TORONTO -- Fears surrounding the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus have prompted unprecedented cancellations and closures, including the shuttering of Japan’s entire school system, prompting Canadian officials to urge caution ahead of the busy March break travel period.

“I have advised Canadians to apply a lot of caution as they’re looking at March Break,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Thursday, urging those with travel plans to do their research before leaving Canada.

“The virus, as we’ve seen, is spreading in different regions in the world and we want to make sure that people have the best advice possible so that they don’t have to find themselves in a situation that could be complicated.”

Champagne urged Canadians to use “common sense” when making travel plans, referencing growing outbreaks in Italy and South Korea, noting that travellers may want to avoid big crowds.

Though Champagne maintained that the COVID-19 risk in North America remained low, unprecedented steps to prevent the spread of the virus have been adopted elsewhere.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday that 12.8 million schoolchildren in the country would stay home until late March due to the virus’ spread.

France, Germany, Monaco and other countries near Italy, where the number of people infected has soared to 650, are also telling parents to keep their kids home from school if they've been anywhere near the growing number of countries impacted by coronavirus.

Facebook cancelled its annual F8 developers conference scheduled to be held in May to “prioritize the health and safety” of attendees.

Several sporting events have also been postponed, including Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix, European Tour golf competitions in Malaysia and China, and the suspension of football leagues in China, South Korea, Italy and Japan.

Canada’s women’s water polo team cancelled a pre-Olympic training camp in Hungary over virus concerns.

The Canadian Olympic Committee, which has a large team in Tokyo as part of an Olympic site visit, said that its plans to stay in the country remain unchanged, noting that it is working closely with medical experts and government officials to advise them on the situation.

Despite growing containment efforts, the Olympic committee remains committed to moving forward with the Tokyo summer games.

"We have a lot of experience in supporting mass gatherings before in the midst of Olympics like during the Zika outbreak, during the previous SARS outbreak and the Special Olympics and many others,” Dr. Michael Ryan, World Health Organization, said during a press conference.

“If you cast your minds back to those events, many of those events went ahead with appropriate risk management.”


Travel insurance companies are watching the coronavirus situation carefullyas infection rates continue to rise.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, which represents 99 per cent of Canada’s life and health insurance companies, notes that travellers may be eligible to receive a refund for cancelling their travels over virus concerns, but it depends on the destination, their insurance policy and other factors.

As soon as the government declares a Level 3 or 4 travel advisory, you may be entitled to claim a portion of your trip expenses should you choose to cancel.

A Level 3 advisory was issued for travel to China in January. Although the government has a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 travel advisories, China is the only country to have a Level 3 or higher advisory.

A travel advisory needs to be in effect during your date of travel to use that as a reason to claim reimbursement.

“Let’s say you’ve got a trip planned to China right now, but it’s not for another six months, you’re going to need to wait until you get much closer to that before you’d be able to claim on something like that for travel insurance,” Will McAleer, the executive director at the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada told in January

As an added precaution, Thomas said travellers can purchase an optional Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) add-on to their coverage, which allows them to cancel their trip, regardless of the situation.

The caveat, of course, is that CFAR adds to premium costs and also comes with additional terms and conditions.

With files from the Canadian Press and Ben Cousins