By Alexandra Mae Jones
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TORONTO (CTV Network) – At the start of 2022, with pandemic fatigue spreading and most Canadians having received at least two doses of vaccines, many hoped that this summer might finally return to normal.
Most public health restrictions were lifted across Canada in the spring and early summer, including measures such as requirements to wear masks in indoor public spaces and to be vaccinated to fly domestically.
However, in June and July, new subvariants of Omicron fueled a new wave of COVID-19 cases. So is it really safe to travel now?
Experts say there is no point in postponing travel indefinitely in the hope that COVID-19 will disappear.
“Covid is not going away anytime soon,” said Dr. Angela Cheung, a senior scientist at the University Health Network in Toronto, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
However, she stressed that learning to live with COVID-19 doesn’t mean abandoning mitigation efforts and letting it run rampant — it means making COVID-19 safety a regular part of your schedule. , including when planning a trip. FACE MASKS
The number one thing travelers can do to reduce their risks quickly and simply is to cover up indoors while traveling and anywhere else they feel the need, experts say.
Cheung likened it to bringing an umbrella with you in case it rains.
“Do you need a mandate to tell you that you must carry an umbrella?” Cheung said.
“If you’re willing to get wet, it’s okay not to carry an umbrella. If you’re willing to get sick with COVID, of course, don’t cover up.”
Dr. Kieran Quinn, a clinician-scientist with Toronto Sinai Health System and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview that “a mask is better than no mask, but there are certain types of masks, like p .eg N95 and KN95 which provide better protection.” He recommended securing some of these before a trip if possible.
“People should wear masks in indoor spaces where there are many other people around or in places where there may be high-risk people who are immunocompromised or older,” he said. “We continue to strongly recommend that people wear masks. And I hope people will continue to do this because it has been shown to protect themselves and others from infection.”
Cheung echoed that she would personally wear an N95 on a plane, but said her top tip is to “wear a mask you would wear” and feel comfortable with.
If you want to wear a higher quality mask to be safer in confined spaces such as on the plane, and you don’t usually wear an N95 in your everyday life, Cheung recommended practicing wearing one for at least the length of time you would be. on the plane, to see if it’s too uncomfortable and you’re touching it all the time, or if you can handle it. TO BE ACTIVITY FOR VACCINES
Vaccines lower the risk of serious illness and offer some protection against transmission, even against these more transmissible variants, and anyone looking to travel should be vaccinated, experts say.
Infectious diseases expert Dr. Brian Conway told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview last week that anyone who is eligible for a fourth vaccine should try to get one before embarking on a major trip.
“If you haven’t had three shots, don’t travel,” he said.
In Quinn’s view, a fourth dose may not be needed immediately, but “certainly all three doses have been shown to be very effective in reducing transmission and severe disease. And our third dose rates in Ontario and in Canada, we still have room for improvement.” ADVANCE SAFER EVENTS AND LOCATIONS
At this stage of the pandemic, conflicting advice from governments and experts means many Canadians are figuring out what safe means for them.
“Safety is a personal choice, right? And it depends on people’s comfort with risk, and everyone has different thresholds for risk, similar to investing or taking the road,” Quinn said.
In light of this, experts offer these thoughts to consider if you’re looking to minimize risk while traveling.
Before confirming a ride:
Experts say staying closer to home than jetting around the world may be a safer concept. A road trip, in which you know who will be in close contact with you in the vehicle, can be safer than other modes of travel.
“Certainly, I would feel more comfortable in the confines of my car with my family than in a public airport with a bunch of other people, especially if those people aren’t masked,” Quinn said.
If you’re traveling internationally, you might want to do some research beforehand about vaccination rates in different countries, Conway suggested, adding that this is a protective measure for other countries as much as for travelers, who shouldn’t risk bringing in COVID. -19 in one place. who has been denied access to the vaccine.
During the trip:
Trying to find more things to do outside and inside can help, experts say.
“Obviously, going on a nature walk where it’s not too crowded is safer than going to a hockey game or a concert,” Cheung said. “So what you do on your vacation can also determine your risk.”
She added that with these new COVID variants, safe location is not always guaranteed outside.
“People can also get it outside, especially in fairly close contact outside,” she said.
“Personally, I would say I would choose travel like hiking and outdoor activities and kind of minimizing indoor public spaces as much as possible for the protection and safety of my family,” Qunn said.
While crowded indoor spaces are the biggest risk, outdoor events where people stand shoulder-to-shoulder for hours can still be dangerous, experts say.
“If you’re going to travel, avoid areas you already know are at risk of transmission of COVID,” Conway said. “Indoor spaces crowded with people for a long period of time. So as much as possible, it’s summer, if you’re going to a foreign country, eat on the patio.
“If I were to travel, I wouldn’t go to see an indoor stadium event […] with 30,000 of your closest friends all shouting at each other. “
Whenever it is possible to know the ventilation levels of a building or event, this information can help you decide whether a visit is a good idea or not.
“In Asia, there are cinemas posting how good the ventilation is,” Cheung said. “We really need to do this for everywhere, in indoor locations and malls and stores and restaurants and things like that.”
“If you have good airflow and cleaning and you have HEPA filters and stuff, then your risk is lower.”
For example, a crowded outdoor festival may actually be more dangerous than walking through a large, well-ventilated museum that isn’t too crowded.
If you are traveling with immunocompromised or elderly individuals, or if you are traveling to visit someone at high risk, consider this when assessing acceptable levels of risk. HAVE BACKUP PLANS
If you contract COVID-19 while on vacation, it may mean having to extend your trip to a country to isolate, and that’s something to consider when planning a trip.
Cheung added that if you don’t take time to rest, not only will you put others at risk, but you could make your own illness worse, and the need to be hospitalized in another country can cost a lot of money if you don’t. . you don’t have insurance coverage.
If traveling has the potential to expose you to more situations where you could get COVID-19, consider whether you have a place to stay and recover if the worst-case scenario comes true. KNOW WHEN TO STAY HOME
The bottom line is: don’t travel when you’re sick, experts say.
“Although you may have booked that holiday and the last thing you want to do is cancel or delay it, if you have symptoms that suggest COVID then you should stay at home and not go out in public because it is putting others at risk. Quinn said.
“If you have any symptoms of any kind, you should not travel,” Conway said. “I think if you’re sick, stay home.”
He added that rapid test results should not be used as an excuse to travel when you are sick, for example, if a rapid test is negative but you have a new, persistent cough. Rapid tests are less sensitive than PCR tests and are more likely to give you a false negative early in the acute illness than a PCR.
After two difficult years of lockdown and pandemic restrictions, Cheung said it makes sense that people want to travel.
“I can totally understand people needing a vacation,” she said. “And so it’s balancing the upside of vacations and travel against the risks of that.”
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