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March Break: What to think about before you travel amid the COVID-19 outbreak

Ontario's chief medical officer of health is urging residents to think carefully about any travel plans over March Break amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

March Break is a time of 'enhanced precautionary action,' chief medical officer says

Ontario residents are being urged to think carefully about plans for international travel as the province tries to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's chief medical officer of health is urging residents to think carefully about any travel plans over March Break amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Dr. David Williams said at a news conference this week that the next two weeks are important as the number of the COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the province.

People should continue to take steps to avoid being exposed to the virus and that means assessing whether travel during March Break, particularly international travel, is a good idea, Williams said, because it carries certain risks.

March Break is a time of "enhanced precautionary action," Williams told reporters. 

"This is not a mysterious illness that travels in the air. This is droplets spread. You know how to protect yourself and your loved ones and your family from it. You have to do it, you have to do it again, and do it consistently," Williams said.

"If you are considering March Break travel, and you are going on trips, part of that is when you are doing your precautionary assessment."

Health officials have been reminding people to practise good hand hygiene, cough etiquette, social distancing and to stay home if sick to avoid infection and those actions need to continue to protect the most vulnerable people from the virus, he said.

People at Toronto Pearson International Airport wear masks as they wait for a flight to arrive in January. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto's Pearson International Airport, however, said in a news release on Wednesday that it expects about 144,000 passengers to travel through the airport on Friday, March 13.

"While year-over-year passenger numbers are expected to be affected due to flight schedule changes to Asia, Iran and Italy, this year's March Break forecast is on par with last year's passenger numbers," the airport said.

Questions to ask before travelling abroad

Williams urged people who are considering travel over March Break, particularly outside Canada, to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do you need to go on the trip?
  • Where are you going on the trip?
  • What are the risk factors on the trip?
  • Do you have health conditions?
  • What are the risk factors of taking your children on the trip?
  • What kind of behaviour are you going to be involved in when you are there?
  • What kind of ability are you going to have to limit social contact in those settings?
  • Are you going to be stuck in airports for long periods of time, or waiting in queues for hours, or spending time in large social venues?
  • What are you going to do to protect yourself in those situations?
  • How will your children protect themselves in the same situations?

If people are casual about protecting themselves while travelling, when they return home, they could put more vulnerable people at risk, Williams said.

"By being vigilant, you are protecting them," he added. "It's not just to protect yourself, it's to protect them."

"Community containment depends on the public," he said.

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