Canadian airlines and airports respond to Coronavirus

Avatar for Sarah B. HoodBy Sarah B. Hood | January 29, 2020

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 21 seconds.

In response to the rapid spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV or simply “Coronavirus,” authorities in many countries are recommending the suspension of non-essential travel to the most affected areas of China, and many airlines have announced plans to suspend or reduce service to these areas.

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The agency recommended that all countries be prepared for cases to develop within their borders, and emphasized the importance of active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management with a goal of overall containment.

Fly to Gate uses facial recognition within an airport or airline's self-check-in app or self-service kiosk. All users have to do is take a
In collaboration with Canada’s public health agency, the country’s major airports have taken steps to help control the potential spread of Coronavirus in Canada. Andy Cline Photo

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is co-ordinating the response at Canada’s international airports, and continues to describe the risk as “low for Canada and for Canadian travellers.”

The virus was first reported in late December in the city of Wuhan, China. As of Jan. 30, more than 7,711 cases have been confirmed with at least 170 deaths in mainland China. Twenty other countries or territories have now reported cases, including  Thailand (14 reported cases), Hong Kong (11) and Singapore (10). All together, there are more than 100 cases outside of China, but to date there have been no deaths among them. As of Jan. 29, two people in Toronto and one in Vancouver have tested positive for the virus, with no other known cases in Canada.

The Canadian government recommends avoiding non-essential travel to China and avoiding all travel to the province of Hubei, including the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou, due to the imposition of heavy travel restrictions there. The Canadian government is among several countries assisting their own citizens to leave China.

No Canadian airline offers direct flights in and out of Wuhan. Air Canada announced on Jan. 29 that it was temporarily suspending all direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai effective Jan. 30, 2020, with the pause in place until Feb. 29, 2020. The airline said it will notify affected customers and assist them with options, including travel on other carriers where available, or a full refund.

British Airways and Lion Air are also withdrawing service to and from mainland China. American Airlines, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, Iberia, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Jetstar Asia, Asiana Airlines, Eva Air and El Al Airlines are also reducing service.

An additional screening question has been added to primary inspection kiosks, asking travellers to declare whether they’ve visited Wuhan recently. CBSA Photo

In collaboration with PHAC, Canada’s major airports have taken steps to help control the potential spread of the virus into Canada. At Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver airports, PHAC has placed new messaging on arrivals screens in French, English and Chinese, advising travellers who have been in Wuhan to inform a Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. An additional screening question has been added to primary inspection kiosks asking travellers to declare whether they’ve visited Wuhan recently.

If they have, they are automatically referred to a CBSA officer, who may then send the person to a PHAC quarantine officer for a health assessment to determine whether medical treatment is required. PHAC has assigned extra officers to accommodate the increased workload. Travellers without symptoms are receiving information sheets to instruct them what to do if they develop symptoms within the next two weeks.

Vancouver International Airport, managed by the Vancouver Airport Authority, has also added extra hand sanitizers throughout the terminal and increased the amount of cleaning, especially in places like washrooms, electronic boarding kiosks and handrails. Toronto Pearson and Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Mirabel International Airport are taking similar steps.

Over the past week, other world airports have been stepping up cleaning activities and passenger screening. For instance, as of Jan. 28, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has begun screening arrivals at 20 airports in major cities.

In a show of support for those worst hit by the virus, The Boeing Company announced that it will be donating 250,000 medical-grade respiratory masks to health officials in Wuhan and Zhoushan. The company has already provided 25,000 masks to their own employees working in the region.

No vaccine for 2019-nCoV is currently available. To date, PHAC reports that “there is no clear evidence that this virus is spread easily from person to person,” and PHAC is advising health officials and the general public to take routine procedures to protect themselves, especially frequent handwashing, and to watch for symptoms such as fever, cough and sometimes breathing difficulty, which may appear two weeks after exposure.

The latest Canadian health bulletins are available at Canada.ca/coronavirus, and Canadians travelling abroad are encouraged to consult the Travel Health Notice for China at Travel.gc.ca.

This is a rapidly developing story and it will be updated frequently. However, the government links above are your best source for official information and advisories.

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