Canadian government issues level two travel advisory due to coronavirus

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The virus’ unfortunate complications include cases of racism and paranoia. via Pixabay

University of Regina also enforces their own travel restrictions

The Government of Canada has officially issued a level 2 travel advisory in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). The advisory is especially targeted to those who have travelled to South Korea and/or northern Italy, where there have been multiple cases of the virus. Although risk to University of Regina students is very low, in an official communication sent to the university’s community, Director of Health, Safety and Wellness, Darren Cherwaty, mentioned the different ways the university is being proactive during this time.

“Effective immediately, all travel to these areas (including previously approved travel that has not yet occurred) by faculty, researchers, staff and students that the University is funding or sponsoring will require the Dean’s approval of the COVID-19 Travel Risk Assessment Form and must include a risk mitigation plan that addresses the precautions identified by the Government of Canada. This approval process will be in place until the travel advisories are lifted or updated. Personal travel is at the discretion of the individual, but you are strongly encouraged to pay attention to the travel advisories,” Cherwaty said.

This news follows the university’s January announcement that it was cancelling all travel to China for the next three months. The university is not the only body of authority seeking to take precautionary steps against the virus. The Saskatchewan provincial government is also actively preparing for the worst although the risk remains significantly low. As of the time of this publication, there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province.

During a session with media, Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, discussed the plans being put in place by the provincial government in the event of an outbreak.

“We already plan for that surge every year in winter, but now we have to plan for a surge that may be a bit higher. We all have this fear factor of COVID-19 as a new virus, but if it was to come here, for most of us it would be just a respiratory virus that makes us sick for a few days and then we’re better,” Shahab said.

One possible result of a virus outbreak, however, is a racialized panic about transmission between people, which can result in verbal, and even physical assault. There have been alleged – though not confirmed – cases of verbal assault against students of Asian descent on the university’s campus related to the coronavirus, including a number of rumours of infected students from China. Those claims were proven unfounded by campus administration. An incident reportedly took place in one of the campus residences over the reading week where a student and their family were verbally assaulted by other students. Victor Oriola, president of University of Regina Students’ Union, had this to say about the incident:

“URSU condemns in the strongest terms possible, any discrimination or violence either physically, emotionally, or verbally against any of our members. Our campus is an accommodating and inclusive space, and discrimination has no place on our campus.”

The U of R, however, is not an anomaly when it comes to cases of racism, fear and discrimination as it relates to the virus. Universities all over North America are dealing with issues of racism and misinformation, whether it is fake social media posts claiming that students of Ryerson University in Toronto have been admitted because of the virus or a student of McMaster University going into self-isolation because of display of coronavirus-like symptoms. The same is the case in the U.S., where students at the University of California, Santa Barbara started a petition to suspend classes and there have been multiple reports of aggression against some Asian students. These blatant examples of racism have reminded some of the Sinophobia shown during the Sars outbreak of the mid 2000s.

While navigating the murky waters of a potential pandemic is no walk in the park, a case can be made that these educational institutions can do more to show and provide support for their Asian students during this time. Racism related to coronavirus is a widespread problem that has fuelled an increase in anti-Chinese posts and comments on social media.

Ziyang Zeo Li, a third-year student from the U of R’s Department of Psychology, says that while he has not personally experienced any racism as a result of the virus, he has experienced instances where students ask him about information related to the virus (Editor’s note: please save your questions about coronavirus for your doctor, or for Dr. Google). Li also said that many of his friends have experienced racist encounters spurring from the virus and also noted that the cancellation of the Chinese New Year festivities should have been handled better.

“I do not think the school has done enough to show support to the Asian students in the face of the coronavirus. They have made announcements, but it did not help that much. There should be info sessions or maybe even posters around campus, but they have not done anything about it. We even had to cancel Chinese New Year night because of rumours around campus which was very bad,” Li said.

Other racialized students, however, are making a point to stand with their Asian friends during this trying time. One of those students is film’s Victoria Angya.

“It is unfortunate that the outbreak of the coronavirus has unwittingly served as an avenue for racism against Chinese students. As a Nigerian, I remember the vitriol that we were subjected to during the Ebola crisis and that makes me even more empathetic. People need to be educated and sensitized on both the virus and racism and remember that every student belongs here but racism doesn’t.”

During this time, it is critical to remain grounded with the facts and to refrain from sharing any information that is not from a verified source. Symptoms of the virus include fever, runny nose, cough, headaches and sore throats. The virus has also been reported to mostly affect elderly people or those who are likewise immunocompromised. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 2.4 per cent of the 75,465 reported cases as of February 20 were detected in people 18 years of age or under.

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