School District 63 has cancelled all international trips to Europe and Japan because of COVID-19, the coronavirus-caused disease currently spreading around the world.
“After careful consideration, we have decided to cancel Saanich School District international field trips planned for Japan and Europe due to the possible elevated risk for students and staff travelling in these regions,” said Dave Eberwein, superintendent in an email to parents with children in the district.
Eberwein’s email also asked parents and staff who are travelling overseas for personal travel to consider the possibility that they might have to go into quarantine following their return to Canada.
“Island Health is currently recommending that travellers returning from Iran, China and Italy self-quarantine for 14 days,” said Eberwein in the email. “Please note that these areas may change and expand as the situation evolves. We are working closely and take direction from our provincial health experts at the BC Ministry of Health and Island Health.”
Eberwein said in a follow up note to the Peninsula News Review that the impacted trips include European trips by students from Stelly’s Secondary, Parkland Secondary, Royal Oak Middle School and North Saanich Middle School, as well as a trip to Japan by students from Stelly’s Secondary. “Two local trips to the US have also been cancelled by the school which was sponsoring the trips,” he said.
Eberwein also said that parents have received information on how the cancellations impact reimbursements and rebookings. “Each trip may have slightly different options, but each tour operator will be contacting parents directly about their options and any necessary paperwork that will need to be completed,” he said.
While it is not clear yet how many scheduled trips the announced cancellation impacts, SD63 has now joined a number of other jurisdictions that have severely curtailed international travel.
This decision comes against the growing spread of COVID-19 around the world. Recent developments include, among others, a rising number of deaths in Italy, where government officials Monday declared the country a ‘red zone’ subject to various restrictions. These developments have prompted health officials to step up warnings, a development noted in Eberwein’s email.
“The public has been made aware there is an updated warning to avoid non-essential travel to Iran, Northern Italy and some areas of South Korea,” he said. “In addition, some countries have enacted measures that restrict some movement and public gatherings. We are currently aware of school closures in Japan and Italy, as well as restrictions on public gatherings in France.”
Monday’s cancellation of all international school trips to Europe and Japan marks an escalation of measures. Eberwein had told the public last week — before the recent run of developments — that the school district would decide to cancel trips on a case-by-case basis.
Monday’s announcement means that a group of students attending North Saanich’s Parkland Secondary School won’t be travelling to Europe as scheduled. The group of 40-plus students had planned to visit the United Kingdom, France and Spain with stops in London, Paris and Barcelona respectively between March 14 to March 23. The fate of the trip was the subject of a meeting Wednesday after which officials said that they would announce a decision early this week.
Ben Johnson, whose son was not going to travel to Europe in any case, described the decision as a “very positive one.”
“I think they made a very wise and prudent decision,” he said.
The decision not only protects students and staff scheduled to travel abroad but also seniors in the community, who are most at risk, if the travellers had gone to Europe and unknowingly returned with the virus, he said.
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