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Masks sold out, travel being cut back as Island reacts to Coronavirus scare

Vancouver Island University rescheduling planned study abroad trip to China

There may not be any reported coronavirus cases on Vancouver Island, but the infectious disease is having an impact on our communities.

More than 90,000 cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, have been reported globally since its outbreak began last December, according to the World Health Organization, 12 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in British Columbia, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

But the fact that none of them are on the Island hasn’t stopped many people from stocking up on supplies like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Elijah Ssemaluulu, a pharmacist with The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy at Nanaimo’s Terminal Park, said his store hasn’t had masks or hand sanitizer for about two months.

“We don’t have any sanitizer and we don’t have any masks,” he said. “We have some gloves but to find masks right now, it is tough.”

Multiple stores throughout the city also told the VI Free Daily that they’re also sold out of masks and hand sanitizer. Ssemaluulu said the surge in demand at his store came just before the start of the Lunar New Year.

“At first it happened because people were travelling back to China or Asian countries for the celebrations,” he said. “Then the epidemic progressed.”

The demand has since come from people who have no travel plans or those looking to purchase masks and sanitizer to send back to their families overseas, said Ssemaluulu, adding that it is unlikely his store will be getting a fresh supply in the near future.

“We’re looking for other suppliers but right now, we can’t find any supplier that has a bulk supply,” he said.

Masks, according to Ssemaluulu and other medical professionals, are only beneficial to people who actually are infected with the virus. He said for those without the virus, the best thing to do is to simply wash your hands regularly.

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Travel Bookings Down

Travel agencies are also reporting a decline in bookings to Asia since the outbreak began.

Raelene Cormier, branch manager of Nanaimo’s Around the World Travel Services, said bookings to Asia are down as a result of the coronavirus while European bookings remain steady at the moment.

“Asia is down for sure,” she said. “Europe is still going strong but there is a bit of concern amongst people who are travelling to Italy and the ones who are concerned are the ones who are going soon versus the ones who are going in the summer and fall.”

Cormier said in response to the situation, many tour operators are allowing people to cancel their trips later than usual.

“There are quite a few more tour operators being more flexible with their terms and conditions for cancelling,” she said. “Some are allowing people to make a decision 30 days before and still get their money back.”

Dave Frinton, co-president of CruisePlus, said his company has also had some cancellations in response to the outbreak.

“There is no question that people are getting scared,” he said. “We have had some cancellations from people that are leaving literally in a couple of days.”

Frinton said he expects people to shift their travel plans to destinations where the virus hasn’t had as much of an impact such as Alaska. He also said it is important for travellers to purchase trip insurance and not assume they’re covered through work or credit card provided insurance plans.

“People should definitely get insurance,” he said. “The important thing is, though, that they get the right insurance.”

School trips affected

Vancouver Island University has formed a committee that is actively monitoring the ongoing situation and has cancelled all school-sanctioned travel to China until further notice, according to a statement provided to the News Bulletin.

“VIU is actively monitoring developments related to COVID-19 and is meeting regularly to assess the situation and make recommendations on any policy changes it deems necessary. There are no suspected or confirmed cases at the university,” said Erin Bascom, chair of the school’s coronavirus advisory committee, in an e-mailed statement.

A planned study-abroad trip to Shanghai is being “relocated” to another destination and other upcoming trips are also at risk of being disrupted.

“All other field schools are being monitored and evaluated based on the most current information. It is possible that more field schools and study abroad opportunities will be impacted,” Bascom said.

School trips to Florence and Trieste, Italy are scheduled for late May. Additional trips to Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Belize, and Hawaii are also planned, according to the university’s website.

Italy has more than 1,600 reported cases, among the highest outside of China, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, Comox Valley and Sooke are two Island school districts that have cancelled planned international school trips.

Dale Burgos, Nanaimo Ladysmith school district spokesperson, said one school is planning a trip later this year to Europe, but couldn’t provide further information about the school or country due to privacy and safety concerns.

“All I can say is that it is a destination where there is currently no travel advisory in place,” he said.

Burgos said the district is monitoring the situation and is in frequent communication with Island Health and the province.

“We as a school district, we take all of our direction from Island Health, when it comes down to health…” he said. “We are almost hearing from them on a daily basis.”

Island Health did not comment on the matter, referring all inquires to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, which also declined to comment.

A total of 3,000 people have died from the coronavirus worldwide, according to the WHO.

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

READ ALOS: B.C. to see more cruise ships after Asia tour cancelled







nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
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