Travelling is all about having fun, experiencing new things, relaxing and recharging. Travelling in Spring 2020, however, is none of those things. With the March 11 2020 declaration by WHO that the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, a pandemic (meaning it is prevalent over a whole country or the world), our expectations and actions need to change.

What then, do families need to consider if they’re planning to travel now, with the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the world and into Canada?

There is no question that now is a time of heightened concern,” says Dr Thomas Louie, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and a well-known Canadian infectious disease researcher and infection control physician. “The most important thing is to be prepared. Now is a time for caution, time for extra preparedness and for being more careful.”

“We have a unique challenge going on right now. We have not been confronted with this type of event before. This is a highly spreadable virus, and it is difficult to distinguish from infection by common respiratory viruses already circulating in the community. Additionally, having no prior encounters with this virus,  our immune systems are not ramped up to defend against it, and infection is more likely to be fatal, mainly in older persons who have other health problems.”

Because of this, Louie suggests that Canadians who are planning to travel be more thoughtful about it. “Know where you are travelling to and be better prepared.”

You must also be aware that travelling includes the added risk of getting quarantined upon your arrival home, or worse, quarantined abroad. Travel at your own risk is the theme these days.

Important steps to protect yourself and your family include:

  • With the rapidly evolving pandemic, it might be best to stay put at home, likely the safest place. But if you do choose to travel, use a shorter timeline in planning the trip, for a shorter duration, and avoid hot zones. Avoid crowded events. Governments and meeting organizers are already cancelling events to limit the spread of COVID-19.  Being confined in a quarantine situation would be an unwelcome risk. At present, it would appear that visiting family and small gatherings are still a go, but that could change at any moment;
  • Good hygiene and good hand hygiene is foundational in protection oneself. Is the water safe, and is water available? Safe water is important. Carry your water bottle with you and make sure you can purify your water if need be;
  • When you’re not able to wash your hands with soap and water, use hand sanitizer;
  • As hands are involved in the transmission of viruses and bacteria, avoid unconscious touching of your face. If you must, use the back of your hands;
  • Make sure you improve your ‘social etiquette’ if you have a respiratory illness, by covering up coughs (with a tissue or elbow, not your hand) and avoiding close contact with others by using a ‘social distance’ of at least a metre between persons;
  • Avoid large crowds or situations where one is living in close quarters; cruise ships have long been affected by periodic outbreaks;
  • Be more prepared; have a safety kit with the medications that you and your family members normally take;
  • Ensure that your and your children’s vaccinations are up to date;
  • Be aware of those around you who are ill. “There are lots and lots of upper respiratory tract infections and people with influenza-like illness. You don’t know who’s got it (COVID-19).”
    When travelling, Louie notes, you are taking yourself out of the Canadian health care system and putting yourself in the health care system of the country you’re travelling to. Be cautious about travelling to places where there are limited resources.
  • Take out travel insurance, but be aware that travel insurance does not always cover pandemics. Read the fine print. “Right now it’s a bit of a gamble,” he says. “I would certainly take out travel insurance. And I worry about travel to areas where there is political chaos.”

“With an evolving epidemic, we also have to be paying more attention to trends. We have a worldwide challenge, so right now is a time to slow it down. Now is a time to travel more safely and be more selective about where you travel to. You should also realize that every health care system could be overwhelmed. We don’t know how long this virus has been spreading around, because it takes time to be detected, and many mild cases would have escaped detection. I’d say right now travel only if necessary. Investigate a little harder and be prepared to adjust your family travel.”