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Coronavirus concerns derail high school trips; travel industry bracing for massive losses

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Coronavirus-fuelled travel advisories have forced some Winnipeg high school students to alter their spring break plans.

And the travel industry at large is bracing for major revenue losses as international movement stalls in the name of public safety.

Some students at Kelvin and Grant Park high schools had planned to spend their spring break week in Italy and China, respectively, this year on unsponsored student trips. Government travel advisories issued as a result of the global spread of COVID-19 have re-routed their trips, Radean Carter, senior information officer for the Winnipeg School Division, said Wednesday.

During the school year some students travel on curriculum trips sponsored by — and subject to cancellation by — the division. As well, some travel on unsponsored trips co-ordinated by students, parents and teachers, Carter said.

The division hasn't scheduled any sponsored trips leaving North America, but the students embarking on unsponsored international trips are closely monitoring government-issued updates as the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe.

So far, only two of the five school trips in the Winnipeg School Division have been affected by current advisories, which remain active for China, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, northern Italy, Singapore and South Korea. Carter said fewer than 100 students have been affected by the changes, and no hard cancellations have been made.

In a statement, Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen told the Free Press that "ultimately, it is up to parents and their children to decide what is right for them with the best information available," and directed parents to refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada for updates.

"We are encouraging parents and students… to stay in contact with the travel agencies and stay on top of what alerts are coming up. If it gets to the point where they have to cancel them, they’d have to talk the travel agents." – Radean Carter, senior information officer for the Winnipeg School Division

As of Thursday morning, Pembina Trails School Division has confirmed two school trip cancellations at Oak Park High and Fort Richmond Collegiate.

Stacey Ashley, communications officer for the division, said in an email that Oak Park students had been planning a trip to Thailand, while Fort Richmond students had an itinerary that included Italy. The trips, slated for March departure dates, were cancelled out of an abundance of caution, she said.

While no cancellations have been made in the River East Transcona school division, senior communications co-ordinator Amanda Gaudes said in a statement Thursday that school trips have been re-routed as necessary based on the direction of the Public Health Authority and travel advisories.

Representatives for the St. James Assiniboia and Seven Oaks school divisions told the Free Press Wednesday that school trips scheduled within their divisions remain unaffected by travel advisories thus far, though officials are monitoring the situation.

"We are encouraging parents and students… to stay in contact with the travel agencies and stay on top of what alerts are coming up," Carter said. "If it gets to the point where they have to cancel them, they’d have to talk the travel agents."

The Louis Riel school division did not respond to Free Press requests for comment.

EF Tours, a travel company that operates many such school trips out of Manitoba, posted a statement to its website this week reassuring travellers that it will not send groups to destinations deemed unsafe by government authorities, adding that it plans to "implement measures that extend beyond those recommendations" as the need arises.

Many people are not overly concerned about shortages due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) but this hasn't prevented shoppers at Winnipeg big box stores from stockpiling supplies, including rolls of toilet paper, just in case.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Many people are not overly concerned about shortages due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) but this hasn't prevented shoppers at Winnipeg big box stores from stockpiling supplies, including rolls of toilet paper, just in case. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Travellers around the world have seen their plans interrupted by the virus.

According to the Global Business Travel Association, the coronavirus could cost the industry $47 billion per month, while the International Air Transport Association is predicting almost $30 billion in lost flight sales, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

The cruise industry has also taken a hit recently, as passengers aboard ships such as Carnival Corp.'s Diamond Princess were quarantined after cases of the virus were confirmed onboard.

Brian Salerno, senior vice president of maritime policy for the Cruise Line Industry Association, said Wednesday that about 10 per cent of its business has halted operations due to current travel warnings.

"Safe to say it’s down," said Salerno, reflecting on the current decline.

Salerno said different cruise lines are responding in their own ways, but on a whole, the industry has been turning away would-be passengers who have recently been in regions affected by the virus, or in contact with others that may have been affected, resulting in a significant dip in business.

"It’s going to have an effect, there’s no question," Salerno said. "If you put people and their health first, that sometimes comes at a cost."

Despite the heavy hits seen in the global tourism and travel industries, Salerno remains optimistic that cruises and travel will come out all right in the end.

"We're highly confident we’ll get through this," he said. "Things will get back to normal."

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

With files from Bloomberg

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers
Reporter

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.

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Updated on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 7:31 PM CST: Fixes typo.

March 5, 2020 at 10:47 AM: fixes typos

12:16 PM: updates with new info

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