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UPDATE: Coronavirus causes Surrey Schools to cancel trips to Italy, Japan and France

Superintendent says decision was made after ‘careful consideration’
A passenger waits beside their luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The Surrey school district says it is looking at international trips on a “case-by-case basis” as the coronavirus outbreak continues. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Surrey’s school district has cancelled student trips to Italy, Japan and France amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to parents, students and staff Tuesday, Superintendent Jordan Tinney said that after “careful consideration,” trips to Italy, Japan and France had been cancelled “due to the risk of harm for students and staff travelling to these regions.”

He said for all other trips, the district would continue to “monitor the situation daily and respond to any changes” with the Canada’s travel heath notices.

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As a result, nine out of 16 school trips in March have been cancelled, said school district spokesperson Ritinder Matthew. She said the nine trips had either planned on stopping in one of the three countries, or the entire trip was in one of the countries.

In Italy, as of Wednesday morning, there were 2,706 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 107 deaths and 276 people recovered. The country declared a state of emergency on Jan. 31.

In Japan, as of Wednesday afternoon, there were 284 confirmed cases, with six deaths. There was also the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan that was under quarantine, where 706 people were confirmed to have coronavirus, and of those, six people have died.

In France, as of Wednesday, there were 212 confirmed cases with four deaths.

Worldwide, there were 93,164 confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning (March 4), with 3,199 deaths.

“One of the most amazing things our students get to experience in school is travel,” Tinney said in his letter. “Unfortunately, this year we are faced with a global challenge with the outbreak of COVID-19.”

Tinney said the district considered a “number of factors,” while also taking into account “the very real potential that staff and students may be quarantined, either overseas, or upon their return to Canada.”

He said because it’s an “evolving situation,” timely and accurate information is “critical.” Tinney added that the district wanted to ensure parents, students and staff “have time to adjust their plans, and we need to be prepared that between now and spring break there likely will be many changes to the situation.”

The district is now working with travel providers, and individual schools, to review the travel insurance policy. Tinney added schools will “communicate directly with affected students and families about next steps related to refunds.”

In his letter, Tinney also asked parents and staff who are travelling overseas “to please consider issues such as needing to be quarantined upon returning to Canada.”

“We are already seeing instances of students returning from countries where the current recommendation is to ‘avoid places where you cannot easily separate yourselves from others’ for 14 days upon return to Canada,” he wrote.

“The current areas of most significant concern are China, Northern Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea.”

It was only on Monday, Tinney said the district would be looking at international school trips on a “case-by-case basis.” He said the district was aware there is an updated warning to avoid non-essential travel to Iran, northern Italy and some areas in South Korea, adding there are some school closures in Japan and restrictions on public gatherings in France.

Tinney said that the district is also “very concerned about the situation just next door in Washington State, where King County has been declared to be in a state of emergency.”

As of Wednesday, at least nine people had died in the U.S. as a result of COVID-19, all in Washington State.

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He directed parents to the Government of Canada’s travel health notices, adding that “some situations are changing quickly in some regions.”

“We understand the concerns parents have, and we are not only co-ordinating our messaging with health experts, but we are also in regular communication with other school districts across the province.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said she’s had discussions with school districts across B.C. and Canada “about the risks and potential” for coronavirus.

“We’ve recommended that people postpone or cancel trips to areas that have been affected and to be very aware that this is changing rapidly,” Henry said. “We’re seeing that in the last couple of weeks, there’s been other countries that have been identified and I think schools are looking at that and trying to determine where is safe for children to go.”

COVID-19, according to HealthLink BC, is the name for the newly identified coronavirus.

Respiratory infections caused by COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan City, China, in December.

The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization on Jan. 31.

The virus is transmitted from an infected person through droplets spread when a person coughs or sneezes; close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands; and touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your nose, mouth or eyes before washing your hands.

READ ALSO: Canadians at forefront of COVID-19 research as SARS outbreak informs response, March 3, 2020

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By Wednesday, B.C. had identified 13 cases of COVID-19.

The latest, a woman in her 80s in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. She is in critical condition.

More than 1,000 people have been tested in the province.

The four latest cases are related to travel from Iran. Henry said all of the new cases are in isolation at home.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

READ ALSO: B.C.’s three latest COVID-19 cases related to travel from Iran, March 3, 2020

Authorities say none of the cases found so far in B.C. have been traced to transmission in his or her home community, and all contracted the virus from travel to China or Iran.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. is spending “what is necessary” to do extensive testing of suspected coronavirus cases, which is the most effective approach.

Henry said B.C.’s laboratory is running up to three sets of tests per day, with results available within 24 hours. “This is an extraordinary situation globally,” said Henry, adding that people should be careful with identifying symptoms and take precautions when travelling.

As for how people can protect themselves, Henry gave some advice Tuesday: “Wash your hands like you’ve been chopping jalapeños and you need to change your contacts (lenses).”

To prevent getting infected, HealthLink BC recommends:

• Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Using soap and water is “the single most effective way of reducing the spread of infection.

• If a sink is unavailable, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used to clean your hands, “as long as they are not visibly soiled.” If they are, use a hand wipe and then the sanitizer.

• Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue or the crease of your elbow when you sneeze or cough.

• Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

• Do not share food, drinks, utensils, etc.

As for face masks, HealthLink BC says if people are sick, wearing a mask helps prevent people from passing on illnesses to others. But if you are not sick, “it may be less effective to wear a mask in the community.”

– With files from Tom Zytaruk, Tom Fletcher, Katya Slepian, Ashley Wadhwani Canadian Press

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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