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Canadians advised to avoid cruise travel as global virus situation changes 'rapidly'

Last Updated Mar 9, 2020 at 2:46 pm PDT

FILE - Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks as Minister of Health Patty Hajdu listens, during an update on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canadians are being advised to avoid cruise ship travel amid the COVID-19 outbreak

237 Canadians are currently stuck on a cruise ship off the coast of California

Canada's top doctor says the situation around the world because of the COVID-19 outbreak is changing rapidly

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – Just days after telling Canadians to “think twice” about it, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer is recommending they avoid all cruise ship travel because of COVID-19.

Dr. Theresa Tam said the situation has changed rapidly, and has warned about conditions aboard cruise ships in the context of an outbreak.

“Cruise ships have passengers from around the world who may be arriving from areas with known or unknown spread of the novel coronavirus,” she said. “The virus can spread quickly on board cruise ships due to the close contact between passengers.”

Dr. Tam noted concern is particularly high for older people, people with weakened immune systems, as well as those with underlying medical conditions, adding these people are at “a higher risk of developing severe disease.”

More than 230 Canadians were stuck on a cruise ship that was idling off the coast of California for days, and before that, a number of citizens were also locked down on other vessels around the world due to the virus.

When asked why it took so long to advise Canadians against traveling on cruises, Dr. Tam said the global situation has changed “rapidly.”

“Even from the time of the Diamond Princess cruise ship [in Japan] to now,” she told reporters. “Many more countries are now affected, whereas at that point in time there was not as many. But we always have to learn, continuously, from the experiences that have taken place, including that of the Diamond Princess.”

She said the international community has reacted “rapidly” in response to the situation, and added the travel notice is a “precautionary measure that we absolutely support from a public health perspective.”

The risk of infection is high for people who travel to the most affected areas, Canada’s top doctor added.

“It is very important for all travelers coming to Canada to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days, and avoid places where you cannot easily separate yourself from others if you become ill. Stay home if you’re sick and call ahead to health lines or public health authorities before seeking medical care. We must all do our part to reduce spread of COVID-19 and protect our most vulnerable groups, including anyone in long term care facilities and our hospitals.”

Evacuation efforts to get the Canadians who are trapped on the Grand Princess in California back to Canada are underway. They will be screened before being allowed to board a plane chartered by the federal government and anyone exhibiting symptoms will not be allowed to travel.

According to the federal government, the cruise line will pay for the plane.

“This is going to be done on a cost-recovery basis,” Foreign Affairs Minister Fran├žois-Philippe Champagne said on Monday. “I have talked to the CEO of Holland America and we have agreed that the cruise line will be assuming the cost of the plane to repatriate Canadians.”

He added situations like these are always dealt with on a case-by-case basis, noting this is “an exceptional circumstance.”

“First of all, we had a specific request from the United States government, we are dealing in a cruise ship environment and everything we have learned, as Dr. Tam said so far, suggest we take measures which are exceptional, and we are also acting to prevent the spread of the virus in North America,” Champagne said.

Canadians who are allowed to board the repatriation flight will be flown back to Canada where they will be required to be placed under a two-week quarantine at CFB Trenton.

More than 110,000 cases have now been reported worldwide. The number of cases recorded in Canada has now surpassed 70.