International Students Favour Canada in Post-Pandemic World (Part 1)

After an uncharacteristic drop in international student applications during 2020, Canada now appears to be on the verge of becoming the second-most-valued provider of post-secondary education in the world, following only the United States.

According to IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada), more than 730,000 new student permit applications were received for processing through August 2021—an increase of approximately 27 per cent over the same period from pre-pandemic 2019.

Immediately prior to the onset of the pandemic (2018/2019), US colleges and universities hosted 1.09 million foreign students (undergraduate/graduate studies). Australia, a magnet for students from China and southeast Asia, was the academic home to 667,079 students, and Canada to 625,785 in 2019. The UK hosted 485,645 international (mostly European) post-secondary students in 2018/2019.

But that dynamic has changed drastically. Australia’s Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy at Victoria University reports international enrollments virtually collapsed during the pandemic due to the country’s severe isolation procedures and there were approximately 210,000 fewer international students in Australia this year than would otherwise be expected. Furthermore, modelling suggested that about 165,000 international students will remain inside Australia, a reduction of over 410,000 compared to October 2019.

By contrast, Canada’s strongly rebounding future trajectory for international students clearly outpaces that of the US, where tighter student/immigration rules and concerns about safety are cutting back prospective applicant numbers. In the meantime, Canada, which also saw a dip in 2020 student enrollments to 530,540, remains at the top of the favourable list for its highly rated quality of education, welcoming student/immigration rules, and inviting pathways to post-graduation permanent resident status. As former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino stressed when announcing an expanded post-graduate work permit policy earlier this year, “We don’t just want you to study here, we want you to stay here.”

A Navitas Agent Perception research study completed in March 2021 (which reviews the opinions of nearly 900 travel advisors in 73 countries) showed only 30 per cent of agents viewed Australia and New Zealand to be “open and welcoming to international students” due to their continuing lockdown. Conversely, 79 per cent saw Canada as “open and welcoming,” compared to 51 per cent for the US and 74 per cent for the UK.

All students need health insurance

What this presages for private health insurers (all incoming foreign students to Canada are required to have health insurance) is a potentially buoyant marketplace. But for students, it can be a challenging puzzle as the health insurance ground rules are set by provinces. And contrary to what many international students think, health care in Canada is not free—in fact it’s among the most expensive in the world.

Furthermore, Canada does not have one universal system of health insurance coverage—but 13. And the differences can be quite significant. For example, though students in most Ontario colleges and universities are expected to enroll in school-sponsored programs that reflect benefit levels consistent with provincial residents’ services, most go on to add supplements that cover such necessities as prescribed medications, dental care, and vision services. Ontario is home to 48 per cent of Canada’s international student population, all of whom must navigate this system.

In British Columbia, which hosts about 23 per cent of Canada’s international students, there is a generous pathway to join the provincial Medical Services Plan which is virtually the same basic health plan available to all provincial residents. But there is a three-month waiting period before applicants can receive those benefits. And even then, most residents choose to supplement the basic services.

Fortunately, supplementary plans are easily available to cover those waiting periods, but students must take the initiative to apply.

In our next post, we’ll delve into some of the differences students face in choosing their insurance depending on where they study, and we pose the questions students should be asking about their health insurance needs—as well as what insurance advisors and brokers should be prepared to answer for their increasingly varied and sophisticated international student customers.   

© Copyright 2021/2022 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Attention All International Students! Here’s What You Need to Know about Vaccine Eligibility

If you’re an international student studying in Canada, you likely have many questions about your access to COVID-19 vaccines. Let’s get right down to it – you’re eligible!

In fact, you’re as eligible as any domestic student, regardless of which province you call home. As vaccine rollouts vary by age group and by province, it’s important to check your province’s registration process to book an appointment:

Let’s all do our part in getting back to our pre-pandemic ways.

Pulling Back the Curtain on Lesser-Known Black Trailblazers

“When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.”

—Ava DuVernay

At MSH, we take pride in doing our part to help you travel and live with confidence. For Black History Month, we honour some of the more unheralded Black trailblazers who did just that, and as a result, shaped history. Their contributions transcended limits and norms, representing the best of all of us.


Anton Wilhelm Amo (c. 1703–c. 1759)

As the first African to earn a doctorate degree at a European university and the first to practice philosophy in Europe since Roman times, Anton Wilhelm Amo was an academic pioneer. His pride in his African heritage formed the basis of his philosophical work, challenging the legal basis of European slavery and contesting social norms.


Mathieu da Costa (1589–1619)

While the exact details of his life continue to be debated, one thing is certain – Mathieu da Costa is considered by historians to be the first Black person to visit Canada. Working as a free man, he played the role of interpreter for Dutch and French explorers, including Samuel de Champlain, in the early 17th century.


Matthew Alexander Henson (1866–1955)

Despite being the first human to set foot on the North Pole in 1909, Matthew Alexander Henson received little to no recognition for his feat or his contributions to the expedition’s success. He received belated honours with admittance as the first African-American member of the Explorers Club (1937) and the Peary Polar Expedition Medal (1944).


Rosemary Brown (1930–2003)

At a time when racism and sexism were fashionable, Rosemary Brown became Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party. Her lifelong fight against gender, racial and social norms garnered her 15 honorary doctorates, the Order of Canada and the United Nations Human Rights Fellowship.


Wangari Maathai (1940–2011)

A fierce proponent of human rights and environmental conservation, Wangari Maathai became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, the first female professor in Kenya and the first Black woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2004). She developed the Green Belt Movement, responsible for the planting of over 51 million trees in Kenya since 1977.

Getting Worse Before It Gets Better: Why This May Be the Toughest Time of the Pandemic

Here we are at the end of January 2021, and it will soon be a year that we have been living through the pandemic. It’s been a difficult year with ups and downs, but I would consider right now to be the toughest time in the pandemic.

When it all started in March 2020, we were in a state of shock. Suddenly, it became apparent how widespread the infection had penetrated in North America and around the world. We saw a serious situation unfold in Italy and New York City. We quickly shut everything down, hoping to gain some understanding of what exactly was going on and what we needed to do to contain the outbreaks. Then we slowly relaxed the stay-at-home measures and instituted newer ones, like wearing masks and physically distancing. In short, we learned how to be able to move around the world more safely: what to do and what not to do.

Our new “freedom” helped our collective moods. In the summer, camps for children were cancelled and indoor dining in restaurants remained a risk, but at least we could be outside and gather socially with friends in small, physically distanced groups. We could visit an outdoor patio at a restaurant, or swim at a pool or beach. We could play sports like tennis, golf, or baseball. It wasn’t in any way completely normal but at least it was something.

With the arrival of fall, we have seen a gradual restriction of our activities. The virus has surged again. This is understandable given the change in climate which restricts outdoor activities. People are congregating more inside, and viruses really like that, because that makes it easier to spread. Viruses also tend to spread more easily in colder climates as warmer weather makes it harder for them to survive. We knew it was likely for things to unravel again in the fall and winter, and we were right. We have lived through and are now in the midst of the second wave and it isn’t proving to be easy.

But we have a big reason to have hope now. The COVID-19 vaccine is here. It’s the durable solution that we had all hoped for and it came much more quickly than we expected, thanks to the wealth of resources devoted to its development. It has a strong safety profile and most importantly has been shown to be very effective. As a front-line emergency physician, I have had both of my doses. Being vaccinated has allowed me to go to work with some peace of mind, with the ability to better focus on helping the many people in need of assistance at this most difficult time.

Unfortunately, this good news is tempered by the reality of some recent developments. There are new variants of the virus circulating. These new variants are more infectious, meaning that the virus is passed more easily from person to person. It remains unclear, but there are also some concerns that these variants can make you more sick and more likely to have complications.

This development is a bit of a setback. It means that we need to be even more careful now. The public health restrictions need to be intensified. The fact that we are in the thick of winter when this situation has changed doesn’t make it very easy. Most of us are stuck inside our homes all day, working from home, some of us with children doing virtual school, with all the inevitable technological glitches and challenges that complicate our days. Many people are even more isolated than before, as even sitting outside or going for small walks can be hampered by the weather. The impromptu small social interactions are fewer and fewer. At least in the summer we could go and sit on a park bench or on a beach and feel somewhat normal. Most of us are feeling far from normal right now, and that is hard.

But then there is the reality of the vaccine which is the light in the distance. It will be there eventually for all of us, just like the spring and warmer weather… if we can just get there. The vaccine is still effective against the new variants, thankfully. The next few months will be tough, but we must hunker down and get through them and do our part to keep the virus at bay. Especially now with the variants in our midst, we must double down on our efforts to avoid close contact with others outside of our household. No social gatherings. No travel. Keep shopping trips to a minimum, as we know indoor spaces are the riskiest places. We should wear good quality, 3-ply masks whenever we are in those locations and limit our time there.

Most importantly, we all need a specific strategy to address our mental health. If we are able, trying to get outside daily and go for a walk for at least half an hour is a great simple rule to institute for ourselves. Even seeing other neighbours at a distance and saying “hi” can do wonders. Other safe activities include hiking, skating, or tobogganing. We must be mindful, however, that getting too close to others, even while outside, can be a risk. With the new variants, transmission occurs more easily. We must distance ourselves when outside and even wear masks when needed. This is not the time to take chances. We are so close to the end of this pandemic and I can just feel it. Better days are within our grasp.

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.

Winter is Coming: How to Best Protect Ourselves from COVID-19

We are still learning about transmission of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19. We have come to learn that the way this virus spreads is a bit more complicated than what we initially understood. Thankfully, the main mode of transmission is still felt to be through direct exposure to respiratory droplets that carry the infectious virus. These types of respiratory droplets are larger and heavier in size and rarely travel farther than six feet. They fall quickly to the ground or land on surfaces.  If you are around someone who is infectious, your highest likelihood of catching the virus is if you inhale respiratory droplets that they have exhaled while you are in close contact with them. Hence the importance of masks, particularly in situations when you cannot adequately physically distance. 

The comfort in knowing that this is the main mode of transmission is that it offers us a mode of control. If we keep at least six feet away from others or wear a mask if we cannot always do this, then we can substantially lower our risk. 

We can also be exposed by touching surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching our eyes, nose, or mouth. However, what is interesting is that we have come to understand through careful study that this mode of transmission is a less common route. We should still be careful about it, though. Regular hand-washing and avoiding touching our face help to minimize the risk of exposure through this route.

However, it is unfortunately not so simple. There have been some rare case reports of people getting infected when they have kept to these rules. There have been outbreaks of cases when people were far away from infectious individuals, in indoor settings. How could this happen?

The CDC has recently amended its guidelines on transmission to reflect our new understanding. This link explains the new understanding in detail. Basically, the new guidelines state that there are rare circumstances where you can become infected when you are far apart from others, beyond the six-foot distance. This can occur especially if you are in an enclosed space, with inadequate ventilation. Infectious people in such a location who are breathing heavily, such as when singing, shouting, or exercising, can produce significant amounts of smaller respiratory droplets that are light and can stay suspended in the air for longer periods, sometimes for hours.  These suspended droplets have the capability of travelling longer distances and, if there are enough of them, can lead to infections in those who are far away. When we are outdoors or in an indoor area with good air circulation, such small droplets are blown away and don’t have the ability to stay suspended in air and become concentrated. But given the right circumstances, they can. It’s vitally important that we are aware of this in order to fully protect ourselves.

The new and improved guidance is simply to avoid crowded indoor settings, especially enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation. Stay away from people shouting, singing, or breathing heavily. There is a small chance of becoming infected in these situations, even when physically distanced.  Of course, the wearing of masks helps to reduce these risks, and in that regard, there is now an update on that subject as well.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has now revised its mask guidelines in anticipation of most of us spending more time indoors over the winter. The use of 3-layer masks has now been recommended as additional protection.  This link provides more details on the ideal mask. An optimal mask contains two layers of a tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen. The third (middle) layer should be ideally a filter-type fabric, such as a non-woven polypropylene fabric. You can use a craft fabric, or even a folded paper towel or coffee filter.  But be sure to not use plastic as this will make it difficult to breathe. A more robust mask such as this is felt to be much better protection now that we will be spending more time indoors. 

The changing of guidelines and recommendations can be quite confusing for many of us.  It can sometimes make us question the validity of what we are being told. Ultimately, it should serve to increase our trust in the experts issuing the guidance. The science is changing, and our understanding is always growing. Public health recommendations must also change to reflect this situation. We don’t want to keep to rigid rules and regulations when it comes to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. As we move into winter, we need to adapt to the new knowledge about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and tweak our approach. Stay safe, everyone!

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 8: Staying The Course by Dr. Michael Szabo

Summer is officially in full gear now.  Isn’t it great?  Warm weather is here! Backyard barbeques, long walks outside, swimming and picnics.  But we all know it isn’t completely like old times, there’s still a little something different, right?  COVID-19, the pesky little virus we’ve come to know all too well, is still around.

In Canada, we’ve done very well to minimize the spread of this virus. The majority of us have done an excellent job at following the public health guidelines to physically distance, wash our hands, avoid others if we are unwell and to wear a mask when appropriate. We look to our neighbours in the south and can see what occurs when the guidelines aren’t followed, and we don’t want that to happen to us. However, it’s tough to believe that we need to be vigilant when most of us don’t know people who are getting infected and we hear that only around 200 new cases a day are occurring across the entire country. 

One of the truths about human nature is that it’s very hard to believe something is real unless we see it. 

One of the truths about human nature is that it’s very hard to believe something is real unless we see it. I often think that what is even more powerful than seeing something bad happen, is to feel something bad happen, as experienced when a loved one or even, we, ourselves, endure a health-related crisis. We rarely can look at life in the same manner after that.  Emotions are powerful.

As health care workers, we never lose sight of this. We all see and feel the reality of this virus and what it can do. We look at the chest x-rays, review the blood work, monitor the oxygen levels and experience the anxiety and fear of a patient who cannot breathe due to this infection. We place people on life support when they require it.  We see the blood clots, strokes and heart attacks that COVID-19 causes. We see the kidney damage. We see the patients who have recovered from the virus but months later, are still unwell, struggling with debilitating fatigue, joint swelling and breathing problems. We also see that the vast majority of patients recover completely and are well again. This makes it easier to deal with because we know it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. But we know bad outcomes still can, and will, happen.

We need to remain vigilant about this highly infectious virus.  It hasn’t disappeared and is still very much among us.  We must accept some uncomfortable realities here. This virus doesn’t care about us – it just wants to spread.  It doesn’t care about our economy or our mental health.  As long as we give it the opportunity to jump from one of us to another, that is exactly what it will do. This isn’t “fair”, but whoever said the universe was always a fair place? At this time, it’s extremely important that we focus on what we CAN do to combat the spread of this virus, because we now know plenty on how to do that. And the good news is that much of it is pretty simple.

The simple things are the most powerful right now. Avoid close contact with others, especially indoors. This is one of the most important facts that has come to light recently. The virus seems to spread best indoors where people are in prolonged close contact. It also spreads outdoors where large numbers of people are close to one another, particularly when close talking, shouting or singing is involved, such as sports events or bar patios.  Avoid those situations ideally. If you can’t, then wear a face mask, as scientific evidence shows that it reduces the likelihood of spread in those environments. One of the most common situations for all of us is visiting a store. We should all wear a mask when we go inside any building open to the public. 

We need to wash our hands repeatedly and avoid touching our face and continue to develop that habit. Stay six feet away from others as much as possible and avoid being around anyone if you feel unwell, even if you just feel tired and have muscle aches, as these could be early or mild COVID-19 symptoms. We are still trying to understand it, but it does appear that the virus can be transmitted from asymptomatic people. At this time, it remains prudent to assume anyone you come into contact with could transmit the virus to you. 

Fortunately, the measures we can take to protect ourselves don’t mean we need to be socially isolated. We can get out into the world and interact with family, friends and loved ones. We just need to be cautious about it and do it under the correct conditions. The public health measures we take can actually help us open up society. It’s incorrect to say that these measures keep us locked down, they’re our toolkit for getting out into the world. We’re in a good position in Canada right now. Let’s stay the course. 

Canada Accommodates International Students: Even Through the Pandemic

As America prepares to pare down its recruitment of international students—citing tighter immigration controls, job protection for homegrown graduates, concerns about China’s infiltration of intellectual properties, and the lingering consequences of COVID —Canada’s colleges and universities are polishing the welcome mat, beefing up online alternatives, extending post-graduate work guarantees, and ultimately strengthening Canada’s position as the world’s third most favoured destination for international students.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), international students to Canada have more than trebled their numbers since 2009, peaking at 642,000 in 2019—behind only the US and Australia. Of these, 48 percent have chosen to study in Ontario, 23 percent in British Columbia, 14 percent in Quebec and the remainder have spread across all of Canada’s other provinces.

Clearly, the onset of COVID will impact those numbers going into 2020/2021. But in May, IRCC announced accommodations to shield international students from major disruptions by expanding their options for distance learning, allowing them to complete up to 50 percent of their programs abroad while waiting for clearances and documentation to fly to Canada, easing other entry requirements for those who have already been approved for study permits, and also allowing them to retain their eligibility for the highly-sought Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWP) even if they were absent from Canada for some of their allotted time.

The PGWP program allows eligible international graduates to work in Canada after their studies for a period of up to three years as part of the government’s efforts to retain them as skilled workers, and ultimately tax-paying citizens.

The following links provide detailed updates from the Canadian government and the Canadian Bureau for International Education for international students already enrolled, as well as those interested in applying to post-secondary educational institutions.

Different provinces, different rules

Navigating the Canadian post-secondary educational landscape can be challenging as the individual provinces have their own rules, admissions requirements, fee structures, and not to be overlooked–health insurance options that can’t be ignored. Though the quality of Canada’s health care is regarded highly, it’s not a single unitary system, but a consortium of individual provincially-administered plans—only some of which are available to foreign students.

In the western provinces–British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan and Yukon territory, as well as Prince Edward island and Newfoundland and Labrador on the east coast, international students may be eligible for or buy into the publicly-funded provincial health insurance available to Canadian residents. These plans provide comprehensive medical and hospital coverage and doctors’ services. But even in some of these provinces, students might need private insurance to cover initial residency requirements—perhaps 90 days—before the provincial coverage kick in. Again, it differs from province to province.

In Quebec, international students are not eligible for publicly-funded provincial insurance unless they normally reside in one of 10 countries* that have reciprocal social security agreements with Quebec. If they do, their health coverage is free. *Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Finland Luxembourg, Romania. If they don’t, they will have to enroll in the private group health plans offered by their chosen schools.

In the remaining provinces, including Ontario, international students must sign up for private group plans available through their schools of choice and pay the designated fees.

Out of country travel coverage is a priority.

Though the publicly–funded provincial plans are quite comprehensive, many Canadians buy supplementary plans to cover dental, vision, drugs and ancillary services not covered by their basic provincial coverage. The great majority of Canadians in all age groups also buy private travel health insurance for out-of-country trips as provincial plans cover less than five percent of hospital or medical bills generated in other countries, including the United States, where bills of five to ten thousand dollars per day or more are routine. The province of Ontario, in fact, pays zero dollars for any foreign medical bill, so even a short half-day shopping trip across the border needs to be covered.

Fortunately, private travel insurance is widely available from brokers, banks, credit unions, travel agencies, even organizations catering to students—foreign or domestic.

International students have a broad range of choice in selecting health insurance to fit their educational and social needs in Canada. But it takes planning at the earliest stages and possibly with the assistance of Canada’s health insurance vendors to make sure they get it right. The securing of health insurance should not be considered a last-minute item or add-on.

© Copyright 2020. Milan Korcok.  All rights reserved.

Travel Insurance is Not “Optional” in Navigating the Pandemic

If ever there was ever a time for Canadians to consider travel insurance mandatory—this is it.

With much of the western world inching toward re-opening leisure (non-essential) travel, the prospects for mandatory temperature checks, health status certificates, quarantine requirements, and unexpected cancellations are expected to last for the remainder of 2020 and perhaps into 2021.

And if an illness, or even a high temperature reading, can force you into a 14-day quarantine (imposed either by your host country or your own government) consider the cost.

To date, most governments (Canada’s included) have strongly urged travellers leaving their country to get the best medical and trip cancellation/interruption insurance possible. Their travel advisory websites have gone to great lengths describing the types of insurance available and the situations that can trigger the need for cover. The need for this was clearly illustrated when the Canadian government sent chartered airliners across the Pacific to rescue hundreds of its citizens “stranded” on COVID–infected cruise ships.

Do the math yourself—three or four days in a foreign hospital at several thousand dollars per day, then add the possibility of an air ambulance repatriation at say $25,000 from Florida; $35,000 from deep into the Caribbean, or $70,000 from central Europe. And supplement this with the prospect of a mandatory quarantine at your host destination while air ambulance operators work to get government-required health clearances to allow you to leave your island destination and another round of clearances to allow you back into Canada. Sound like drummed up horror stories?

Here’s a real scenario for one of the Caribbean’s most highly favoured locations, St. Lucia, which expects to open for tourism this summer or fall, but with the following conditions:  

  • Visitors will be required to present certified proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of boarding their flight. 
  • Upon arrival in Saint Lucia, all travelers must continue the use of face masks and physical distancing.
  • Travelers will be subject to screening and temperature checks by port health authorities. (MK) Let’s remember that high temps can be caused by conditions other than COVID. So even your emergency hospitalization is caused by something other than COVID, you can still be restrained by regulations designed for it.
  • Protocols are being established for taxis to provide safety precautions and separate the driver from guests as an added security measure.
  • Hotels must meet a dozen or more specific criteria for sanitization, social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols before they will be permitted to open to guests.

This is just a sample. Many other Caribbean governments are using similar tactics to protect their citizens. Go to http://www.caribbeanhotelandtourism.com/ and click on Travel Advisories for individual Caribbean locations as they are updated.

Europe too is proceeding with caution.

Many countries in the European Union (still including the UK) are opening up to tourism from other EU partners, but on a selective basis. US President Trump has also signalled a willingness to begin allowing travellers from certain EU countries (starting with the lower risk nations) to enter the US subject to the restrictions imposed by the states and counties they are visiting.

This easing would apply to Canadian travellers as well, pending changes to the current lockdown of the Canadian/US border for non-essential travel. Certainly many of Canada’s snowbirds would challenge the “non-essential” characterization of their winter sojourn in a more equitable climate. But then, snowbirds don’t have to be sold on the “mandatory” nature of their travel insurance. They don’t need a ruling from Ottawa telling them how essential their coverage is: younger groups—not so much.

Canadian travel insurers are  working to update policies to account for the new restrictions, so when purchasing your travel insurance, make sure you are thoroughly updated about any changes, new health disclosure requirements, and understand the limitations of trip cancellation clauses. Trip cancellation coverage has not been as high a priority as medical coverage in the Canadian travel insurance marketplace. That must change and you need to become much more conversant about what cancellation policies cover, to what extent, and what they don’t cover. Read your policy. Every page.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

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.

Working Out at Home Like a Pro during COVID-19

As the world adjusts to life during the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are spending much more time at home than we usually would. Whatever routines we may have had just a few short months ago have had to adapt and change. And current social distancing guidelines meaning that in-person fitness classes are not likely to come back any time soon.

The good news is that there are plenty of exercises you can complete in the comfort of your own home, right now—no fancy equipment required. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your at-home workout.

  1. Start with bodyweight exercises

Bodyweight exercises are just what they sound like: rather than relying on equipment or weights, they use the weight of your body—like push-ups and sit-ups, for example. This makes them easy to complete pretty much anywhere. (Just don’t forget to stretch first!)

Here are some of the bodyweight exercises most recommended by experts:

Try incorporating a few of these exercises into your routine. Some experts recommend choosing about five exercises, doing each one for a minute, and then repeating that set of exercises three to five times.

  • Turn everyday household objects into gym equipment

If you’re stuck at home but still want to vary your routine like you would at the gym, there are plenty of ways to use the things around you for a more interesting workout.

  • Chair workouts: A chair is an incredibly versatile helper when it comes to at-home exercise. Try using it for exercises like step-ups and triceps dips. You can even use a chair as a guide during your squats: try to stop just before your butt touches the seat.
  • Staircase workouts: If you have a staircase in your home, you have everything you need for a variety of workouts. For some intense cardio, try alternating walking, jogging, and running up and down your staircase. You can also use your stairs to assist you during lunges and mountain climbers.
  • Everyday objects as weights: No need to stop lifting, even if you don’t own weights: consider using heavy objects like jugs filled with water to keep up with your weight training. You can also keep practising your form by lifting something like a broomstick instead of a barbell. Even if they’re not as heavy as you would normally prefer at the gym, experts suggest that using these sorts of methods can be a big help in keeping you on track until your regular training can resume.
  • Consult the Internet for easy-to-follow routines

From livestreamed yoga classes to instructional fitness videos, the Internet is full of resources to help you make an at-home plan and stick to it.

If you find the variety of workouts out there overwhelming and need some help deciding what exactly to do, consider trying an at-home workout routine that sets out a specific plan for you to follow. Or search YouTube for an instructor who motivates you.

  • Remember: The first step is always the hardest

When it comes to working out, one of the hardest parts is simply getting started. And in a time of unusual stress and uncertainty like now, it can be especially difficult to find the motivation for—well—anything.

If you’re having trouble getting into an at-home exercise routine, you are not alone. Here are a few tips to help you conquer that mental block:

  • Just do a few minutes. If you can’t seem to summon the motivation to do a full workout, try just doing some exercise for a few minutes, with the permission to quit after that. It can be a lot easier to get started when you know that all you’re signing up for is a couple of quick and easy squats—and much of the time, you’ll find that once you’ve gotten yourself started, you will suddenly find the motivation to continue longer than you expected. (But if you find yourself tapping out after those first few minutes—hey, that’s okay. The important thing is that you stayed in the routine, and you can try again tomorrow.)
  • Celebrate your progress. It’s okay to start small—the most important thing is that you got started. Don’t worry about how many sets you can do relative to anyone else. Instead, focus on how many push-ups, squats, or burpees you can do today, and then see if you can best that number by just one tomorrow. In time, you’ll be amazed by how far you come. Each step is worthy of celebrating!

Visit our International Student Wellness Hub to learn more tips about health!

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.

Time to Think About Travel Strategies—After Covid-19

That Air Canada expects the pandemic hangover to last at least three years, exposing the airline industry  to endure its “darkest period ever,” portends deep instability for all aspiring travellers for the foreseeable future.

Canadians and Americans have a lot of places to go and activities to enjoy within a day’s drive—anticipating that the border shutdown between our countries doesn’t last indefinitely.

But without the sustenance of air travellers, the tourism infrastructure—hotels, entertainment venues, theme parks, all-inclusive resorts, and mom and pop roadside operations, can’t operate at full capacity and with complete menus for long. A winnowing of destination choices and services becomes inevitable.

As Air Canada Chief Executive Calin Rovinescu said in a statement dated May 4,  “We expect that both the overall industry and our airlines will be considerably smaller for some time, which will unfortunately result in significant reductions in  both fleet and employee levels.”

What you can extrapolate from that prediction is that other smaller airlines will suffer the same fate, perhaps even more acutely. And what this represents for your summer, fall and perhaps even winter 2021 travel plans, is that you prioritize your choices, get the most you can for your dollar, perhaps stay with what you know, scrutinize those “too good to be true” deals carefully and above all make sure you are protected should your plans change through no fault of your own.

Hold on to your money

Don’t commit to large deposits unless you have an assurance you can get all or most of your money back if you cancel. In these days of uncertainty there are plenty of hotels or resorts that are willing to cancel at the last minute (or at least within 48 hours of your scheduled arrival). But make sure you have those terms in writing and you can get your deposit or full prepayment back in cash. A refund in the form of a voucher or credit for future travel is no good to you unless you’re prepared to be an interest-free lender to your venue of choice for an unspecified amount of time.

This is particularly true if your choice of vacation is a cruise, as cruise lines don’t normally offer cash refunds—except when really pressed—as they are now that their ships are empty and idle. Today it is possible to get some guarantees of cash-back refunds from some lines, but that won’t last once the worldwide embargoes on cruise travel are lifted. And even if you have private travel insurance from an independent broker, unless you have a Cancel for any reason upgrade, don’t expect the insurer to provide a cash refund if your cruise line offers you a voucher or credit for future travel. That’s seen as payment in kind, and your insurer looks askance at double dipping.

The same is true for many airlines that continue to refuse cash refunds –even despite federal government orders that they do so. Both Canadian and US airlines are still resisting paying cash refunds for trips canceled due to Covid—despite government orders and class action court suits. In Europe, the governments of 12 countries are challenging the European Union to revoke a law requiring air carriers to offer cancelled-out passenger cash refunds instead of credits.

You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of these disputes. Read your travel documents carefully—every word. Don’t get locked into a situation where your money is tied up indefinitely even if the deal you’re offered  “is too good to be true.”

And if you’re using a travel advisor—travel agent or travel insurance broker– make sure you understand the deal you’re making. And as a bottom line-put out as little cash as possible, and only at at the last possible minute.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 6: Wearing masks properly by Dr. Michael Szabo

The decision by public health authorities on whether or not to recommend the use of face masks was a difficult one.  One of the biggest reasons was that educating the public on how to safely wear a face mask is challenging, because of the many details involved.

During my recent forays into the public, here are the top 5 issues I have seen with people wearing masks:

  1.  Pulling the face mask down over your chin.  This is probably the number one mistake.  After wearing a mask while outside for a walk or going to the grocery store, you may need to talk to someone more clearly, eat or just “want a break” from it – so you pull it down over your chin. By doing this, you effectively contaminate yourself with any virus particles that were on your mask prior to that. The rule is once you put your mask on, don’t pull it down.  It’s either on or it’s off and there is no in between.  Minor adjustments to its position can be made but only if done safely (see below).
  2. Not covering your nose.  We breathe through our mouths and our noses.  Many people cover only their mouth with their face mask, which means they can easily breathe in the virus through their nose. They can also transmit the virus to others through their nose.  Always cover both your nose and your mouth.
  3. Touching the mask.  Never touch the mask once it’s on your face. You can transmit the virus that was on your hands onto your mask that way. Before putting on your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.  After putting the mask on, you will need to wash or sanitize your hands again.  Do not touch the mask again, unless you just need to make a minor adjustment to its position.  If an adjustment is needed, wash or sanitize your hands, adjust your mask slightly, and then wash or sanitize your hands once more. 
  4. Wearing the mask upside down.  If you are wearing a medical grade mask, the metal piece on the mask is to be worn around the bridge of your nose and adjusted to fit. The folded edge of the pleats on the mask itself should be on the bottom. 
  5. Wearing a moist mask. Once a mask is worn for a period of time, it can become moist.  A moist mask no longer acts as a protective barrier and is dangerous to wear. While running the other day, I observed a lady doing heavy gardening and lawn work with a face mask on, which had obviously become sweaty and moist. For the same reason, jogging with a mask can be problematic. It would be best to practice physical distancing measures when participating in such activities rather than wear an essentially ineffective mask. 

Wearing a face mask is a public health measure that is likely to be helpful at this time of the pandemic.  However, doing so requires a careful understanding of how to wear one properly.  Remember, once you arrive home, wash or sanitize your hands, then remove your face mask. Immediately place it in the wash or dispose of it, and wash or sanitize your hands again right after.  Please stay safe, everyone!

“Every Kid Needs a Champion”: Five Must-Watch Videos for Teacher Appreciation Week During Covid-19

Being a teacher isn’t easy, especially in a COVID-19 world with virtual classrooms and technological challenges. This Teacher Appreciation Week, we pay tribute to all teachers by sharing five heartfelt videos to show our solidarity with their efforts and appreciation for all they do:

1. Every Kid Needs A Champion | Rita Pierson

Source: Ted Talks Education

2. A Teacher Appreciation Week for the Ages

Source: Edutopia

3. Barack Obama Surprises Teachers for National Teacher Appreciation Week

Source: NowThis

4. ‘This Will Be A Teacher Appreciation Week to Remember’: WCPSS Superintendent Cathy Moore

Source: TheNews&Observer

5. Student Parade for Teachers

Source: Wane.com

To all teachers and school administrators, thank you for going above and beyond in your efforts to instruct, inspire and challenge students to believe in themselves🍎  

– The StudyInsured Team

[Battling COVID-19 Episode 5] A Vaccine for Coronavirus: Are We There Yet? By Dr. Michael Szabo

The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented effort by scientists around the world to develop a vaccine. Vaccines are important to protect us where the risks of natural infection are significant.

COVID-19 is a more deadly and dangerous virus than the flu. While we still do not have definitive data on the true risks of infection with COVID-19, one can safely say that places like New York City or Italy have never seen a flu season similar to what they are currently going through. Since mid-March, more than 60,000 people have lost their lives in the United States due to COVID-19.

It is important to note that this has happened despite the institution of public health measures like physical distancing, quarantines and self-isolation. If not for these, thousands more would have died. 

Is Allowing Natural Infection a Good Option?

One way to protect the population is to allow the infection to spread so that most of us successfully fight it off and become immune. Once that happens in a significant percentage, the virus has a reduced ability to spread and we can better contain it. Scientists currently estimate that around 60% of the population needs to be immune to COVID-19 in order to considerably reduce its ability to spread. We call this herd immunity.

The problem is that if we allow COVID-19 to infect that many of us, the loss of life and the impact on the health of many individuals would be too great, even if we allow only “low risk” individuals to become infected.

Experts have estimated that the COVID-19 infection fatality rate (the ratio of deaths divided by the number of actual infections) is approximately 0.5%. That’s lower than the case fatality rate (the ratio of the number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases) of 5 to 8%. Why is this? Because it considers all infections, including those that are asymptomatic or with minimal symptoms where individuals did not see a doctor to get tested. 

If we allow 60% of the population to get infected, the estimated deaths could run as high as 1 million in the United States and 111,000 in Canada.

That’s unacceptable. We must find another way.

The Safest Route

Vaccination is a way for most of us to become immune, while not placing our lives and health at risk.

But developing a vaccine is not easy. We must be able to prove that we can create a significant immune response with it. That immune response then needs to be shown to be protective when exposed to the virus.

We must also demonstrate that the immune response lasts for a considerable length of time; it wouldn’t be useful to have a response that only lasts for a few months. It should last for at least a year, and longer, to be helpful. More importantly, it must also be shown to be safe. 

Patience is the Key

Vaccine development requires following a very careful and sound scientific process that takes time. It is estimated that it will be at least 12 to 18 months before we can develop a vaccine that is acceptable for use in the mass population.

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently reports that there are five candidate vaccines being studied in 71 preclinical studies. From here, there will be clinical studies where they will be tested in small groups and then larger groups of patients.

We must be patient with this process. The last thing we need is for it to be rushed. A good example is what happened in 1976 when a vaccine for swine flu was fast-tracked for development. When rolled out to the mass population, it was found to cause a significant number of cases of a serious neurological outcome called Guillain-Barré syndrome. 

What to Do While We Wait

In the meantime, public health measures like physical distancing can lessen the spread of infection. Many clinical trials are also looking at the use of different medications to improve outcomes in those who have been infected. It goes without saying that optimizing our health with good diet, exercise and sleep as well as reducing stress likely helps the ability of our own immune system to fight off an infection.

All these interventions act as a bridge until we are able to develop a safe and effective vaccine that will hopefully protect all of us and allow us to return to a more normal life.

Five Self-Isolating Tips From A Nuclear Submarine Captain

The evolution of the brain is the most obvious example of how we evolve to adapt.

Rick Potts, Director of the Human Origins program at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

We’re all living in a new world, and the self-isolation that comes with it. As social beings, we’re used to living our lives by connecting and empathizing with others. Read on for some survival tips on how to cope with our new reality, as told by a nuclear submarine captain about his experience on a U-boat.

1.           Ask questions: “How are you feeling today?” has become our new greeting – and that’s fine. We need to reach out to friends and family and check in every day. It instills empathy and reminds us to feel that we’re not alone.

2.           Think first, act later: When living through stressful situations, we tend to act on instinct. Let’s slow down the decision-making process and implement a ‘think, then do’ action plan.

3.           Focus on one thing: As with days, it’s important to take one task at a time. Multi-tasking during this time may compromise the quality of what you’re trying to do.

4.           Discipline: Create a ‘downtime routine’ in a quiet space. By this point, you know what routine works best for you, so stick with it, at your own pace.

5.           Maintain a clean environment: Your external world reflects your inner world. Keeping everything in order helps to maintain levels of calm and boost your creativity

The most important thing is to focus on what you can control, one day at a time. No matter how challenging our new world may be, we have the capacity to think creatively to get us through it.

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!

Is Coming Back to Normal, Good Enough?

It may be too early to think about getting back to “normal” once the threat, and the carnage, of COVID recedes. It could be that what was once normal just isn’t realistic anymore. 

In Europe, border-free travel between neighbouring states is no longer a given. We have seen how quickly self-preservation can overrule an ideological imperative. 

In North America, the unthinkable action of shutting down the “world’s longest undefended border” has actually happened—even though commerce continued and most “trapped” travellers eventually found their way home. But just the fact that it could be shut down came as a stunning shock of millions on either side of the so called 49th parallel who had come think that “crossing over” for a few days or half a year was a basic human “right.” 

It isn’t. It never has been. It’s a privilege. And it can be withdrawn if push comes to shove…quickly. Reality can be stark.  

How are these new “realities” going to colour our perspectives as we go about rebuilding our travel plans, our instinctive sense of freedom to move about and to enjoy the riches of globalization (while enduring its hazards).  

As we will see in a Conference Board of Canada report soon to be released, the Canadian consumer confidence index (the level of confidence consumers have about making major purchases of goods and services—such as travel) fell to its lowest level “ever” in March. In effect, respondents were extremely negative about their household finances, future job prospects and plans to make any big purchases. As the CBoC report concludes, given that Canada is in the midst of major job losses and is facing a Q2 economic contraction of 25 percent, this recession will be very bad. 

For the travel industry, air carriers, tour promoters, travel agents, cruise lines, and travel insurers this is not good news—although travel insurers might regain a little bounce given the public’s growing recognition that major travel purchases can be insured against sudden, unexpected trip or tour cancellations or interruptions. Canadians have been so focused on covering medical emergencies abroad that they have largely neglected to possibility of non-medical contingencies ruining their travel hopes and financial investments.  Maybe COVID has shaken Canadians out of that inertia. 

So far, the 21st century has visited SARS, MERS, the SWINE FLU and now COVID on us all. We didn’t seem to have learned too much from the first three of these plagues.  But maybe the last of these, affecting   virtually every country on earth, has awakened us to the need to be prepared for anything and everything. 

Maybe now we won’t think of getting on a plane for a week on Italy, Cuba, or Fiji; or a cruise to Cambodia; or a weekend in Las Vegas of New York as just another right of passage—requiring nothing more than a credit card and a jar of suntan oil. 

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 3] Face Masks in a COVID-19 World: To Wear or Not to Wear? By Dr. Michael Szabo

Should we wear a face mask when out in public right now? It’s a question many people have since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its new recommendation that people wear face masks when leaving their homes. Canada’s chief public health officer has echoed the recommendation.

There is confusion because the CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada had initially suggested that face masks not be worn in public. The flip-flop in recommendations has triggered many questions.

It’s important to understand that, in a complex and evolving situation as this, it can be quite difficult to set a firm policy. As the situation changes, the risks and benefits of recommendations are constantly re-evaluated. In a way, it’s reassuring that agencies aren’t being rigid and are revising their guidelines based on the best available information, with the goal of keeping us all safe.

However, the reason behind much of the change in face mask recommendations is the increase in community spread of the virus. We now believe that there is indeed some community transmission from people with no symptoms (asymptomatic), or minimal symptoms (pre-symptomatic), before they realize that they are sick. This occurs when these individuals are breathing, sneezing or coughing in close proximity to others (within 6 feet). At first, transmission of the virus in these circumstances was thought to be unlikely but we’re now reconsidering that possibility. The CDC wants to err on the side of keeping people safe, particularly in areas of the world that have seen high levels of community transmission and where physical distancing measures can’t always be optimally practiced.

While wearing a face mask does have some risks – it must be worn properly or it can increase the risk of infection, for example – experts believe that the benefits likely outweigh the risks at the present time.

We should consider wearing a face mask when venturing out into the community where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing measures. In other words, if you’re likely to get within 6 feet of others despite your best efforts, wear one. This includes visits to a grocery store or pharmacy where groupings of people are common. However, individual interactions such as going for a jog or a walk don’t necessarily require one.

In addition, you don’t need a medical grade face mask (surgical or N95, for example). In fact, you can make your own cloth mask at home. The CDC provides useful information on how to do just that: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

Wearing a face mask safely is of the utmost importance. The cardinal rule is to treat it as if it’s covered with the virus. Remember to wash your hands before putting the mask on, making sure it covers your mouth and nose. Never touch the mask itself while wearing it. Be very careful to not let the mask touch your face when removing it. Wash your hands immediately upon removing it. It should not be reworn until it has been fully cleaned in hot water in a washing machine.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, don’t fall victim to the false sense of security that a mask can provide. No mask can provide 100% protection. Continue to practice physical distancing while wearing it.

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.

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

Spring Break Part Two: The Caribbean & South America

Spring_Break_Destinations_for_2020

Feel like wandering a little farther afield than your typical Spring Break jaunt? Try venturing to one of these destinations closer to the equator for a tropical getaway.

The Caribbean

Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica are Caribbean hotspots this time of year. It’s worth planning any excursions and activities well in advance. When it comes to dining, made-to-order food stations guarantee fresher and better-quality options. Seafood is a wise, and likelier cheaper choice, given the proximity of these locales to the ocean. Staying at an all-inclusive resort? Check the activity calendar for fun things to do—just be sure to verify what’s included in your stay.

Brazil

The Carnival of Brazil is a feast for the senses. Considered to be one of the world’s biggest parties, the five-day festival features parades with elaborate floats and thousands of dancers and drummers in the streets. Samba with the locals at any of the free live concerts and blocos de rue (neighborhood block parties). These are all-day (and all-night) events so be sure to bring your phone charger but leave your valuables at home.

Colombia

Colombia may be synonymous with coffee, but it’s an ideal destination for nature lovers. Horseback riding tours are popular and available for every riding level. With trails winding through lush forests and pristine beaches, these tours offer a memorable way to experience the diverse scenery. From accommodation to local attractions, Colombia is an inexpensive destination. You’d be hard pressed to find tastier street food—think arepas, tamales, empanadas. For a truly authentic Colombian experience, visit the farmers’ markets for unique arts, crafts, fresh produce, and the best food trucks available.

Peru

Peru offers so much more than Machu Picchu. Its capital, Lima, known as the city of kings, boasts an exciting nightlife, colonial-style architecture, world-class food, and adrenaline-inducing activities such as surfing, paragliding, sandboarding, and ziplining. Numerous museums in the city, and throughout Peru, offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Popular attractions such as Plaza Mayor, Casa De La Literatura and Parque del Amor are also free. The Free Walking Tour Peru group, operated by licensed Indigenous guides, run highly-recommended tours in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Barranco and Miraflores—and yes, the tours really are free.

COVID-19: STAY SAFE WITH THE FACTS

COVID-19

from the MSH Americas Medical Team

WHAT IS COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.

CORONAVIRUSES are a family of viruses causing illness ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Synrdome (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), and COVID-19 (2019-nCoV).

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and humans. SARS was first transmitted to humans from civet cats; MERS was transmitted to humans by dromedary camels.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Common symptoms are:

  • Fever over 38°C
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath / difficulty breathing

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. These droplets can be inhaled if you are in close contact with an infected person. Touching objects or surfaces with respiratory droplets on them and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes can also spread the virus.

The time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms is between 5 and 14 days, so the appropriate quarantine period for an individual exposed to COVID-19 is 14 days.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Medical care is focused on managing symptoms, by getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and treating the fever.

PREVENTION IS KEY

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and/or sneeze or cough into a tissue
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing or sneezing
  • Stay home if you are sick. Do not use public transportation or taxis. Do not go to work, school, or other public places.
  • If you have symptoms, avoid travel, particularly flying, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If you are travelling to an area known to have cases of COVID-19, avoid:

  • High-risk areas such as farms, live animal markets, and areas where animals may be slaughtered
  • Contact with animals (live or dead), including pigs, chickens, ducks, and wild birds
  • Surfaces with animal droppings or secretions on them

If you have or may have COVID-19, please refer to this link for more guidelines on preventing the spread of infection.

Top US Spring Break Destinations for 2020

Whatever the reason for your getaway– tired of the cold, need some family time, or just plain burnt out– here are some tips to help you get the most out of your travels during this upcoming spring break. First up, some places to consider for both relaxation and excitement in the continental USA.

3 places to spend a week off in America:

MIAMI, FLORIDA

It’s called the Sunshine State for a reason, so be sure to wear lots of sunscreen and drink plenty of water. The Metromover train is a convenient (and free!) way to get around downtown Miami. If you can’t do without your dose of yoga while on vacay, free classes are offered across the city. View local graffiti and street art at Wynwood Walls or take in one of the live music shows at Bayside Marketplace. A trip to Miami isn’t complete without a visit to Miami Beach, but steer clear of hotel restaurants along Ocean Drive and their 2-for-1 drink offers—they typically include conditions, hidden gratuities, and extra charges, with an astronomically expensive bill as a result.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA

For many families, going to Disney World is a rite of passage but a costly one. Buying bottled water on Disney grounds will seriously hurt your wallet (not to mention the planet!) so do as the locals do and tout your own reusable (non-glass) water bottles. You’ll be able to refill them at water fountains and quick service restaurants around the park. Consider insulated, stainless steel bottles to ensure water stays cold for as long as possible. Bringing snacks for the kids can also be a big money saver, unless you don’t mind paying $7 (US) for a Mickey Mouse pretzel. Be sure to pack the daily essentials—sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, umbrella—as these items are outrageously overpriced. Ditto for the Mickey Mouse ears and other Disney souvenirs—they’re considerably cheaper at stores outside the park. The My Disney Experience app can help maximize family fun by bundling every aspect of your trip, from booking your hotel to researching wait times at attractions to looking for the nearest bathroom and other amenities.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Check out the spectacular Fountains of Bellagio for a beautifully choreographed performance of music, water, and light. The free 15-minute show runs daily and draws huge crowds, so consider getting there early. Tour the hotels along the strip—with their various themes, they’re attractions in their own right, even if you’re not an actual guest. But there’s more to Vegas than just the strip. Sample some tasty brews (try the coffee beer!) at Banger Brewing, learn about some less-than-upstanding historical figures at the Mob Museum, marvel at the views and engineering of the Hoover Dam, or take a short day trip to one of the many nearby natural attractions like the Valley of Fire State Park, the Grand Canyon, or Red Rock Canyon.

Let’s Talk about the Real Flu

I saw a post on Twitter the other day and it really made me laugh. It truly hits the mark on the reality of having a bad case of influenza (“the flu”).

The flu is nothing like a typical cold or mild upper respiratory infection. It is not a stuffy nose, sore throat, and some mild muscle aches.

You are sick. And I mean really sick.

You can feel like you were hit by a train, or the other analogy I hear all the time is feeling like you were hit by a transport truck. You have a bad cough. Your muscles hurt so much you can barely walk. You just want to lie in bed all day and you begin to feel like you will never be “normal” again! I have even heard people tell me they think they are dying.

Misconceptions about the flu

A big problem is the public’s use of the word “flu.” People say all the time that they have the flu, when in fact they don’t. They have a minor other type of respiratory virus that is not the actual influenza A or B virus. As a result, there becomes confusion over what a true case of flu is. People don’t think there is anything to worry about when in fact there should be some concern, particularly when you are at risk of complications.

The actual flu is predominantly a respiratory or lung infection. A dry cough is a very prominent symptom. You often become sick rather quickly with a high fever, severe muscle aches, headache, and feeling generally unwell, that “hit by a train” feeling. Most of the time, you feel terrible with influenza but get better after 7–10 days. It’s not fun and people often miss a lot of work or end up having to forego a vacation they were looking forward to.

Others are not so lucky. The main complication of influenza is pneumonia. Sometimes this is a viral pneumonia: inflammation to the lung tissue caused by the influenza virus itself. Other times, pneumonia, caused by bacteria, can set up shop in your lungs when they’re raw and inflamed. In that state, they become an easy target for any other infection that normally wouldn’t affect you.

I have seen plenty of previously healthy young people develop these complications and end up in respiratory failure in the intensive care unit. No one can believe that “the flu” could do this because they thought “the flu” was nothing to worry about, it’s just the sniffles and some aches. This kind of thinking needs to be addressed with better public health education and perspective.

People at risk

Luckily, most people with true influenza get better. Those at extremes of age, the young and the old, are at higher risk; and so are pregnant women, even if they are otherwise healthy. Anyone with a compromised immune system, such as a cancer or organ transplant patient, is particularly vulnerable.

It needs to be emphasized, though, that many healthy individuals can and do die from influenza. It’s rare but it does happen; I have seen it and it’s devastating.

What you can do

The best defense is to avoid exposure to others who are sick. Wash your hands a lot when in public spaces. Eat and sleep well to keep your immune system strong. Get the influenza vaccine to protect yourself and those around you who are at higher risk. The flu shot is not always effective for every flu season, but studies show that even if it doesn’t stop you from getting the flu, it may reduce the severity of your illness.


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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.