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From buying insurance to keeping your health and your documents safe, the experts weigh in on what you need to know

With much of the world in self-isolation as the COVID-19 pandemic gathers steam, travel is the last thing on most people’s minds. But what if you absolutely need to hit the road—and take to the skies—for business? We asked two experts for advice: Chris Lynes, Toronto-based senior vice-president at Corporate Traveller in Toronto; and Carol MacKay, a Langley-based adviser with Travel Professionals International, a Virtuoso agency.

What are some reliable online resources that business travellers can use to stay up-to-date on the COVID-19 situation?

Chris Lynes: Check the World Health Organization’s international travel and health page or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guide for travellers. The Government of Canada’s official source of destination-specific travel information provides important advice to help make informed decisions to travel safely while abroad.

Carol MacKay: Ensure that you are keeping yourself informed. Bookmark the Global Affairs Canada website for the latest travel updates, and check regularly for provincial and federal updates, which are happening a minimum of once per day. The press conferences are all available through any of the national and local TV stations and their websites if you can't tune in live. If and when we do undergo lockdowns, you will need to get this information sooner rather than later.  

Can you recommend any helpful apps?

MacKay: The Global Affairs Travel Smart app is a very good one at any time, and especially in this situation. I highly recommend all clients to download it.

Lynes: One app that can help is the travel assistant Sam, which offers real-time updates through our partners at WorldAware to let travellers know of updates and changes.

When it comes to travel insurance, what are the key considerations?

Lynes: Make sure you have travel insurance and understand exactly what you’re covered for. If not, consider buying supplemental insurance. Make sure the insurance you purchase covers any special medical needs or risks you anticipate on your trip, including evacuation for medical treatment. Many foreign medical facilities and providers require cash payment up front and do not accept some forms of insurance.

MacKay: Travel insurance right now is covering very little if anything to do with COVID-19, and that’s because it’s now a known situation. We cannot purchase cancellation insurance for it, and if anyone is wanting to travel right now, they should be booking flexible airfares and hotel rates as we all need to be cognizant that plans may be changed due to lockdown or quarantine. Many provinces offer reciprocal medical coverage, but anyone leaving their home province needs to review the reciprocal agreements between their province and their destination province prior to booking travel. Of course, purchase of cancellation/trip interruption and medical insurance is still highly recommended, as the other inclusions of plans still apply.  

What should business travellers do to safeguard their travel documents?

MacKay: The safest place for your travel documents, especially right now, is in your phone. You can pull them up quickly, and your screen for the most part can be easily scanned without anyone but you touching it. Your phone is also easily sanitized with disinfectant wipes if needed.     

Lynes: Make two copies of all your travel documents in case of emergency (passport, insurance info, itinerary, travel manager contact info, et cetera). Leave one copy with a trusted friend or relative at home and carry the other separately from your original documents.

Make sure you have your travel company’s emergency contact info pre-programmed into your phone. If something needs to change, it’s much less stressful to have a contact number right there. (Sam offers that, too, if you download the app and have booked through Corporate Traveller.)

Do you have any other advice to help people stay safe and connected during their trip—and when they return home?

Lynes: Register with the Government of Canada. It’s free, can be done online and allows the Government to notify you in case of an emergency abroad or a personal emergency at home. The service also enables you to receive important information before or during a natural disaster or civil unrest. We encourage you to register whether you are planning a vacation or living abroad.

We advise following the recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Canada, which include:

  • Avoid sick people.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • After returning home from travel, anyone who feels sick with a fever, cough or shortness of breath should immediately seek medical help, call ahead before going to the doctor, avoid travel, avoid contact with others, and exercise increased sanitation.
  • Go into self-isolation upon return from travel abroad, and monitor your health for fever, cough and difficulty breathing for 14 days. If symptoms appear, call the public health authority in your province or territory.

MacKay: Global Affairs Canada has issued a Level 3 (avoid non-essential travel) for all Canadians globally. They have advised us to stay in the country and, if outside of the country, to come back ASAP. International flights are being suspended as we speak, and we are scrambling to get all of our clients back home. WestJet will be stopping all international and transborder flights as of March 23, and after that time they will help with repatriation. Air Canada hasn’t formally announced anything yet, but we expect that announcement at any time.

Because of this, we are not even entertaining selling any travel out of the country right now. It would be irresponsible for us to do so, and we would very likely be liable should something happen while they are away. Most medical insurances have ceased to cover travellers for COVID-related illnesses out of the country, and they are not covering repatriation to come back if there are quarantines. That would be if the traveller can actually return. With the numbers of borders being closed and flights suspended, some Canadians will be stuck in a destination for some time. If someone inquires about traveling outside of Canada, we inform them of the advisory and advise that we are not able to help with their travel plans at this time.

For domestic travel, our governments are recommending that we stay home if at all possible, but mandatory self-isolation has not yet been implemented. As of this point we are still allowed to travel within Canada, and while numbers of domestic flights have been drastically cut, they are still flying. My recommendations for domestic travel would be:

1) DON’T! There are many alternatives available right now to work from home and/or conduct business and business meetings virtually.

2) If you must travel, be flexible. Flights may be cancelled or rescheduled. If you need to be somewhere for a specific time, give yourself plenty of cushion to take this distinct possibility into account. Also, purchase flexible fares in case you need to make changes to your flight. Please don’t expect the airline to absorb your costs because something has happened to you or your circumstances have changed. 

3) Practise social distancing wherever possible, throughout the airport, if possible on the plane, and while at your destination in hotels, in taxis and in your business in the same way we are advised to do at home.  

4) As per all of the recommendations of the CDC and our provincial and national medical officers, carry and use hand sanitizer and/or disinfectant wipes and wash your hands with soap and water often. Be very cognizant of others and yourself. This is a global situation we have found ourselves in, and we all have to do our part.