Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. students have Europe trip cancelled over COVID-19 concerns

A group of students in St. John's will have to put their suitcases away for now, as a multi-school trip to Europe has been cancelled.

No official school trips cancelled yet, says school board, but private tours different

Molly MacEachern's school trip to Europe was cancelled over fear of novel coronavirus. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

A group of students in St. John's will have to put their suitcases away for now, as a multi-school trip to Europe has been cancelled due to concerns about novel coronavirus.

The tour was supposed to include stops in northern Italy, which suffered a devastating outbreak in late February. There are currently more than 1,600 cases across Italy.

Grade 8 student Molly MacEachern can only describe the feeling as disappointment, though the Beaconsfield Junior High student is taking the news in stride.

"There wasn't anything I could do ...  It's OK, there will be more opportunities to visit and travel," she said. "These things happen."

MacEachern — who, full disclosure, is the daughter of CBC journalist Daniel MacEachern —  said she was most looking forward to Italy because of the art, culture and food. 

"It's like a whole other level [of] Italian food," she added. 

The Canadian government has issued an advisory warning people to avoid all non-essential travel to the northern region of Italy, hence the decision to cancel the students' trip with tour company Explorica.

"After much deliberation and consultation between chaperones, parents, administration, school district and Explorica, the time has come to cancel our European tour," reads an email sent to parents by the trip's chaperones.

Tourists wearing protective face masks visit the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, on Feb. 24 during the usual period of Venice Carnival. (Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Images)

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says it has cancelled two trips as of Friday involving four junior high schools in the St. John's area and one school from Labrador City. In total the cancellations will affect about 40 students.

The parents will be refunded once the trip is formally cancelled.

Tony Stack, the district's director of education, told CBC News it takes its lead from the province's regional health authorities and student safety is top priority. He said there may be other cancellations moving forward.

"It's a very important issue that we are closely monitoring," Stack said in an interview with CBC News Friday.

"We're just not going to take the risk of sending students into an area where they could be potentially at harm, in this case, the COVID-19 virus."

Stack said the school district encourages these types of learning trips for its schools and students, but the bottom line is safety.

He said there has been a little relief among some teachers for not having to endure the risk that might be involved.

Tony Stack, director of education for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said student safety is the top priority when making a decision on whether to make the trip to Europe. (Sherry Vivan/CBC)

'I don't want to get stuck there'

Around the world, people are becoming hesitant to travel, and restrictions are being put in place on large gatherings.

Italian football matches are being played in front of empty stadiums, as fans are ordered to stay home.

The National Hockey League's San Jose Sharks defied a recommendation from its local health authority to do the same Thursday night, instead opening their stadium to 14,000 fans. It was the smallest crowd the team has seen this season.

Nick Fraser is a professional jazz drummer from Toronto in town to work with the Florian Hoefner Trio. His next job is supposed to bring him to Italy for a tour, but Fraser isn't sure if that will go ahead or not. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Jazz drummer Nick Fraser is in St. John's to play with local act the Florian Hoefner Trio. A resident of Toronto, Fraser said he's on the road at least a third of the year.

His next gig was supposed to send him to Italy at the end of the month, where he has been collaborating with two musicians who live near Venice. The plan was for a tour of the country. As of now the tour is still going ahead, but Fraser wonders if it'll be cancelled.

"It would be such a shame to not go, but at the same time I don't want to get stuck there, or get quarantined or have to stay home for four weeks without leaving my house when I get back," he said.

School boards in most Canadian provinces cancelled trips this week, citing the spread of COVID-19 as the reason.

More than 95,000 people have been infected worldwide, and more than 3,200 people have died.

There have been no confirmed cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, but health officials say it is expected to reach the province eventually.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cec Haire

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