The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to concerns for Sooke School District officials, as one overseas school trip is cancelled and another is in doubt.
The first trip planned for Journey Middle School students would have seen 21 students depart for Japan on March 14 has been cancelled.
“The schools have been closed in Japan by their government so the trip has been indefinitely postponed,” Mayor Maja Tait said.
Tait was planning to travel to Japan on a Friendship City visit and had intended to meet with the students there.
“I feel really badly for them. They’ve been anticipating this trip for a long time and doing fundraising for the trip. It’s a major disappointment, but it isn’t worth the risk,” Tait said.
The second trip, planned by students at Edward Milne Community School, is under review. That trip would see a group of students from EMCS travel to Europe, including France and Italy, for what has been anticipated as a trip of a lifetime.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation around COVID-19 in relation to school field trips. We are talking with parents district-wide but no decisions have been made as of today (Monday),” Sooke School District representative Stephanie Sherlock said.
The pandemic has now hit more than 40 countries around the world and nearly 3,000 people have died. More than 89,000 have been infected, worldwide.
Despite the protestations of the American president and his administration that the virus is being overblown, the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States continues to rise and, as of Monday, six people have died from the virus, two of them in Washington State.
No Canadians have died as of Monday, but the number of cases continues to rise as the virus crosses borders.
In Italy, a country that has now reported the highest number of the coronavirus cases outside of Asia, authorities have reported Monday that they now have 1,694 confirmed cases of the virus, up from just 1,100 on Saturday. Eleven cities and towns have been placed on lock-down, banning people from entering or leaving affected areas. The move has put an estimated 100,000 people under quarantine.
Thirty-four people have died in Italy and the government has cancelled a number of cultural events, some airline routes and a series of large gatherings.
France has reported three deaths from the virus and, on Monday, there were 191 confirmed cases in the country.
In Paris, the Louvre has closed its doors and large public gatherings have been cancelled.
The move by the Sooke School District is not unique as schools across the country have cancelled similar trips for their students.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says it has cancelled a planned trip to Italy for Merivale High School students and two high schools in Quebec have cancelled their student trips to Europe.
Similarly, the Calgary Board of Education has cancelled five student trips to Europe and Asia.
Canada has issued a travel advisory for several regions in northern Italy that are grappling with rapid increases in COVID-19 cases.
The advisory, which went into effect Monday morning, includes Milan, Venice, Turin and Genoa.
The advisory means that the government wants Canadians already in northern Italy to reconsider whether they should remain there.
One Sooke resident and retired school teacher, David Whighton, says that the School district’s slow action in cancelling the EMCS trip is troubling.
“Plainly speaking, it’s just stupid. As a former teacher I wouldn’t send a kid into an area where they might get into trouble and not even be able to get back,” Whighton said.
“It’s just not smart.”