Do Your International Students Have COVID-19 Coverage? | Vos étudiants étrangers sont-ils couverts contre la COVID-19?

This 2022/23 school year, StudyInsured™ will welcome new and returning international students, with full medical coverage from the day they arrive in Canada.

As with all StudyInsured™ health insurance plans, this includes illnesses and expenses related to COVID-19, during and after quarantine.

Be sure to check out our COVID-19 FAQ’S FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS.

If you want to know more or have questions about your international student insurance coverage, contact us at helpline@studyinsured.com.

We are always here for you and your students.

.

.

Cette année scolaire 2022-2023, StudyInsured™ accueillera les étudiants étrangers (nouveaux arrivants ou de retour au Canada) avec une couverture médicale complète dès le jour de leur arrivée au Canada.

Comme pour tous les régimes d’assurance maladie de StudyInsured™, cela inclut les maladies et les dépenses liées à la COVID-19, pendant et après la quarantaine.

N’oubliez pas de consulter notre FAQ COVID-19 POUR LES ÉTUDIANTS ÉTRANGERS.

Si vous voulez en savoir plus ou si vous avez des questions sur votre couverture d’assurance pour les étudiants étrangers, contactez-nous à l’adresse helpline@studyinsured.com.

Nous sommes toujours là pour vous et vos étudiants.

StudyInsured™ kicks off 2021 with newly streamlined, student-focused phone line, StudyInsured™ Assistance

PRESS RELEASE, TORONTO, February 1, 2021 – StudyInsured™ announced today the launch of StudyInsured™ Assistance, a single phone line providing all-encompassing medical assistance and mental health support for its students. The in-house line features centralized resources for students, via a single phone number, for all their assistance needs, including:

• A crisis line for mental health support via the Stay Healthy at School program

• Medical assistance and health care guidance

• Insurance coverage queries and claim support.

“It’s all about making sure the resources we provide to students are easily identifiable – the simpler, the better,” said Susanne Hendrickson, Director, Sales. With in-house assistance previously named Intrepid 24/7, the new branding of StudyInsured™ Assistance reflects the company’s commitment to simplifying and streamlining student products and support. Intrepid 24/7 will remain the company’s assistance line for white label services and various non-student clientele.

StudyInsured™ has provided student insurance services for over 70 years. The organization continues to raise the bar to provide products and services that evolve with the needs of the thousands of international students it serves across Canada and beyond.

About MSH

MSH International (Americas) comprises MSH International, StudyInsured™ and Intrepid 24/7. These are all subsidiaries of SIACI SAINT HONORE, a world leader in the design & management of international health care and life and disability insurance solutions for globally mobile individuals. Its services are designed for employees of multinationals, micro-businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises, workers in international organizations, individual expatriates and local high net worth individuals in need of international insurance coverage. Thanks to its decentralized structure, 4 regional head offices in Toronto, Paris, Dubai and Shanghai and 18 service offices worldwide, MSH International (Americas) provides round-the-clock assistance to 2,000 corporate clients and over 400,000 insured members in nearly 200 countries.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Pamela Kwiatkowski, Senior VP Distribution and Client Experience

Direct +1.416.640.7868 email: Pamela.kwiatkowski@americas.msh-intl.com

Susanne Hendrickson Director of Sales

Direct: +1.604-561-0381 email: Shendrickson@americas.msh-intl.com.

New US Rules Require COVID Test Results—Even if You Have Been Vaccinated

Effective January 26, 2021, all international travellers (including Canadians) flying to the US are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure, or validation from their physician that they have sufficiently recovered from infection by the coronavirus.

The rule, issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in effect reciprocates a similar one effective January 7, issued by the Canadian government for international travellers flying into Canada. But an important adjunct to the CDC rule that is causing some confusion among seniors already vaccinated against the coronavirus insists that their vaccination doesn’t exempt them from the negative test requirement.

It’s a head-scratcher, but it’s true. Even though you may have recently received your two jabs—either of the Pfizer/ BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine—you will still have to show proof of a negative test taken within three days of boarding your flight.

Says the CDC: “Before departure to the United States, a required test, combined with the CDC recommendations to get tested again 3–5 days after arrival and stay home for 7 days post-travel, will help slow the spread of COVID-19 within US communities from travel-related infections. Pre-departure testing with results known and acted upon before travel begins will help identify infected travellers before they board airplanes.

“Air passengers are required to get a viral test (a test for current infection) within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.”

Why no exemption for proof of vaccination?

The CDC explains that though the vaccines are expected to offer 90 to 95 per cent protection against getting symptoms of COVID or becoming ill, it is not yet totally clear that vaccinated persons are incapable of transmitting the virus to others. Trials to establish such proof are underway or planned, but their outcome still needs to be determined.

Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, stated in a recent TV interview, “I think we need to be careful, as we get vaccinated, not to over-interpret the results… Do I believe that it reduces transmission? Absolutely yes, and I say this because of the science… But absent proof, I think it’s important that we don’t change behaviors solely on the basis of vaccination.”

In the meantime, those are the rules. And don’t expect masking and social distancing protocols to become redundant any time soon, although there are enough variations in the rules from place to place that no matter where you intend to travel, you need to do your homework. The rules as they apply to a trip to Arizona or the UK may vary considerably from those for Jamaica, Mexico, or Costa Rica. Each location has its own variation of such rules. That’s where you need to focus your attention.

And above all, don’t forget the rules for coming back home.

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

COMPLAINT EXAMINATION AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION POLICY

This policy is in compliance with the provisions set out in the Act Respecting the Distribution of Financial Products and Services (Quebec) pertaining to complaint examination and dispute resolution.

1.           Purpose of the policy

1.1         The purpose of this policy is to set up a free and fair procedure for examining all complaints received by us (the “firm”). It is intended, in particular, to govern the receipt of complaints, the delivery of the acknowledgement of receipt to the complainant, the creation of the complaint file, the transfer of the file to the Autorité des marchés financiers (the “AMF”) and the compilation of complaints for the purpose of preparing and filing a semi-annual report with the AMF.

2.           Person in charge

2.1         The person in charge of the application of the policy for the Province of Quebec is Ghada Darwish.

2.2         As the person in charge of the application of the policy for Quebec, this person shall also act as the representative with respect to the AMF. She shall train the personnel and, in particular, provide the personnel with the necessary information for compliance with this policy.

2.3         As well, the person in charge shall have the following duties:

(a)         send an acknowledgement of receipt;

(b)         send the file to the AMF, at the complainant’s request;

(c)          keep a complaint register up to date;

(d)         file a semi-annual report with the AMF.

3.           Complaint

3.1         For the purposes of the policy, a complaint is the expression of at least one of the following three elements:

(a)         a reproach against the firm, one of its brokers or one of its employees;

(b)         the identification of real or potential harm to a consumer;

(c)          a request for remedial action.

3.2         Any first consumer communication or informal step aimed at correcting a particular problem is not a complaint, insofar as the problem is dealt with by one of the firm’s operational divisions.

4.           Receipt of the complaint

4.1         A consumer who wishes to file a complaint must do so in writing to the following email address resolution_canada@msh-intl-com.

4.2         A broker or an employee who receives a complaint shall immediately forward it to his immediate supervisor or to the person in charge of the application of this policy.

4.3         The person in charge shall acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 5 business days. The acknowledgement of receipt shall contain the following information:

(a)         a copy of this policy;

(b)         a description of the complaint;

(c)          the name and contact information of the person in charge of examining the complaint;

(d)         in the case of an incomplete complaint, a notice requesting additional information to which the complainant must respond within five business days, failing which the complaint will be considered to have been abandoned;

(e)         a notice informing the complainant of his right to request, upon the expiry of the period of 15 business days set for obtaining all necessary information, but no later than one year following the answer to the complaint, the transfer of his file to the AMF if he is dissatisfied with the outcome of the examination of his complaint or the examination itself. The notice shall also indicate that the AMF may offer mediation if the parties agree;

(f)          a notice reminding the complainant that mediation is an amicable settlement process in which a third party intercedes with the parties to assist them in reaching a satisfactory agreement.

5.           Creation of the complaint file

5.1         A separate file shall be created for each complaint.

5.2         The file shall contain the following:

(a)         the complainant’s written complaint, including one of three elements of a complaint (reproach against the firm, its broker or employee; real or potential harm; and remedial action request);

(b)         the outcome of the complaint examination process (analysis and supporting documents);

(c)          a copy of the firm’s final written answer, containing reasons for the answer, as sent to the complainant.

6.           Complaint examination

6.1         Upon receipt of a complaint, the person identified under paragraph 4.2, his superior and the person in charge of complaints shall conduct an investigation.

6.2         The complaint shall be examined within 15 business days following receipt of all required information.

6.3         After the investigation, the person in charge shall send the complainant a final answer in writing, containing reasons for the decision.

7.           Transfer of the file to the AMF

7.1         If the complainant is not satisfied with the result of the examination of his complaint or with the examination itself, he may ask the firm to transfer his file to the AMF.

7.2         The complainant may exercise this right only upon the expiry of the maximum time limit of 15 business days allowed for obtaining a final answer, but without exceeding a period of one year following this answer.

7.3         The file transferred to the AMF shall include all the documents regarding the complaint.

8.           Creating and updating a register

8.1         A complaint register shall be established by the firm for purposes of the application of the policy. The person in charge shall be responsible for keeping the register up to date.

8.2         Any complaint that falls within the definition found in section 3 shall be recorded in the register.

9.           Semi-annual report

No later than one month after December 31 and June 30 of each year, the person in charge shall file a report with the AMF indicating the number and nature of complaints received in the last six months, according to categories set forth in the register.

10.         Notice to brokers and other employees of the firm

The person in charge shall ensure that brokers and other employees of the firm are made aware and have a copy of this policy.

11.         Effective date

This policy is effective as of September 22, 2020.

MSH Americas and StudyInsured™ are proud to announce the launch of the International Student Wellness Hub

Our mission at MSH Americas will always be the same: to respond to the needs of today’s globally-mobile individuals and organizations with innovated products and industry leading duty of care solutions.

We have been protecting international students and supporting schools to improve the study aboard experience in Canada and around the world. Being able to anticipate the changing landscape of the international education industry and responding to the needs of students and schools is what sets StudyInsured™ apart from the competition.

To continue this legacy, we are proud to bring the International Student Wellness Hub to our students, schools, and partners here at home and around the world.

The Hub is the ultimate resources for international students and schools, to find useful and practical information during this uncertain time due to COVID-19. The Hub includes information on:

1. Mental Health Tip Sheets for students: Information and tips for your mental health, and learning From the Front Lines with our Medical Director, Dr. Michael Szabo

2. COVID-19 Useful Links for students: To guide our students regarding Government updates

3. Provincial Resources for students: International Student programs and COVID-19 information by province

4. Finance & Job Opportunities for students: How students can manage their finances, plus job searching tips

5. Information & Resources for Schools: Tips for educators and administrators to assist students with well-being

We hope the Hub helps international students, schools and administrators through this difficult time! We would love to hear from you, feel free to share your feedback and suggestions to marketing@americas.msh-intl.com

Battling COVID-19 Episode 7: Being Patient in a Challenging Time by Dr. Michael Szabo

Remember back in early to mid-March when the reality of COVID-19 was sinking in?  Before that point, we knew it was an issue of concern, but we didn’t think it was much to stress over.  However, we slowly began to realize that the virus was spreading in the community in North America.  We heard horror stories from hospitals in Italy, where health care staff were overwhelmed.  We began to see the same thing happening in New York City.  All of a sudden, it changed, and our lives were altered dramatically.

We immediately went into lockdown. We didn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary.  March Break vacations were cancelled.  Restaurants and stores were shut down.  Schools were closed.  We started working from home. We carefully wiped down our groceries and washed our hands obsessively.

I listened to a podcast recently where one of the speakers likened it to what happens when someone drops a glass on the floor of a crowded house party. I really like that analogy. The glass shatters everywhere, all among everyone’s feet on the floor. The first instinct in these situations is for someone to shout, “Nobody move!”  We say this because everyone knows that the shards of glass can go everywhere in these situations, in places you would least predict; places so far away that you are dumbfounded at how they got there. It’s also amazing how so many tiny pieces of glass are produced from such a smash, some so small you can barely even see them.  But those small ones can often prove to be the most damaging as they can become embedded in the bottom of your feet and be almost impossible to get out later. With everyone standing still, someone then gets a dustbin and a brush and tries like the dickens to clean up all the pieces of glass, looking in all possible places they think they may be hiding.  Then, people slowly and carefully start moving around again, realizing that surprises can still happen, and they may end up standing on a piece of glass.  So, we take our time.  Eventually, people start moving around normally with more confidence.  But we all know what can happen: a few hours, days or even weeks later, another small piece of glass is discovered in the strangest of places. We can never be truly confident that we are out of the woods for quite some time. However, at the same time, we cannot be paralyzed forever.  Life and the party must go on.

We are coming out of that initial phase right now. We are much more aware of what is happening. We have a better grasp of where the virus is in the community and how it spreads. We know how to prevent ourselves from being exposed, with face masks and hand washing now a part of everyday life. Staying six feet away from others is common practice whenever we walk down a sidewalk or take a trip to the grocery store.

The challenge right now is deciding how confident we feel in resuming our regular lives. Should we start having friends over who we feel are “safe”? Should we allow our kids to play with the neighborhood kids in small groups? Should we send our kids to day camps this summer? Can we visit our elderly parents? These are some of the questions many of us have.

I think what is required from us is patience. Patience with an imperfect process that must take time and be dictated by science, data and expert opinion. We need to trust our expert decision makers, who are tasked with the impossible job of devising a plan to optimally protect us. The process cannot be rushed because we are in the midst of a complex and new situation. As we all have noticed, experts haven’t always gotten it right.  First, they said no face masks, then they reversed their opinion. First, they said not to worry about asymptomatic spread, then they said to be concerned about it. First, they said not to worry about children because they are only rarely adversely affected. Now we are discovering that may not be true. These things happened because we learned more. The virus has affected more and more people, so with that increase in the number of infections comes more and more understanding. We are so early in the process of comprehending every nuance about this new virus. In three months, we have come a long way, but at the end of the day, it is still just three months. Our ability to be confident in making big decisions like allowing all children to go to overnight camp for the summer has to be tempered with the humility of what we actually know to be true right now.  We may overcall some things in this process but understand that we may undercall some things and live to regret them dearly. It’s a tough position to be in. When do we walk around freely after a glass has been shattered on the ground? When do we risk getting pierced by a wayward tiny shard of glass? No one has all the answers. Let’s not be paralyzed by fear, but let’s not be overconfident. A tough line to walk, but here we are. Let’s be patient, trust the process and we will overcome this.

Are Snowbirds Ready to Plan for Life After Covid?

Any other year, Canadian snowbirds would be anticipating the release of early-bird travel insurance deals for the coming winter season in the US sunbelt or other warm subtropical location. June, July, August—that’s when insurers normally begin rolling out their products for the coming season.

But this is not just any other year. The attack of Covid-19 coronavirus has seen to that.

As we know, many of you got back north of the border by the skin of your teeth in late March and April before the border shut down. A few others didn’t quite make it and had to pay the price of quarantine.

And now the quandary: what to do about winter 20/21? A lot of questions to deal with.

When will the US/Canada border restrictions end? Will you feel safe travelling to your winter home?  Will you have to wear a face mask all winter? How do you know who to believe? Is it time to look beyond the fear?

Let’s start with some facts–as provided by John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre, official data monitor for coronavirus Infections and deaths worldwide.

The US, which is the winter home to most of Canada’s snowbirds, has attracted much attention for its  COVID-related death toll—now exceeding 80,000. That amounts to 242 deaths per one million inhabitants. (The US has a population of 330 million). Actually, that’s quite modest when compared to other major developed nations: 757 deaths per million inhabitants of Belgium; 569 per million for Spain, 505 for Italy; 479 for UK, and 393 for France. As for Canada, Covid-related deaths stand at 134 per million population, and for Germany, only 92 per million. These figures are current for May 11.

But in looking more closely at the US figures, we note that the states of New York and adjacent New Jersey account for almost one half of US COVID-related deaths while there remain huge swaths of America where the infection and death rates vary dramatically. Of special interest to snowbirds,

their home-away-from home states generally record considerably lower COVID death rates than many less populated ones. California, Texas and Florida are the top three most populous of US states, in that order. Arizona has a far smaller population but is second only to Florida in hosting Canadian snowbirds.

Florida, with a population of about 22 million, has recorded 1771 COVID-related deaths as of May 11. That’s slightly better than Ontario, which with a population of just over 15 million has recorded 1669 deaths. (The population figures are rounded to 2020 estimates). 

California, with a population of close to 40 million has recorded 2717 COVID-related deaths; Texas, with a population of about 29 million has recorded 1088 COVID-related deaths, and Arizona, with a population of about 7 million has recorded 536 such deaths.

A personal note from MK. Recording numbers of deaths is a grim business. No death from COVID or any other such plague is acceptable. But if we are to deal with our fears, we must take a step beyond, and deal with the facts that underlie those fears.

The re-opening—so far, gradual and measured.

All of these states are now gradually reopening small businesses such as restaurants, small retail outlets,  and generally inhabitants are adhering to physical distancing and face mask rules. Florida has opened up most of its beaches to small groups, properly spaced. The spring break outbursts that made headlines around the world in March and April were quickly quashed by Florida’s governor. The exception to Florida’s beach re-opening so far are the highly-populated southeast counties of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade. But central Florida, the Gulf coast, northeastern Florida and the panhandle are well into re-opening. 

In Arizona too, the lights are being turned back on. To quote a report from the Washington Examiner:

“At OSO Brewery in Gilbert, customers lined up at the bar Monday afternoon (May 11) and sat in every other dining room table. In North Scottsdale, Cien Agaves had new clear plastic dividers between booths as mask-clad staff offered digital menus to customers.”

In Texas, restaurants and retail stores have been allowed to re-open (with 25 percent occupancy), so have some malls and golf courses (one person per cart and a four-player maximum groups).  In the Rio Grande Valley, ground zero for Canadian snowbirds, barbershops and nail salons have also opened up—six feet minimum between stations and all other social distancing rules in effect.

In California, the “stay at home order” was lifted for most of the state on May 8, and hardly a week later was reinstated for Los Angeles county for a projected three months.  Nonetheless, businesses in less- populated areas were allowed to move into phase two of four phase statewide re-opening.

It’s a beginning. How long will it take? Will it be successful or turn out to be a mistake? It’s only May. But Canadian snowbirds like to do their planning well ahead of time. To be a successful snowbird, planning is the rule.

We’ll be following up on the re-opening efforts, not only in areas of interest to snowbirds, but for other leisure travellers as well.  Stay with us.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Cruise Bargains Sound Tempting. Can You Afford to Bite?

Despite the lingering images of cruise ships stranded at sea with passengers begging to be freed, the world’s cruise lines continue to drum up business for 2021 and even 2022. And bookings are said to be brisk–thanks to deep price-cuts and on-board cash value incentives.

When US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifts its “No Sail” order depends on when it considers the COVID-19 plague under control. And though cruising is a worldwide industry extending far beyond US ports, the world’s three biggest lines*are headquartered in Florida, and their vessels at some time or other sail in US-controlled waters patrolled by the US Coast Guard. Thus, CDC jurisdiction is quite clear. (*Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Holdings account for 60 percent of all cruise traffic).

However, none of these lines, and very few others, are flagged in the US, thus they have not been included in US congressional economic stimulus programs and while sitting idle and empty they’re generating no revenue. Fortunately, according to cruise ship analysts, all of the big three have sufficient liquid and credit reserves to take them into 2021 and so cruise fanatics have a bountiful choice of bargains to choose, even though they may have to wait six, twelve, even 18 months to get the goods.

Is cruising in your future?  Here are some things to consider.

Cruise patrons whose trips scheduled into early summer 2020 have already been cancelled are being offered some generous future cruise credits (FCCs)—some exceeding the initial cruise value (i.e, 125 percent). A few are even offering cash rebates of fees already paid to those whose enthusiasm for cruising may have waned. Cash rebates are a rarity in the cruise industry. But for future cruises, the cash rebates may well disappear, leaving FCCs the only means of recouping your travel investment should you wish to cancel.

All cruise lines offer trip cancellation policies and promote them heavily, but cancellations must be based on specified circumstances such as job loss, illness, family death, call too jury duty, etc. You can’t just change your mind, although virtually all lines now also offer Cancel for any Reason (CFAR) policies which cost about 40 percent more than basic plans and which expand the range of cancellation options. However, even these are not without restrictions and need to be thoroughly examined before purchase.

Most decrease the cancellation payout the closer you are to departure.

And even the CFAR cancellation plans offered by cruise lines, for the most part provide only for future cruise credits, not cashbacks to you or your credit card.

For Canadian cruise enthusiasts, out-of-country emergency medical plans (most of which provide some limited cancellation/interruption benefits), or stand-alone trip cancellation plans allow cancellation for specified situations already explained. But they too will pay cash rebates only for non-refundable costs, so if a cruise line offers vouchers for future travel, that obviates your chances of getting your money back (or some portion of it).

And most important, if there should be a resurgence of COVID later on, that will disqualify any  claims for cancellation rebates as it is a known event and you will have been warned about its possible consequences and also warned that its effects would not be covered by travel insurance.

What does this boil down to? Trip cancellation/interruption coverage has a lot of contingencies attached. You need to discuss it well with your travel advisor and you need to read the policy—all of it.

If planning and pre-paying a cruise six months or more in advance sounds attractive because of the 25 percent reduction in fare, weigh all of the possibilities. The belief that “We can always cancel” is not necessarily so. Know your policy.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 4: Why we need to keep physical distancing By Dr Michael Szabo

In Canada, our efforts to flatten the curve are going well. Thankfully, we haven’t seen the same surge of cases that hit New York City, Italy and Spain.  Don’t get me wrong, those of us on the front lines here have seen a lot of cases, but so far, our health care system hasn’t been overwhelmed. While our good fortune has much to do with our heeding of public health guidelines, collective uptake of physical distancing rules and staying home as much as possible, I’m still a little worried. There is something about our human nature that concerns me.

At times, public health strategies can become the victims of their own success. Vaccines are a great example. The incidence of diseases that were once part and parcel of everyday life has been greatly reduced, and in some cases, eradicated completely with the advent of vaccination. As we don’t see these diseases much anymore, we don’t learn to fully appreciate their potential severity. With time, we begin to think that the diseases are nothing to worry about. Some may begin to think that it would be acceptable, and perhaps even beneficial, to get these diseases naturally in order to build “natural immunity”, which can sometimes be more robust and lifelong. With time, some people begin to fear vaccinations themselves, focusing on the associated tiny risks, rather than the risks of contracting the diseases they prevent. This loss of perspective plays a large part of the anti-vaccine movement.

We must stay the course right now.  Physical distancing has reduced the impact of the infection we are seeing in Canada, but this does not mean that we can breathe a sigh of relief and head back to a normal life anytime soon.  Our success with public health measures should only harden our resolve to keep it up even more.  We need to look at hugely impacted areas of the world for a harsh reminder of the truth as to what this virus can do – a good place to start is hearing stories from front line emergency doctors and nurses in New York City. 

There is a good reason why doctors and nurses who treat critical illnesses on the front lines believe whole-heartedly in public health measures like vaccines and physical distancing. It’s because we are immersed in the reality of what can happen in life and we never lose that perspective.

Committing ourselves to continue physical distancing is even more important than ever. We have seen success and that should spur us all on to continue. Our success should not lead us to think that it was unnecessary to institute preventive measures in the first place, or that we don’t need to follow them anymore.  The outcome we have seen is a result of the actions we have taken thus far – let’s not forget that. If a house were on fire, and the fire department was called to extinguish it, would we then argue that the fire department wasn’t needed after the fire was put out?  Or similarly, if someone with a serious blood infection were admitted to intensive care and put on intravenous antibiotics, would we look back and declare that the antibiotics weren’t needed because the patient recovered?

Physical distancing is working.  We should all be proud of our collective efforts that have saved thousands of lives and eased the burden on our health care system.  Success should breed more of the same, and not be used to deny the seriousness of the situation.  With time and a better understanding of this virus, we will be able to slowly and safely return to a more normal life.  One thing is for sure:  we will get through this together!

Time for Canadians to Take up Trip Cancellation Coverage

It may be some time before tourism gets back to normal, but one thing the COVID pandemic should have taught Canadians is that they should be paying just as much attention to trip cancellation/interruption insurance as they do to out-of-country medical emergency coverage. 

The recent example of cruise ships being forced to cancel or divert trips for which their passengers have already prepaid several thousand dollars emphasizes that travelers could be at significant financial risk very quickly through no fault of their own. And though cruise companies have responded with pledges of refunds for interrupted or aborted voyages, those refunds usually take the form of credits for future cruises—not cash. Such credits don’t always confirm vacationers’ schedules or their changing attitudes about the cruise experience. 

A 2019 survey by travel insurance vendor Kanetix revealed that 65 percent of prospective Canadian travelers do not buy travel insurance or even know if they have cancellation or interruption benefits in their policies—which in Canada are heavily skewed to medical emergency coverage.  By contrast, over 80 percent of American travel insurance policies are purchased primarily for trip cancellation/ interruption coverage, and fewer than 10 percent for major medical benefits.

The survey also indicated that 36 percent of Canadian travelers who choose not to buy trip cancellation policies believe them to be too expensive, while 28 percent assume they are covered by their credit cards.  That’s a risky assumption as credit card coverage is primarily designed for short-term travel and is not as inclusive as a stand-alone policy designed for an individual traveler’s specific medical needs. 

Generally, Canadians have come to see travel insurance as a medical necessity largely because provincial health plans pay so little (Ontario nothing) of the hospital and medical costs charged by out-of-country providers. It has become tangential to medicare so much so that over 70 percent of Canadians wouldn’t think of leaving the country without it.  

But that same concern has not extended to protection of the substantial investment Canadian travelers make in planning their annual vacations, which some surveys show cost more than $6000 per couple on average. Perhaps the current pre-occupation with global travel shut-downs may change some of that thinking. 

As we have explained in previous articles, trip cancellation/interruption insurance is designed to protect money that has been prepaid and is non-refundable. If you haven’t paid for it, you’re not covered for it.  

And because what you’re buying in trip cancellation insurance is protection of your investment over time—that means any reimbursement you are due from your insurer diminishes as you get closer to the date of your departure.  

Understand too that the reason for which you can cancel matters. Unless you have a Cancel for Any Reason policy (which costs more) you can only cancel and expect recompense for specified reasons, such as a new illness, death in the family, call to jury duty, interruption of employment, house fire, etc. etc. But those qualifying conditions must be listed in your policy.  Read and understand them. 

And as we have explained before, when you buy your policy matters. For example, if you bought trip cancellation coverage before there was any warning issued about the coronavirus threat, you would have been eligible for benefits if your cruise ship or land tour to China had been cancelled, or your government had warned you not to travel to that location. But your policy also would have warned you to leave the restricted area if possible, and as soon as possible, in order to keep your benefits intact. That’s not a new wrinkle. It’s been part of travel policies for a long time. 

Trip cancellation policies need to be read thoroughly and preferably discussed with the agents selling them. You need to understand your own responsibilities in adhering to the terms of coverage. And that may not be easy as travel insurers still have a way to go in writing policies that are user friendly and more easily comprehensible than they are right now. 

But until then, it’s up to you to take all steps to protect your travel investment. Your broker, or the agent selling you your policy can help, but you can’t avoid your own responsibility in insisting on learning the details of your coverage and paying attention to them. It’s your money. 

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved. 

Battling COVID-19 Episode 2: From the Front Lines with Dr. Michael Szabo

With the increasing number of COVID patients presenting themselves to hospital emergency departments across Toronto, it’s a regular occurrence for me to come across several suspected cases while I’m working. Most are well enough to go home, but some are so sick that they need to be admitted. I find myself checking in on the test results of patients I have sent home, breathing a sigh of relief with each negative and feeling a knot in my stomach with each positive. The challenge with being an emergency doctor is that we see a lot of the bad outcomes. They are our reality. During a pandemic, it begins to feel to us like “everyone is dying” – but not everyone is. In fact, the majority of people recover from the virus. The increase in positive results will not only usher in a new reality but hopefully will reduce my own anxiety about a positive test result and its implications. A positive result is not a reason to panic and most of the patients I discharge won’t ever come back to the emergency department. I will likely stop checking their results after a while.

One of the things that is true about life is our ability to adapt. Once the new ‘normal’ takes hold, we adjust. Life just keeps moving. We’re living amid a pandemic and simply put, we can’t will it away. To accept this harsh reality, or modern-day Twilight Zone, is a process we’re all going through, in our own time and in our own way.

Some of us may need a bit more help and time to acclimate to this new ‘normal’. Getting help is not a sign of personal weakness but rather an expression of our own humanity. Reaching out shows self-awareness and strength of character. Sometimes we need help to talk through our concerns. Sharing our deepest fears with others is powerful, particularly with those trained to help navigate the complexities of human emotion. Using technology, it’s now easier than ever to

connect with a mental health provider, or family doctor, to discuss our emotions and secure advice to get the help we need.

This is a difficult time that poses a tremendous challenge for all of us. Let’s remember to do the little things to boost our mental health as much as possible. This means eating well, getting fresh air, exercising, connecting virtually with others and getting a good night’s sleep. Over time, we will adjust to our new circumstances. And if you need a little help along that journey, then please reach out for mental health support and at the same time, pat yourself on the back for having the strength to do so at such an arduous time.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 1: From the Front Lines with Dr. Michael Szabo

Recently, I’ve been working quite a bit in the emergency room of the hospital where I’ve served as a staff physician for the past 20 years in downtown Toronto. There are many positive things happening at the hospital: Everyone is working together to prepare for all the challenges that lie ahead. We’re all connecting with co-workers in ways that are meaningful and inspirational. The strength of the human spirit is alive and well. And we know that we will get through this difficult time and be better for it.

We’re starting to see a number of cases of very sick patients with COVID-19 at the hospital. Yes, most of them are older folks over 70, often with chronic health problems. But I’m going to be real with you. We’re seeing some young and otherwise healthy people becoming very sick – sometimes, critically. It’s important to realize that these cases are rare when compared to all the people likely infected – much less than 1%, but we are still figuring that out. The overwhelming likelihood for those of us who get this virus, and are under 60 with no chronic health problems, is that we will be able to fight it off and recover. But one thing that we’ve always known about infectious disease is that a very small number of otherwise healthy people can become quite sick. While it’s true for the flu, this is much worse. We don’t fully understand why and we’re unable to predict to whom it could happen. A nerve-wracking tidbit of information, I know.

This won’t be easy. It’s okay to say it aloud because it’s good to be honest. Being honest can diffuse the tension we may feel inside by getting our feelings out into the open. The most important thing is to remember what we CAN do to help get us through this time. We have the power to lessen the impact of this virus and reduce the chances of becoming infected. We’re not powerless here.

For example, we’re all doing an EXCELLENT job with physical distancing.  So, let’s keep that up.  Remember to stay home as much as possible. Avoid any close contact with anyone other than immediate family. By all means, go out for walks, breathe some fresh air and get some exercise  – but stay at least 6 feet away from others. That’s about the size of a pair of skis! 

We must remember to wash our hands and not touch our faces. If we’re sick with any kind of cough, runny nose or sore throat, self-isolate at home and avoid close contact with anyone.

These are all simple things but sometimes the most powerful things are the simplest. We’ve got this. If we all do the right thing, we can greatly lessen the impact of this virus. The power is in our hands.

Dr. Michael Szabo

10 Tips to Help International Students Survive Self-Isolation

For the 642,000 international students currently in Canada, COVID-19 presents a challenging situation, leaving them isolated and financially vulnerable with few options available. Studies have shown that loneliness can damage mental and physical health, leading to depression. Some students may face problems processing information, and have difficulties with memory retention, recall and decision-making.  

Our minds can serve as our best friend or worst enemy during such times. As guardians for and carers of international students, we want to share these 10 tips to help them survive the COVID-19 crisis: 

  1. Kill isolation with daylight: Our circadian rhythm can change in only 24 hours without daylight, impacting our sleep cycle and making isolation feel worse. An increase in daylight exposure reduces levels of melatonin, helping students to feel more alert and awake.
  2. Encourage moderation of online activities: Find activities that don’t require a screen. Students are accustomed to stimulation from mobile devices so disconnecting is important for them to reconnect with themselves. This may be accomplished by simple tasks such as preparing a meal or house cleaning.
  3. Teach them to be their own best friend: The truth is students only have themselves right now so the need to find inner strength and peace is crucial.  There are multiple exercises that can help such as meditation, self-affirmation and writing a journal.
  4. Practise xenophobia-awareness: International students, especially those of Asian origin, have dealt with micro-aggressions stemming from xenophobia (prejudice and the fear of foreigners) with the spread of COVID-19.
  5. Start a community WhatsApp or Facebook group: Reaching out to isolated students can be meaningful and helpful stay connected with students and keep them in the loop.
  6. Find cross-cultural counsellors: Reach out (virtually) to cross-cultural counsellors with experience with international students. Take this as an opportunity to find volunteers who want to help. 
  7. Re-adjust rule structures: Create a list of at-home activities and rules to avoid boredom for students. Have a game plan to keep them busy and entertained.
  8. Give yourself space: In these moments, stress levels and short fuses can increase for everyone. Decide upon and recognize a signal that means “enough”, then take a moment to collect yourself in a different room. Remember to stay positive and learn how to find peace when someone strains your patience.
  9. Encourage them to exercise: By Increasing our heart rate, more oxygen is pumped to our brain. This results in a plethora of hormones to better our brain function.
  10. Help them create a new plan: Students need to understand that these challenging times will not last forever. Help them to see the light at the end of the tunnel so that they can think about the next step and what they plan on doing after this has passed. This will teach them a great life lesson to reapply in future difficult situations.

COVID-19 Expatriates FAQ’s

Effective Date: March 26, 2020
Please note: This FAQ document replaces any and all previous versions.
Currently Available in English Only.

Can I receive COVID-19 testing even if I have no symptoms?

Since medical benefits are largely limited to expenses related to unforeseen emergencies requiring immediate attention, elective testing for COVID-19 is unfortunately not covered. If you are in Canada, please check with your province’s Ministry of Health for COVID-19 testing details. For example, in Ontario, COVID-19 testing is covered at no charge, regardless of your eligibility under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Where do I go for COVID-19 testing?

If you are in Canada, please visit the website for your province’s Ministry of Health to view a list of assessment centres in your area.

Are over-the-counter COVID-19 screening kits (such as those available in pharmacies) covered?

Unfortunately, over-the-counter medications, including screening kits, are not covered.

Does my policy cover medical expenses related to COVID-19? 

All policies with effective dates before the Government of Canada’s global travel advisory issued on March 13, 2020 will cover emergency COVID-19 treatment not covered by government insurance, provided the trip destination was not under a travel advisory at the time of departure. It must be noted, however, that governments normally cover pandemic-related treatment costs.

Will my policy provide repatriation coverage if I get COVID-19 and need to be returned to my home country?

Unfortunately, our Assistance service excludes coverage for repatriation that requires transportation in a biohazard isolation unit.

Am I covered by trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance?

Canadian travel insurers determine this on an individual policy basis. Policies purchased after the Government of Canada’s global advisory against non-essential travel issued on March 13, 2020 may not provide coverage for trip cancellations related to COVID-19.

What do I do if I get sick while I am travelling?

If you begin to feel symptoms related to COVID-19, contact Assistance at 1-866-883-9787, toll-free from Canada or the United States, or at 1-416-640-7865 from anywhere in the world.

Assistance will help to assess your symptoms and direct you, as needed, to a hospital or clinic for the appropriate care. Depending on your specific situation, Assistance is also available to:

  • Provide interpretation services to help you better communicate with health care personnel
  • Advance funds to a service provider if you’re required to pay up-front for medical care
  • Monitor your case through to recovery

When consulting with a doctor, be sure to disclose if you visited any high-risk areas or have been in contact with anyone who has shown COVID-19 symptoms.

Will I be covered for self-isolation or quarantine—for example, if I need a hotel room?

Precautionary quarantines imposed on travellers due to government restrictions, including upon arrival at a destination or upon return to their home country, are not covered under our Discover Canada policy. However, if your return to your home country is delayed due to a precautionary quarantine, your coverage can be extended provided you remain eligible. Coverage is automatically extended for up to five days under certain circumstances (ex: delayed return due to flight disruption or hospitalization).

Provided their policy took effect before March 13, 2020, insured individuals hospitalized due to COVID-19 infections will be covered the same as with any illness. However, this does not include self-isolation outside of a hospital, as our policies do not cover additional living expenses.

Will my policy limit or end coverage if an official advisory is issued by the Government of Canada?

Most policies exclude expenses incurred in locations for which an advisory was issued before departure. As the Government of Canada advisory against all non-essential travel was issued on March 13, 2020, policies for trips taken after this date would not cover COVID-19 related expenses.

Policies with an effective date up to March 13, 2020 will continue to provide coverage for unforeseen emergency expenses related to COVID-19, as per policy terms. New Canadian government advisories will not affect COVID-19
coverage in these policies. However, expenses related to COVID-19 will not be covered for any travel to, from, or through a country for which the Government of Canada had issued a travel advisory prior to the effective policy date.

Can I still mail information, such as original documents regarding claims, to MSH International?

While our offices are still open and mail continues to be delivered, we kindly ask that claims and supporting information be submitted online or via email.

What if I get sick returning to Canada from abroad?

If you have travelled, or have been in contact with someone who has travelled:

  • Stay home and avoid contact with others for 14 days
  • Contact your local public health authority within 24 hours of your arrival in Canada
  • Follow up with your health care professional

Closely monitor your health. If you develop fever, cough, or difficulty breathing over the 14 days after your return:

  • Call your health care provider or your local public health authority
  • Disclose your symptoms, travel to the outbreak area/area under travel advisory, and/or any contact with individuals with symptoms

If you are sick and need medical attention in Canada:
Notify the medical clinic or hospital in advance. Disclose your symptoms and/or your travel abroad. DO NOT take public transit, an Uber, or a taxi!
– Wear a mask while waiting for or receiving treatment to prevent spreading the illness

If you feel sick before your departure for Canada:
– Do not use any form of public transportation
– Seek medical attention immediately

If you feel sick during travel to or upon your arrival in Canada:
– Inform the flight attendant, cruise staff, or a border services agent. They will decide whether medical assessment by a quarantine officer is needed

My expatriate plan covers 100% of my medical costs. Does this include care related to COVID-19? Are there reimbursement limits?

All existing MSH International expatriate policies will cover COVID-19 the same as any other illness, based on each policy’s terms and conditions. Any specific exclusions would be listed in the policy exclusions.

My doctor postponed my medical appointment because of COVID-19 and my insurance has since expired. As the postponement wasn’t my fault, will this appointment still be covered?

Unfortunately, since the policy has expired, the appointment will not be covered.

Are there specific hospitals where I can be treated for COVID-19?

Most hospitals are equipped to handle patients with COVID-19 illness. The MSH Provider Tool can provide you with more details on nearby hospitals in our network. If you are seeking COVID-19 treatment, it’s crucial that you call ahead and notify the hospital of your symptoms before visiting.

Who do I contact if I am showing COVID-19 symptoms?

Contact your primary care physician or your province/state’s local public health department for medical guidance and protocols. It’s important to maintain a distance of 2 metres (6 feet) from others at all times.

I’ve called the health department in my area but can’t reach anyone. What do I do?

If your COVID-19 symptoms are minor to moderate, isolate yourself at home. If you live with others, stay in a separate room, or keep a 2 metre (6 foot) distance away. Continue trying to reach your local health department or primary care physician. If your symptoms worsen (for example, difficulty breathing), call 911, the emergency room of your local hospital, or your urgent care centre. It is crucial to notify them of your condition before you arrive so that the medical team can take the proper precautions.

Contact your account manager if you have any questions about your coverage.

COVID-19 Visitors to Canada FAQ’s

Effective Date: March 26, 2020
Please note: This FAQ document replaces any and all previous versions.
Currently Available in English Only.

Can I receive COVID-19 testing even if I have no symptoms?

Since medical benefits are largely limited to expenses related to unforeseen emergencies requiring immediate attention, elective testing for COVID-19 is unfortunately not covered. If you are in Canada, please check with your province’s Ministry of Health for COVID-19 testing details. For example, in Ontario, COVID-19 testing is covered at no charge, regardless of your eligibility under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Where do I go for COVID-19 testing?

If you are in Canada, please visit the website for your province’s Ministry of Health to view a list of assessment centres in your area.

Are over-the-counter COVID-19 screening kits (such as those available in pharmacies) covered?

Unfortunately, over-the-counter medications, including screening kits, are not covered.

Does my policy cover medical expenses related to COVID-19? 

Visitors to Canada medical insurance policies can cover emergency COVID-19 treatment in Canada, but policy exclusions may apply, such as exclusions related to pre-existing medical conditions. Governments may also cover pandemic-related treatment costs. Expenses related to COVID-19 that occur on side trips outside of Canada would not be covered if the trip destination is under a Canadian travel advisory at the time of departure.

Will my policy provide repatriation coverage if I get COVID-19 and need to be returned to my home country?

Unfortunately, our Assistance service excludes coverage for repatriation that requires transportation in a biohazard isolation unit.

Am I covered by trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance?

Canadian travel insurers determine this on an individual policy basis. Policies purchased after the Government of Canada’s global advisory against non-essential travel issued on March 13, 2020 may not provide coverage for trip cancellations related to COVID-19.

What do I do if I get sick while I am travelling?

If you begin to feel symptoms related to COVID-19, contact Assistance at 1-866-883-9787, toll-free from Canada or the United States, or at 1-416-640-7865 from anywhere in the world.

Assistance will help to assess your symptoms and direct you, as needed, to a hospital or clinic for the appropriate care. Depending on your specific situation, Assistance is also available to:

  • Provide interpretation services to help you better communicate with health care personnel
  • Advance funds to a service provider if you’re required to pay up-front for medical care
  • Monitor your case through to recovery

When consulting with a doctor, be sure to disclose if you visited any high-risk areas or have been in contact with anyone who has shown COVID-19 symptoms.

Will I be covered for self-isolation or quarantine—for example, if I need a hotel room?

Precautionary quarantines imposed on travellers due to government restrictions, including upon arrival at a destination or upon return to their home country, are not covered under our Discover Canada policy. However, if your return to your home country is delayed due to a precautionary quarantine, your coverage can be extended provided you remain eligible. Coverage is automatically extended for up to five days under certain circumstances (ex: delayed return due to flight disruption or hospitalization).

Provided their policy took effect before March 13, 2020, insured individuals hospitalized due to COVID-19 infections will be covered the same as with any illness. However, this does not include self-isolation outside of a hospital, as our policies do not cover additional living expenses.

Can I still mail information, such as original documents regarding claims, to MSH International?

While our offices are still open and mail continues to be delivered, we kindly ask that claims and supporting information be submitted online or via email.

What if I get sick returning to Canada from abroad?

If you have travelled, or have been in contact with someone who has travelled:

  • Stay home and avoid contact with others for 14 days
  • Contact your local public health authority within 24 hours of your arrival in Canada
  • Follow up with your health care professional

Closely monitor your health. If you develop fever, cough, or difficulty breathing over the 14 days after your return:

  • Call your health care provider or your local public health authority
  • Disclose your symptoms, travel to the outbreak area/area under travel advisory, and/or any contact with individuals with symptoms

If you are sick and need medical attention in Canada:
Notify the medical clinic or hospital in advance. Disclose your symptoms and/or your travel abroad. DO NOT take public transit, an Uber, or a taxi!
– Wear a mask while waiting for or receiving treatment to prevent spreading the illness

If you feel sick before your departure for Canada:
– Do not use any form of public transportation
– Seek medical attention immediately

If you feel sick during travel to or upon your arrival in Canada:
– Inform the flight attendant, cruise staff, or a border services agent. They will decide whether medical assessment by a quarantine officer is needed

Am I covered for emergency medical treatment in Canada for COVID-19?

Policies for travel purchased will continue to cover new and unforeseen medical expenses related to COVID-19 infection; however, it’s best to consult your policy wording for specific details. Alternatively, you may contact us for help in determining the impact of COVID-19 on your coverage.

Am I covered if I am from a country with a known outbreak of COVID-19?

Coverage for COVID-19 treatment in this instance will be determined on an individual case basis, taking into account traveller health for the stability period before the policy start date.

Will I be covered if I contract COVID-19 during travel outside of Canada, or on a visit to my home country?

The Discover Canada policy allows for side trips outside of Canada, provided that certain criteria are met (see your policy wording for details). Side trips outside of Canada that took place before the Government of Canada’s global travel advisory issued on March 13, 2020 are covered for emergency COVID-19 related expenses, provided the trip was not made to a country for which an advisory was issued at the time of departure. Side trips after March 13, 2020 are not covered for COVID-19 related expenses.

The Discover Canada policy does not cover expenses incurred during trips to your home country.

You can also call us at 416-730-8488 (or toll-free at 1-800-360-3234) to speak with a customer service representative or email us at helpline@americas.msh-intl.com

Stay in Place. Follow Official Guidance. This will End.

By now, all Canadians who have been abroad should either be at home or in the final process of getting there. The coronavirus COVID-19 has changed our lives, and perhaps, when we come out at the other end of this trial, we’ll all be better off for it. We’ll be better prepared to deal with any such disruption in future, more cognizant of how vulnerable we really are when we travel to environments not our own.

For now, travel is not in our immediate future. For Canadians, some of the most inveterate travellers on earth, that may seem like a forbidding challenge. But this too will pass and when it does we may view travel as more of a privilege than a human right and we’ll be more careful about our choices, our preparations, our own untidiness when it comes to making plans, our own consideration for the others we impact when we do travel: like when we recline our aircraft seat into somebody else’s knees, or carelessly sneeze into the space of five or six of our travelling neighbours.

New warnings, old advice

We have seen and heard in recent days that some travel insurers have warned that newly purchased trip cancellation plans can no longer cover you for coronavirus-related illness if you have travelled where your government has warned you not to travel. And if you have done so, our government has warned you to move out and try to get home. There’s nothing new about this. Trip cancellation policies have had such exclusions in place for a long time.

As we have explained in earlier blogs, once your government has raised its warning level to “Avoid non essential travel” or “Avoid All Travel”, the restrictions are in and your benefits are seriously limited.

There are also many questions being asked by travellers who had to cancel trips or interrupt them to get home. If you bought your policy before the warnings went up you are covered, but only until you can get out of harm’s way, and your insurer is available to help you. Don’t expect to stay on indefinitely.

And even if you bought trip insurance prior to such warnings, don’t expect limitless coverage. All policies have limits on what they will pay if you are stranded and delayed getting home. So don’t try to take advantage. And understand that trip cancelation insurance covers only non-reimbursable money you have already paid. It does not pay for the emotional loss of your trip of a lifetime dream.

We’ll continue to update and advise you about what types of insurance you should consider when planning trips into the future. This is important, because recent survey has shown us that though about 70 percent of Canadians (of age groups) buy medical emergency coverage for out of country travel, only one third think about covering trip cancellations and interruptions. Perhaps COVID-19 will change that equation.

But for now, we can only urge you to stay close to home. Follow the advice provided by your federal and local governments and health authorities, and be patient.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Cruise Lines Roll Out Deep Bargains During Virus Threats… Interested?

Cruise lines are now offering deals you wouldn’t have believed possible even a couple of weeks ago—obviously not to China or other western Pacific regions, but anywhere else—to the Caribbean (which normally attracts 32 percent of the world’s cruise traffic), to Mediterranean waters (forget Italy), Alaska and the rest of the world. They have suffered severe business losses since the COVID epidemic spread, and they intend to stay afloat during the current tempest.

It’s a buyers’ market, for either short or long term bookings. Should You buy? That’s your personal decision and your willingness to take on risk.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, and consultant to the White House COVID response team, has advised that anybody with a serious underlying condition, and especially persons over 60 with serious conditions “should not get near a cruise ship.”

Canada’s PHAC has gone one step further than the CDC in advising against all travel on cruise vessels.

Certainly that is the safest route, but shutting down an industry as massive as this one is bound to have enormous economic effect as well as an effect on million of jobs globally, and that too has to be a consideration for any government to make.

However the final decision to cruise or not is yours. Whatever your choice, if you do choose to book a cruise for future travel and you want to buy travel insurance from a Canadian vendor, talk to your travel advisor to make sure your policy will cover you. It may be the PHAC advisory may invalidate your coverage just as it would if you chose to travel to a country for which it has raised an “Avoid all travel” warning.

And it you’re young and in good health and can’t resist the temptation to cruise at bargain prices, here’s what you need to know.

Cash is not an option

In addition to rock bottom fares, cruise lines are offering waivers of cancellation penalties (those are the charges they levy if you cancel a cruise) or if you change your itinerary or the date of your trip. Sounds good, but understand that they’re not going to give you your money back. The most you get will be a cruise credit for a future trip.

All cruise lines offer their own in-house trip insurance–some covering only trip cancellation/interruption benefits, others a combination of TC/P and medical coverage—though the medical benefits they offer are very skimpy compared to the private travel insurance Canadians can buy from their own brokers, banks or TI insurers. But even those in-house polices will only cover up to 75 percent of any prepaid, non recoverable costs. So read that policy—every word. And understand that no standard travel insurance policy will cover virus outbreaks or trips you decide to cancel because you fear what might happen while travelling.

Fear Isn’t covered

Fear is not a coverable benefit under most policies except “Cancel For any Reason” policies or upgrades to existing policies. They’re also known as “Change of mind” policies or upgrades.

Even cruise companies now offer Cancel for Any Reason benefits, but you’ll pay 40 percent more for them, and they will usually allow you a reimbursement of up to 75 percent of the costs any prepaid non-

refundable costs you have already committed. And, you guessed it, they’ll pay only in future cruise credits, not cash.

Private third party insurers in the US also provide CFAR policies or enhancements and they are increasingly popular (at about 40 percent more than regular fees). But the advantage they have over cruise policies is that they will pay out in cash. Some Canadian insurers also provide CFAR upgrades, but their payout levels are usually lower than 75 percent.

The bottom line

If you have any serious underlying health conditions—no matter what your age, or especially if you’re over 60 and have serious underlying conditions—check with your doctor about the advisability of cruising. Only your doctor can be trusted to judge if the condition you have is of the type that should preclude you from cruising.

Read your policy—every bit of it. And if you’re thinking of taking advantage of those cruise bargains—caveat emptor.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved

Coronavirus Impacts Travel Insurance Coverage: Stay Protected

With commercial airline traffic to and from China virtually shut down, and with little prospect that control of the coronavirus is imminent, travellers need to do a quick study of what travel insurance can or cannot do in protecting them from unexpected costs of emergency medical care, trip cancellations, disruptions, re-routings or possibly even temporary isolation far from home.

To help with that study, we have asked Matt Davies, Senior Product Specialist with MSH International to help us navigate through the finer points of travel insurance benefits and limitations as they are provided to Canadian travellers planning visits to countries impacted by the coronavirus epidemic.

One important point to emphasize is that these guidelines or limitations are largely dependent on government assessments of health or other risks in foreign countries and are not just arbitrary rulings set out by insurers.

The before or after rule

Generally, if you purchase insurance for travel to any nation for which the government of Canada has issued “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel” warnings, certain benefits normally provided may be limited or excluded.

In the case of China, where there is a Canadian government warning extant against non-essential travel to the country as a whole, and all travel to the specific province of Hubei (the immediate site of the coronavirus outbreak), any medical expenses you incur related to that disease would not be coverable if you bought your insurance after those warnings were raised. Once the warnings are lifted, coverage returns to normal.

But if you purchased travel insurance for a trip to China before the government issued its warnings, and you either cancelled your trip or decided to return home early due to concerns about the coronavirus, your trip cancellation and interruption benefits would remain intact.

What would those benefits be?

Again: for trip cancellation and interruption benefits to be applicable, you must have purchased your insurance before the government raised its travel warnings.

Any money you prepaid for your trip that is not recoverable from airlines or hotels or other tour services

may be covered by your travel insurance. But if your airline or tour operator offers refunds or vouchers for future travel, that will reduce your insurer’s obligations.  No double-dipping. And though we say your costs would be covered, we must add that all such costs are subject to certain daily specified in your policy. Know those when you sign your contract.

If you choose to interrupt your trip due to the travel warning raised by your government, your trip interruption benefit will pay the cost of your economy airfare home if your return ticket is not changeable or refundable by your airline.  And if you’re returned home by a government-arranged charter (as some have been during this recent coronavirus crisis) and the government charges you a fee,  your travel insurance may reimburse you up to the cost of an economy airfare.

Your trip interruption benefits may also cover any out- of- pocket costs of unexpected layovers that are beyond your control, such as for meals, hotels, taxis, telephone charges. But these expenses will be subject to daily limits and you need to check them out in your policy. Don’t expect free nights at the Ritz Carlton if your original tour had you booked in a Holiday Inn.

Remember that covered benefits for trip interruption are designed to keep you safe and comfortable and get you home as conveniently as possible. And again, that only works if your insurance was purchased before your government raised its warning to “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel.”

So know your policy. Know the reimbursement limits. And always stay tuned in to the government travel advisories that often change from day to day–https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/china

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

10 Things I have Learned About Human Trafficking Since Launching Our Task Force

In the run up to 30 July – World Day against Trafficked Persons, which is calling for governments to take more stringent action to fight Human Trafficking, I took the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned about the issue since WTTC launched its Human Trafficking Task Force at the 2019 Global Summit in Seville, April this year. 

  1. Human Trafficking is a big money ‘business’.

According to the International Labour Organization, Human Trafficking is an illicit industry worth more than $150 billion annually, which is equivalent to the entire tourism economy of Brazil ($152.5 billion).

2. Human Trafficking affects everyone, everywhere.

Victims of Human Trafficking are men, women and children, and they can be found in every country in the world. An estimated 24.9 million people are trapped in forced labour:

  • 16 million of which are exploited in the private sector,
  • 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation, and
  • 4 million in forced labour imposed by state authorities.

Human Trafficking disproportionately affects females who make up 99% of commercial sexual exploitation cases and 58% in other sectors.

3. You don’t have to be physically moved to be ‘trafficked’.

A common misconception when it comes to Human Trafficking is the idea that a person is ‘trafficked’ from one country to another. In reality, a person need not be physically transported from one location to another in order to be considered a victim of Human Trafficking. In fact, UNODC estimates that the number of people being trafficked within their own country has doubled in recent years to 58% of all detected victims. Human Trafficking is therefore about coercion; forcing someone to do something against their will, and exploiting them.

4. Travel & Tourism is often an unwitting facilitator of Human Trafficking.

Travel & Tourism is responsible for the movement, accommodation and employment of millions of people around the world. These systems and platforms are often used by traffickers to exploit vulnerable people and children.

5. Trying to understand where Human Trafficking is taking place is really complicated.

Human Trafficking is a criminal activity that is hidden in plain sight. The biggest global Travel & Tourism brands have multifaceted organisational structures and operate in numerous and diverse destinations around the world where laws, customs and practices may vary. Value chains can be complex, including contractors, suppliers and other business partners – which could potentially heighten the risk of trafficked persons being hidden within their operations. 

6. Travel & Tourism has a big role to play in the fight against Human Trafficking. 

With 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals and 4 billion air passengers in 2018 alone, the Travel & Tourism sector interacts with billions of customers at all stages of the travel process. This provides an enormous opportunity for companies to raise awareness of the severity and prevalence of Human Trafficking, to encourage responsible tourist behaviour, and to inform travellers how to spot and report suspected cases.

7. Travel & Tourism employees are the eyes and ears on the ground (and in the air).

Travel & Tourism supports 1 in 10 jobs around the world – a total of 313 million people. Aware that their employees interact with millions of different people daily, many Travel & Tourism companies provide training to customer facing employees so that they know how to spot signs of Human Trafficking, how to report suspected cases, and have policies in place to protect whistle-blowers. 

8. There is a role to play in supporting survivors, too.

As one of the largest employers in the world, and in addition to providing advocacy and awareness raising and employee training programmes, some Travel & Tourism companies, namely within the hotel industry are providing much-needed support to survivors including training and employment opportunities.   

9. Global Action is required to tackle a problem of this magnitude.

WTTC launched its Human Trafficking Task Force at the 2019 Global Summit in Seville. Bringing together nearly 20 of the largest global Travel & Tourism brands, the Task Force facilitates information exchange and coordinates efforts across the private sector, while strengthening cooperation with the public sector and civil society.

10. Governments need to wake up and step up – it’s time for action!

While prevention and protection are crucial pillars in the fight against Human Trafficking, we need government support and leadership to take us beyond awareness-raising. Specifically, governments should strengthen the integration with local authorities to ensure perpetrators are duly processed and punished. The weakness in this ‘system’ is the lack of coordination for how to ensure reduction of the crime through the justice system.

Is your Government doing enough to fight Human Trafficking in your country?

無論您是在國外工作還是留學,都要在春節期間保持傳統過新年!- Whether You Are Working Or Studying Abroad, Keep The Tradition Alive During Chinese New Year!

新年快樂 – Happy Chinese New Year!

Or in Hong Kong and other Cantonese regions, 恭喜發財 – it means congratulations on the fortune.

A Little History

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, has taken prominence and is celebrated all over the world. This New Year celebration is actually the longest Chinese holiday of the year (lasting 15-16 days) and is celebrated on a different day every year. Why? Because it follows the lunar calendar – the movement of the moon. This tradition has been around for almost 4000 years since the Han Dynasty in 202 BC-220 AD.  The Emperor commanded the use of the lunar calendar and it has been put into practice ever since.

2019, Year of the Pig

Every year is represented by a different Chinese zodiac sign. 2019 is the year of the pig – a year of fortune and luck! A pig represents wealth, honesty, prosperity, generosity, and patience to name a few. And depending on your birth year, a different zodiac animal can represent you or your personality type and determine your career, health and relationship success – just like the western zodiac with the 12 different astrological signs of the year. In China, you have your real age (the day you were actually born), and a “fake” nominal age where you grow an extra year older on top of your real age because of the Spring Festival and the lunar calendar. So if you’re 35 in your real age, with the lunar calendar you are actually 36! In 2019, Chinese New Year or Spring Festival lands on February 5th – where everyonegrows a year older.

The Reunion

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday celebrated in China and it causes the largest human migration in the world.  Everyone comes back home to celebrate and it is such a big event that it’s now known as the Spring Migration. As 1 out of every 5 people in the world is Chinese, not even including overseas Chinese and people of Chinese descent, it is a very busy and hectic time of the year, especially at airports – so it is good to be prepared and have everything in order before this big travel date. This time of year brings the anticipation of spending time with family and loved ones and enjoying one another’s company with amazing food, decorations, and traditions.

Specialty Food Dishes To Celebrate

There are many popular Chinese traditional food dishes with specific meanings that are used to celebrate the Spring Festival:

1 – Laba porridge 腊八粥. This porridge includes eight types of grains and is eaten on the 8th day of the 12th month in the Chinese calendar and is the subject of many different myths, but all teach the lesson of being grateful and not taking what you have for granted.

2 – Baked bread 馍饼. When you eat this bread, it’s believed that the road to wealth will be open and smooth for that year.

3 – Kumquats and sugarcanes means a sweet life and successful road ahead.

4 – Soup balls or sweet dumplings 湯圓. These soup balls have different filling inside, whether it be savoury or sweet, and are a popular dish as their name also sounds like the Chinese word for “reunion”. They are also shaped like the full moon.

5 – Fa Gao 發粿. It is a hybrid of muffins and a sponge cake. The word “fa” is the same as the word that means “get rich” in Chinese. People also dye these cakes in festive colours.

6 – Rice cake 年糕. When translated to English, it literally means “year cake” and it symbolizes success.

7 – Dumplings are to be eaten every meal for 5 days. With so many dishes to choose from, this tradition has been relaxed, but is still very much enjoyed.

8 – Tu Su Wine 屠蘇酒. Well you definitely can’t celebrate a new year without some wine! Chinese New Year calls for a specialty wine that was the Emperor’s first drink of the New Year. It is made with medicinal herbs and yellow rice wine and has many health benefits including disease prevention.

Celebrate Wherever You Are

If you’re a Chinese international student or an expatriate living or working away from home, we understand that if you can’t make it back for the New Year, this tradition will be sorely missed. But not to worry, you can bring these traditions to wherever you may be. You can also share these traditions with friends and show how proud you are of being an international student or expat. Creating a festive atmosphere where you are can really help you feel closer to where you came from. There are also many places you can go where you can join in on the celebrations of Spring Festival!

1 – Take a walk through China Town! Most cities in different countries have a China Town, full of traditional restaurants, little shops like the ones back home, architecture that mimic Chinese designs, and people who speak the language all over the streets.

2 – Even malls in different countries around the world celebrate Chinese New Year by hosting dragon dances, Chinese dances, and giving away red pockets with candies in them! How’s that for a little taste of back home?

3 – Don’t forget to call or video chat with your family! It’s always great to see familiar faces and how they are celebrating and wish a prosperous new year to the entire family all at once!

4 – Bring your traditions to where you are. Celebrate with friends and maybe teach them something new and what this festival means to you. You can have fun making dumplings and traditional Chinese dessert. Also, who wouldn’t love a red pocket if you’re feeling generous!

5 – Decorate your home in red to symbolize prosperity and happiness, like you do back home. It can be a reminder of this important tradition and bring happiness through familiarity.

6 – Have a night out at your favourite Chinese restaurant! They will sure know how to celebrate and you’ll be able to have a taste of home on that special day with everyone else around who is the doing the same thing.

7 – Buy your own fireworks! It may not be as grand as professional fireworks, but at least you and your friends can have fun lighting them up and seeing the beautiful colours in the sky.

8 – Why not host a hot pot dinner at your house? It may be cold, especially during this time of the year, and what better way to celebrate than to have a boiling hot buffet meal with your favourite meats, seafoods, and veggies and the ability to make your own special sauce to dip your food in.

9 – End this almost 23-day festival with your own lantern festival under the first full moon of the year! You can have fun making your own lanterns or buy them in Chinese stores. The Lantern Festival is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. In ancient times, the Chinese women who had to stay indoors most of their lives, were permitted to celebrate the lantern festival on the full moon of the month. Therefore, it was also the only time young men and women could meet with each other and fall in love. The Lantern Festival also symbolizes freedom, and it is a great reminder that you are free to travel to study or work where you please. Family will always be there and you will have your festive reunions again!

 

Comment below to let us know how you’re celebrating Chinese New Year!

New Canadian Biometric Requirements in Place for International Students and Other Visa Holders

As of July 31, 2018, international students applying for Canadian student visas from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are required to provide biometric facial photos and fingerprint data to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officers when entering the country. The requirements will also apply to applicants for visitor, work, permanent residency, or refugee asylum visas.

Applicants already in Canada are temporarily exempt from the requirements pending the establishment of biometric application processing centres in Canada starting in 2019.

Canada’s Biometric Initiative program, which is designed to ease legitimate travel to Canada while protecting national security and preventing identify fraud, will be extended to applicants from Asia, Asia- Pacific, and the Americas starting December 31, 2018. Canada already collects biometric data from refugee applicants from 30 countries.

Tourists from visa-exempt countries with valid Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTA) are exempt from the requirement, as are:

  • Canadian citizens
  • US nationals
  • Citizenship applicants (including passport applicants) or existing permanent residents
  • Children under 14
  • Applicants older than 79
  • US visa holders transiting through Canada
  • Foreign senior government officials
  • Refugee claimants who have already provided biometrics and are applying for study or work permits
  • Temporary resident applicants who have already provided biometrics in support of a permanent residency application that is still in progress

Canada’s immigration minister Ahmed Hussen has stated that expanding the IRCC’s biometric program from the 30 countries now subject to the requirements to a planned 150 will allow border and immigration agents to establish travellers’ identities quickly and accurately. The full program is being rolled out to all ports of entry during 2018 and 2019.

Where will this take place?

Visa applicants outside of Canada can provide their biometrics to any one of 137 government-approved Visa Application Centres (VACs) in 95 countries, in addition to 135 Application Support Centers in the US. They can apply in person, online, or by mail. The biometric data will be valid for 10 years before it needs to be renewed. Those who have already provided biometrics prior to July 31, 2018, must provide them again.

More precise information on how and where to apply is available at the Canadian government’s website.

What about costs?

In addition to the regular visa application fee, a biometric fee of $85 CAD per person will apply. However, families applying together for a visitor visa will only pay a maximum biometric fee of up to $170 CAD.

Whether applications are made online or in person, VAC staff will ask to see proof that the biometric fees have been paid before taking fingerprints and photographs.

Biometric fees will also cover the cost of application handling at a VAC. The VAC will make sure applications are complete, then send them on to the appropriate visa office.

How will it work?

When entering or re-entering Canada, an IRCC officer will compare the photograph in the traveller’s passport or travel document to the photograph taken at the VAC. The officer may also ask for fingerprints.

At airports and land points of entry, discretionary fingerprint verification may be conducted by border officers to verify that the person entering Canada is the same person who was previously approved abroad.

As the biometrics program evolves, we will bring you updates. Stay tuned.

Florida Updates Zika Virus Count

The Florida Department of Health reports an additional four new cases of locally-acquired Zika virus being investigated in Miami-Dade.. All of them were believed to have been infected in the one-square mile of Wynwood area, originally designated as the prime site of the recent outbreak.

The department emphasizes that it “still believes active transmissions are only taking place within the identified area that is less than one square mile in Miami-Dade County.” Currently, there are no active investigations or any indications of active transmission in Broward County, which is immediately north of Miami-Dade.

The FDH also reports the incidence of 14 new travel-related cases of Zika virus infection—four in Miami Dade, three in Orange County (Orlando area), two in Hernando County (St. Petersburg-Clearwater area), one in Broward County, one in Lee County (Fort Myers area), one in Monroe County (Keys area), and two involving pregnant women in un-named counties. These are cases in which the infected person contracted the virus while travelling outside of the U.S.

As the infection-sites remain restricted to the Wynwood area, the FDH and CDC advisories remain unchanged: Women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should postpone travel to the impacted area of Miami (Wynwood). And “if you are pregnant and must travel or if you live or work in the impacted area, protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing insect repellant, long clothing and limiting your time outdoors.”

No advisories against travel to other areas of Florida have been issued.

The CDC recommends that healthcare providers should consider testing all pregnant women with a history of travel to a Zika-affected area for the virus. It also recommends that all pregnant women who reside in or travel frequently to the area where active transmission is likely occurring be tested in the first and second trimester.

 

Need more information? Read about What You Should Do About the Zika Virus.

Safety Precautions for Canadian Travellers to Turkey

The recent coup attempt in Turkey, and the government’s massive retaliation, must be taken seriously by any Canadians planning to visit family or friends in that country.(According to the 2011 census, there were then almost 55,500 Canadian residents who claimed full or partial Turkish descent, and certainly a lot more today.)

In the wake of the botched uprising, the Government of Canada has warned its citizens to “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” to Turkey as a whole, or to “Avoid All Travel” to its border region with Syria—specifically within 10 km of said border.

These warnings are not just formalities. They can have serious consequences for you if you ignore them and then run into any problems or even misunderstandings while in that country.

Following is what the advisories mean:

 

Avoid non-essential travel

There are specific safety and security concerns that could put you at risk. You should reconsider your need to travel to the country, territory or region. If you are already in the country, territory or region, you should reconsider whether or not you really need to be there. If not, you should consider leaving while it is still safe to do so. It is up to you to decide what “non-essential travel” means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors.

 

Avoid all travel

There is an extreme risk to your personal safety and security. You should not travel to this country, territory or region. If you are already in the country, territory or region, you should consider leaving if it is safe to do so.

 

Be aware that although the Canadian government can issue advisories and give you information to protect your security, its ability to help you if you get into trouble is limited.

If you choose to travel despite the warnings, make sure you at least register with the “Registration of Canadians Abroad” service at https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration. This will help maintain a connection with your family and friends in case of disruption or loss of contact. You can register online, so if you are presently in Turkey, register now.

If you run into an emergency while in Turkey, you can call the Embassy of Canada in Ankara or the Canadian Consulate in Istanbul and follow their instructions. You can also call the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa toll free at 00800-14-220-0149. But the toll-free number is not available for mobile phone users in Turkey.

If you have dual citizenship with Turkey, be aware that while you are in that country, Canadian authorities may be unable or limited in their ability to help you if Turkish authorities consider you a Turkish citizen. For example, if you are of suitable age, you may be required to do military service. And if you have other obligations current in Turkey, local authorities will have primacy in dealing with you.

Also, since the recent government crackdown and the re-assertion of Islamic practices, be particularly sensitive to the rules of behaviour.

As the Canadian government advisories emphasize:

Use of drugs is absolutely forbidden; heavy fines and jail terms can be expected.

Drinking and driving is a zero tolerance activity that is punished on the spot.

It is illegal to desecrate the Turkish flag or to insult the name or image of its historical founders. We can also suggest you be careful about making any derogatory remarks about the current authorities. Canadian-style freedom of speech is not fashionable in Turkey.

Be careful not to photograph military or public institutions, public demonstrations, or members of the police or security forces. Do not photograph people without their permission.

Though homosexual activity is not illegal, intolerance is high in some parts of the country. Avoid physical contact such as handholding in public, for either or both sexes.

Always dress conservatively, especially in non-urban areas and coastal resorts. Women should cover their heads and avoid showing bare arms and legs.

In case you need medical services, understand that cash payment will likely be required, unless you have internationally valid travel health insurance. And if you plan on being in Turkey for an extended period, such as a year, you will be required to register for Universal Health Coverage under Turkish social security.

If you are visiting for a shorter period, you will be expected to show proof of valid health insurance that’s substantial enough to cover any bills you may generate. Your provincial health insurance won’t do it.

Take all your travel insurance documents with you—a toll-free number or name of insurer won’t be accepted by border officials, hospital, or clinic personnel. And if cash is demanded, aside from the local currency (the lira—TRY), U.S. dollars, euros, and major credit cards are widely accepted. Leave the loonie at home.

As for your travel insurance, be aware that if you are in an area already designated by the Canadian government as an “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” or “Avoid All Travel” zone, your travel insurance benefits may be sharply limited or voided altogether. Make sure you ask your travel insurance professional to explain these limitations to you when you buy your coverage. And if travelling anywhere to Europe, Asia, or beyond, it is always safest to first review and then purchase your policy from an agent or company that specializes in international travel insurance. Don’t take shortcuts.

The bottom line is that government advisories are based on ground-level decisions aimed at protecting you when you travel. They are to be taken seriously. There is only so much your government can do once you fall under the authority of another country’s laws and practices.

The responsibility to cede that authority is yours.

 

For more on travel advisories, read our articles here.

France Struck Yet Again

The month-long UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament held throughout France was labelled as a major event with a high threat level. Increased security presence was felt at the venues, and the public was kept safe for the most part, with the exception of some incidents with so-called hooligans.

Tragically, though, just days after the tournament ended, an attack was carried out during the heart of French National Day celebrations. Bastille Day, or La Fête nationale, is a holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Bastille Day marks the beginning of republican democracy in France, and carries with it great significance and symbolism to the French culture that has now been tragically tainted.

The Bastille Day attack is the worst attack since the November 2015 attacks in Paris. Around 30,000 people were gathered in Nice, France’s second-most-popular tourist destination, to celebrate and watch the fireworks over the Mediterranean Sea on the beach and the famous Promenade des Anglais, which was cordoned off as a pedestrian zone. Shortly after 22:30 local time, 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, of Franco-Tunisian origin, breached security barriers in his large white truck and began zigzagging down the Promenade des Anglais for up to two kilometres (1.25 miles). The attacker had a pistol and a larger gun in addition to numerous fake grenades and weapons. He began firing at police as they were attempting to stop him, before he was ultimately shot dead.

One day after the event, 84 people are dead, and approximately 50 others remain in the hospital with life-or-death injuries, so the death toll will likely rise. Currently, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and officials are unsure if the perpetrator acted alone. However, Islamic State (IS or ISIS) and Al Qaeda have both released global calls for their supporters to use vehicles as deadly weapons. Bouhlel was known to police as a career criminal, to neighbours as a loner, and was estranged by his wife. French authorities’ new mobile app—designed to send immediate alerts in the event of an attack—has been criticized, since the alert was delayed for 3 hours.

France will now extend its national state of emergency, due to end on July 26, for an additional three months. For individuals thinking about travelling to France, we urge you to keep it on your list. Although there have been a number of attacks on French soil over the past year-and-a-half, the chances of witnessing an event like this are exceedingly rare. One of the best steps you can take is to educate yourself before you travel. There are many publicly available resources and government websites that contain up-to-date country information to help mitigate your exposure to various risks, including everything from car accidents to terror attacks. Understanding what do in the extremely unlikely event you are caught in an attack is crucial in order to save your life and others’.

Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport is currently open and operating according to schedule, although there was a brief closure earlier on July 15 day due to a suspicious package. If you wish to cancel upcoming travel to France, we recommend you contact your travel agency and/or travel insurance provider to determine what options are available to you.

 

For more travel advice and warnings, see our recent article entitled Summer Travel Warnings for Europe.

Europe Travel Alert: World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland

The United States has issued a Europe Travel Alert lasting until August 31, 2016, warning travellers of the large number of tourists visiting Europe this summer and associated risks. Specifically, the surge in visitors presents a greater concern for potential terrorist attacks due to the number of large events. And although the alert covers Americans, Canadians are urged to heed the same advice and follow travel advisories if they are heading to Europe this summer.

One major event the travel alert mentions is the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, which is taking place in Krakow, Poland, from July 26 to July 31. The event is expected to draw upwards of 2.5 million visitors between the ages of 16 and 35 to the Polish city. The Polish Prime Minister’s Office has said there are no signs of increased terrorist activity in the country and reassured travellers that security will be stringent. The safety and security of participants will be provided by almost 25,000 army, security, and emergency personnel in Krakow.

 

What to expect if you are travelling to Poland

Bring your passport and necessary visas. If you are from a Schengen area country, you are likely aware that you don’t need your passport to travel between member states such as Poland. However, Poland is imposing border controls at all national borders and stricter security measures from July 4 until August 2. The time frame covers the Warsaw NATO Summit, scheduled for July 8–9, as well as World Youth Day. As a result of these additional measures, even citizens of Schengen area countries must present their passports at Polish borders. All visitors to the country are therefore required to carry their passport regardless of the Schengen agreement.

In addition to these temporary border controls, Poland’s facilities and infrastructure will be strained to handle the huge crowds expected at World Youth Day. It is wise to plan for longer commutes since public transportation, streets, and venues will be extremely crowded. Lines for food and water at local cafes will likely be never-ending, so prepare by packing water beforehand—Poland can be hot and humid in the summer.

Areas in and around Błonia Park in central Krakow and Campus Misericordiae (600-acre meadow called “Field of Mercy”) on the border of Krakow and Wieliczka are the two main locations for gatherings during World Youth Day. There are no health care facilities near Campus Misericordiae, but the Polish Army will be setting up a field hospital and medical tents along with appropriate medical transportation in the event of an emergency.

 

Maintain solid personal security practices

Previous World Youth Days have generally been peaceful and successful events. However, massive crowds and open air public events always require a few extra security precautions:

  • Remain vigilant when using public transportation and secure your belongings at all times
  • Be aware of your surroundings and use common sense
  • Always follow the instructions of Polish authorities, particularly in the event of an emergency
  • Stay in touch with friends and family and have a plan in place the event of separation or emergencies
  • Keep your embassy’s contact information handy as well as Polish emergency numbers (dial 112 anywhere in Europe for emergency assistance)
  • Learn a few Polish “survival” phrases—they will make you a better traveller and likely be useful in emergency situations

Don’t be intimidated

The advice and travel warnings are routine in nature because any large gathering would pose a potential threat. However, Polish authorities are reminding visitors that the travel alert did not arise from any specific intelligence on planned terrorist attacks in Poland. One bishop from the World Youth Day organizing committee reminded journalists that the young adult visitors during the gathering will demonstrate faith, joy, and happiness first and foremost and shouldn’t be intimidated by stricter security or travel alerts.

 

For more information on travel alerts, please click here.

UEFA Euro 2016: Europe Travel Alert

The United States has issued a Europe Travel Alert over the risk of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe targeting tourist sites, major events, transportation, restaurants, and commercial centres. The alert focuses on the Euro 2016 soccer championship being held in France from June 10 to July 10 as a major event with a high threat level. France has issued a state of emergency until July 26, as the matches are expected to draw several million fans from across the continent and the globe. In the wake of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks that shook Europe, French security has taken major steps to mitigate any risk of further terrorist attacks during the third-largest sporting event in the world.

 

Stade de France

The Stade de France was one of the targets in the Paris terrorist attacks last November, where three suicide bombers attempted to reach the interior of the stadium during the Germany–France match. However, the robust security and well trained staff denied entry to the bombers, preventing what could have been a massacre. The Stade de France and the rest of the stadiums and fan zones across the country will now go above and beyond their already strong security precautions in attempt to eliminate any potential threats.

France is deploying nearly 100,000 security forces to safeguard the 51 games and 10 venues across the country. The security forces will protect the tournament, match venues, fan zones, and any other areas where fans may congregate. Furthermore, all the bases of the 24 competing countries and stadiums where matches will take place have been declared no-fly zones.

 

Extensive security measures

In addition to the vast number of boots on the ground, the physical security measures in place at the events are sweeping. Stadiums have security cordons at their perimeter and security screening checkpoints at the entrances. Even the fan zones will have security standards equivalent to the stadiums, since some zones will attract upwards of 90,000 people in one location. Security checks will be similar to those used in French airports and include bag scanners, metal detectors, and pat-downs, if necessary. The stadiums will have thousands of police and private security guards in operation. Moreover, in every match location a command centre will be set up to centralize the security operation by connecting emergency personnel and police. These locations will also have riot squads, police snipers, and armoured vehicles.

 

New tools

French authorities have also introduced new technology to bolster their already vast security efforts. For example, authorities are using new equipment designed to take control of and divert suspicious drones around venues rather than destroying them. Additionally, France has launched a new app called SAIP (système d’alerte et d’information des populations), which alerts users immediately if there is an attack or suspicion of an attack in eight different geographical locations; it also sends emergency instructions within fifteen minutes of an event to the user. A SAIP spokesperson responded to the public’s growing concern for safety, saying that France must not overestimate the threat of terrorism, but, above all, the country must be vigilant.

 

Security precautions to bear in mind

The French security operations are clearly vigorous and exhaustive, yet travel alerts and advisories are still on the minds of fans and travellers. If you are travelling to France during Euro 2016, it is important to keep in mind the following security precautions on top of the safety measures French authorities have implemented.

  • Stay aware of your surroundings and try to avoid overly crowded areas if possible
  • Be extremely vigilant when travelling on public transportation or in public places
  • Monitor local media and use any updates or news to plan your travel and activities accordingly
  • Leave extra time for additional security screening and any other disruptions during Euro 2016. In the event of an emergency, follow the instructions of local authorities and have a prepared emergency plan with friends or family, such as how to reach each other if separated or how to get in touch
  • Use common sense and be an informed traveller, so that in the event of an emergency you will be prepared and safe

Euro 2016 security update: June 14, 2016

After the first weekend of matches in France, security concerns continue to grow. The Russia–England game in Marseille caused major headaches for French authorities. Before the match, police used tear gas on both groups of fans to try and deter violence. However, during the game, Russian fans shot flares before the final whistle in the Stade Velodrome. They managed to smuggle in smoke bombs, flares, and fireworks, raising questions on the level of security at the perimeter check-points of the stadium. After the game, Russian fans stormed the English section inside of the stadium and began hurling objects and punching and kicking the opposing team supporters. English fans fled to exits in a panic, causing a dangerous stampede in the 67,000-person arena.

Overall, 31 people were injured on Saturday. Police ordered bars and restaurants to shut once the game ended, and alcohol was banned near venues and was not sold in stadiums in an attempt to curtail clashes. The violence in Marseille was described as the worst football violence in years, which is causing trouble for the over-stretched French police, who very clearly have other issues to worry about.

There are evidently gaps in security for the tournament, and England has offered to send more police for the country’s next game in Lens, France. European soccer body UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Russia’s soccer association after the violence. Additionally, England and Russia could be expelled from the games if fan violence continues. Beyond the England–Russia match, Nice experienced brief violence on Saturday when Northern Irish and local fans threw glass bottles at each other. Additionally, before the Turkey and Croatia game in Paris, 15 people were arrested in scuffles. French authorities have also prevented 3,000 fans from entering the country based on lists of hooligans provided by foreign countries. Authorities have focused heavily on eliminating terrorist threats, but they definitely need to improve their approach to hooligans and fan clashes in the coming weeks of high profile games.

Mosquito Power: Don’t Test It

Travellers, particularly pregnant women, heading to Zika-prone areas need to stay alert. We’ll help you with that as warmer, wetter weather approaches and mosquitos come out of hiding to feast on bare skin.

To date, the Zika virus has been carried primarily (as far the experts know) by the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito. But there is growing suspicion that Aedes albopictus is a potential carrier. If this turns out to be the case, the risk area for Zika virus transmission will explode.

The highest risk identified to date is throughout the entire subtropical and tropical area of North America: the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, most of South American (except Chile), and the southern U.S.—mostly Florida, the Gulf States, including Texas, the southern Atlantic coast region, and southern Arizona.

If Aedes albopictus, which is common well beyond A. aegypti’s range, becomes a co-conspirator and joins the latter transmitting the Zika virus, then the entire area south of the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and all states from Texas to the east coast, will be susceptible to local transmission of the virus.

That’s going to require a lot of summer weather long-sleeved blouses and pants, DEET, and Skin So Soft.

Check out the maps developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/pdfs/CHIKV_VectorControl.pdf

Sun Belt Weather for 2015–2016: Watch Out for “Godzilla” El Niño

Heard enough about freaky weather lately? Well, there’s more you need to know, especially if you’re heading south for all or part of the winter. And it mostly has to do with El Niño—the Pacific Ocean warming phenomenon that cycles in every two to seven years and dominates northern hemisphere weather patterns for months at a time.

This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting one of the strongest El Niño seasons ever recorded. Some of the experts who track these phenomena have even begun describing the forthcoming El Niño as the Godzilla of El Niños. But even they admit that the weather is a fickle master, and it can change in an instant.

If there were an overview we might give you now, it would be the following: regardless where you are going in the Sun Belt, take your umbrellas along. And for most areas, you’re going to need a sweater, too. Chuckle if you will, but those of us who live in the Sun Belt are looking forward to that (the sweaters, not the umbrellas…).

We have checked out several sources (most of them citing NOAA data) to pull together the following regional capsules. But remember, these are only predictions, albeit predictions based on the best scientific models available.

Southern California

There is a 95% chance of drenching rain events through to spring in most of southern California from the Mexican border up to the mid-state, over to Hemet, and possibly even as far inland as Palm Springs, where many Canadians spend the winter. Temperatures are expected to be above average in most of the state. California is in the midst of a years-long devastating drought, so there may be a silver lining in those predictions after all.

Central and southern Arizona

Think Sun City, Mesa, Gilbert, Apache Junction, and the entire East Valley. Pretty consistent predictions call for average to below-average temperatures, with heavy rain events through the season, well into spring. Sedona and Flagstaff are likely to see a good deal of snow.

South Texas

In the lower Rio Grande Valley, bordering Mexico and extending up from South Padre Island to Weslaco, Donna, Harlingen, and McAllen, you will need your umbrellas and ponchos this winter. Most reliable predictions call for wet, and wetter, weather, and temperatures well below average. But, as you know, you might get a lot of rain, but then it breaks, and you get a lot of sun, too.

Florida and the Gulf Coast

Florida as well is expected to have cooler-than-average temperatures this winter, and predictions are also calling for some severe weather events throughout the southeast area and the Gulf Coast. No hurricanes at this time of year, though. Some tornadoes are possible, but Florida tornadoes are not like those giant Oklahoma or Missouri beasts.

Stay with us the entire season. We’ll bring you weather prediction updates as they happen.

Travel Alert: Ebola

British, Canadian, and US public health agencies have raised Ebola virus travel alert levels (avoid non-essential travel) for large segments of West Africa as death tolls attributable to this disease in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone mount rapidly. As of August 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 1,323 infected by the virus, 729 confirmed dead, (57 of those deaths in just the last four days), and a death rate of at least 60 per cent of those infected.

What does this mean for you? No panic. No need to cancel travel plans. But use caution—especially when passing through airport hubs with large international traffic patterns. Make sure your travel insurance is in place. You may be asked to prove it, as many customs, immigration, and border control officers are on heightened vigilance for transiting passengers who look as if they might be ill or feverish. And stay attuned to government advisories. You can easily get these on your smart phone.

View Canadian travel advisories.
View US travel advisories.

As international organizations and health ministries of the affected countries are pleading for doctors, nurses, and health care professionals to help them contain the spread of infection, many US and British medical, missionary, and volunteer aid workers are being recalled or ordered home.

WHO refers to Ebola as one of the deadliest viruses known to man. There is no vaccine for it, no cure, and the current outbreak is running a 60 per cent mortality rate, so far. Dr. Bert Janssens, Director of Operations at Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) describes the outbreak as “out of control.”

According to a report from CNN, a naturalized American citizen who worked in Liberia, flew to Nigeria to attend a conference. After exhibiting symptoms upon arrival, he was hospitalized and died five days later. He’s the first American to die in the outbreak, though two other US aid workers in Liberia have contracted Ebola and are being treated.

Though public health officials in Europe, Asia, and North America have expressed confidence they have so far contained the spread to Western Africa, they are mindful of the way in which SARS raced around the world in 2003.

WHO says the risk of travellers contracting Ebola is low because it requires close contact with a carrier of the virus through bodily fluids, sweat, saliva, urine, or blood and is not communicable through casual contact or by breathing the same air as an infected person. However, the terrifying speed with which it has spread so far defies confidence that it can be contained.

A common sense approach should be used in regards to this disease: Observe heightened hygiene measures, and avoid contact with bodily fluids and with individuals exhibiting symptoms. Symptoms at first resemble flu, with headaches, fever, aches and pains, and in a few days, are followed by severe vomiting, diarrhea, and internal bleeding.

Stay with us. We will be passing on important advisories so long as the threat to travellers continues.

Travel Alert for Snowbird Winter Texans

The Rio Grande Valley, winter home for thousands of Canadian and American snowbirds (also known as Winter Texans), has become the epicentre for an unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants from Central America—most of them children fleeing home due to gang-related violence and killings.

According to reports from the Associated Press, in the first week of June alone, US Border Patrol agents in the area south of the town of Mission (encompassing McAllen, Donna, Edinburg, Weslaco, Mercedes, and Harlingen) have arrested more than 2,800 illegal migrants (mostly from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala), making it the highest-volume arrest zone on the entire US southern border. More than 60 per cent of those arrested have been children. AP also reports that the Border Patrol has made more than 194,000 arrests in the Rio Grande Valley sector since last October.

According to recent polls of likely US voters, nearly half of the respondents believe the surge of illegal immigrants across the southern border has been enabled by the president himself, who has indicated he does not favour mass deportations. Texas Governor Rick Perry says the surge of immigrants has resulted in a “humanitarian crisis” and he has appealed to President Obama to station National Guard troops along the border sector to coordinate with local and state law enforcement—a move the president has so far resisted.

Some history: Bush Proposal Prompted Surge in Illegal Immigrants

As the number of illegal immigrants has soared, many have been transported by commercial aircraft, chartered and paid for by the federal government, to holding compounds, such as military bases in other parts of the US. But these transports have been met by angry local citizens complaining about the intrusion of large number of these individuals into their communities.

Another growing concern is that the illegal immigrants represent a public health threat—not an unreasonable possibility given the conditions they are trying to escape. US health professions processing the migrants have already reported a case of H1N1 swine flu, a higher-than-normal spread of drug-resistant TB and dengue fever in South Texas, and the spread of measles and chicken pox.

I urge Winter Texans to follow the story of these migrations and the steps being taken by local, state, and federal governments—but not out of a sense of panic. It’s not called for. When you return to the Valley this fall or winter there may be some precautions you’ll need to follow. And we will keep you updated right here for as long as necessary.

TIF Followup Advisory on Isaac #2

As we warned you in our previous advisory, Hurricane Isaac has developed, has taken its toll on South and central Florida, and is now steaming northward toward the Louisiana, Alabama and North Florida coastline.

If you are travelling anywhere into that vast area, or if you are already in it and contemplating your next moves, you need to remain aware of official warnings. Continue reading “TIF Followup Advisory on Isaac #2”

Mexican Drug Violence Spreading to Tourist Areas

Mexican drug violence has become so widespread and blatant that the nation’s President Felipe Calderon has announced he is hiring “the best (public relations) agencies in the world” to try to brighten up the nation’s business and tourism image. The week before his announcement, 160 people died in drug-related killings—many of those in two of Mexico’s major tourism areas, Taxco and Cancun. Think well before booking a vacation in Mexico this winter season.

Continue reading “Mexican Drug Violence Spreading to Tourist Areas”