary from policy to policy,” he said.

He said you need to understand the policy and what is covered. And as for knowing your rights and responsibilities, he said it’s a part of understanding your policy.

“So you've got rights when you purchase a travel insurance policy, and that means a right to see any of the answers to the medical questions that you've answered along the way, just to make sure that the application is correct,” he said.

“And if you need to make any changes, call them back and make the changes before you go.”

It’s your responsibility to make sure you understand the ins and outs of the policy. He suggests calling your insurance provider to clarify any and all questions before you leave.

“The key is you want to go and have a restful enjoyable trip, not worry about whether or not a travel insurance policy is the right one or not.”

Finally, McAleer said it’s important to ask the right questions when shopping for travel insurance. With a global virus like COVID-19, he said travellers need to know what situations are covered.

“I’d ask them, if I'm quarantined while I'm away, will this policy provide me coverage, not only for any of the remaining part of my trip, but also, will it help me get home if I miss my trip back? Will it cover the medical side?”

But with all those considerations to look at, he said barring any other issues, most people should be able to keep travel plans if they are heading to an unaffected area. He added that it’s always important to be careful when travelling.

“I think that's always something that should be taken into consideration, you need to be situationally aware and know where you're going and know the landscape, but I don't think it's time for panic for travellers.”

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