Citing coronavirus risk, schools cancel trips to Europe

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The coronavirus that emerged in China last year is having repercussions in Brantford, Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk.

The impact involves high schools and the cancellation of trips abroad.

Six trips to Europe involving nearly 140 students have been called off. Affected high schools are under the jurisdiction of the local public and Catholic boards.

“Making the decision to cancel March break school excursions was one that we did not take lightly,” Rick Petrella, chair of the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, said March 3.

“Trustees understand that students and families were excited about the opportunity. However, student safety must come first. This meant cancelling non-essential, out-of-country travel.”

Local officials not only worry about exposing students to large crowds of international travellers. They are also concerned about quarantines and the possibility that students might get stranded in a particular location for an indeterminate length of time.

Two trips involving 33 students at Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Simcoe – one to Ireland and the other to Italy – have been cancelled. Two trips to France and Italy involving 70 students from Assumption College School and St. John’s College in Brantford have also been called off.

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For its part, the Grand Erie District School Board decided Tuesday to suspend an excursion to France while cancelling another to Ireland and Scotland.

The trip to France, which involves 18 students at Simcoe Composite School, has been postponed until March, 2021. The trip to Ireland and Scotland involves 17 students at Hagersville Secondary School. It has been called off.

“In all our decisions, the safety and well-being of our students is our highest priority,” Brenda Blancher, the Grand Erie board’s director of education, said in a statement. “With school trips, Grand Erie must continuously assess risks and mitigate them.

“When the risk is out of our control – as it is with coronavirus – we need to re-assess whether the education value outweighs the risk involved. While cancelling or postponing these trips is an unfortunate consequence for our students and staff, the risk of exposing them to coronavirus is too high.

“Additionally, we can’t proceed with a trip if there’s a chance that some excursions are cancelled (or) closed or if there is a chance the return flight could be grounded or students and staff quarantined as a result of the trip.”

Tracey Austin, spokesperson for the local separate board, said decisions for Catholic students were based on information from the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and in consultation with health units serving Brantford and Brant County and Haldimand and Norfolk.

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At its website, the Public Health Agency of Canada has posted travel advisories to several countries and territories where the number of coronavirus cases has spiked. These include China, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, northern Italy, Singapore and South Korea.

“All travellers should be aware there are health risks when you travel,” the website says.

“It is important to check your destination before you leave to know the risks and be prepared. People can contract coronaviruses after coming into contact with an infected person. Current evidence suggests person-to-person spread is efficient when there is close contact.

“There is no vaccine or treatment to prevent coronaviruses. Most people with common coronavirus illness will recover on their own.”

The World Health Organization has dubbed the virus Covid-19. The virus belongs to the same family of pathogens that caused the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that killed dozens of people in Toronto in 2003 and nearly 800 in total around the world.

Like SARS, Covid-19 is believed to have originated in wildlife. The medical community suspects the virus transitioned to swine or poultry in open-air markets in China before making the leap to humans.

The virus inflames the respiratory tract, causing flu-like symptoms. Pneumonia is among the more serious complications.

Three Norfolk residents were among hundreds of cruise ship passengers recently quarantined for two weeks off the coast of Japan after the virus spread aboard their ship. One has since returned to Canada. Two of the locals were transported to a hospital in Japan after testing positive for Covid-19. Subsequent tests have come back negative.

PHAC reported on March 3 that there are 30 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada. Twenty of these are in Ontario, eight are in British Columbia and one is in Quebec.

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