Chapter 4: Europe Arc – COVID-19 Pandemic

Topics covered:

Oh man... the past week has been a whirlwind. Ever since I decided not to go to SF, and was wondering what to do about my Europe travel plans (London > Venice > Rome > Paris), the COVID-19 situation has spun out of control. I've been busy canceling all my flights and airbnbs, requesting refunds, and just following the news on what's going on in the world. The heavy reality of what's happening in the world is slowly sinking in for me. I admit, at the beginning, I wasn't taking it seriously. When my mom and Larry were warning me to not go to SF or Europe, I still thought about traveling as long as I could avoid the "dangerous areas" thinking it "can't be that bad." I was one of those people who went along with "the common flu kills more people than the virus," that the media was dramatizing the situation and inducing fear, and convinced that "it won't happen to me" - or "If I die, I die.

Maybe it was me just trying to be optimistic about the world, taking life for granted, or being content with the life I've lived to not be afraid of death.. but this mindset is of course extremely detrimental. Since then, I've grasped the severity of the situation and understand how important it is to be proactive in preventing the spread of this pandemic. In hindsight, I'm really proud that I made the decision to cancel all my travel plans and continue to practice social distancing by staying home. I mean, I normally spend my days at home anyway LOL but the conscious decision to not travel for the sake of public health and reducing the spread of the virus is extremely important at times like these.

What's new?

I've been listening to the news every morning (telling my Google mini, "good morning"), and the numbers continue to skyrocket exponentially. Earlier last week, the situation in northern Italy became increasingly worrisome as 16 million people were quarantined to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The current situation in the UK and France is also getting worse, and Spain is now in emergency lockdown as well... bringing the total number of quarantined Europeans to over 100 million. It's crazy how quickly the numbers are increasing. Two weeks ago, Italy was at 3,000+ cases with eight deaths, and now they are at 24,000+ cases and 1,800+ deaths... I also read about how if you're known to have the virus, but continue to go out and potentially spread it to others... you can receive fines or even get charged with homicide and face up to 21 years in prison. 

I'm glad that I was able to avoid traveling to Europe before all of this happened, but I'm actually really concerned for my best friend, Vanessa, who flew to France on Saturday, March 7th because she was supposed to teach English there for three weeks as part of her school practicum. Before she flew out, she had other classmates whose practicums were canceled abroad (Japan), but her school in France hadn't shut down yet. It was only on Friday, March 13th that the president closed all the schools in France, and now she's been trying to contact Air France to reschedule her original flight home, but they haven't been replying to any of her messages or calls. She's also been trying to go through her travel agency to reach them, or rebook an entirely new flight, but is unable to give me any concrete updates yet because she's still in the midst of figuring things out. The most I can do right now is consistently check up on her, praying that she's doing alright and can arrive home safely.

I know I'm not from the states, but Trump announced a travel ban for all flights regarding Europe, and hearing that made me really worried too because I'm not sure if Canada will soon follow the same footsteps and Vanessa won't be able to return home. Today, I also read a news article about how more than 40,000 people flooded into US airports to return home after hearing about the travel ban... with some paying over $20,000 for a flight. It's insane. I can only imagine how hectic, exhausting, and draining this situation has been for those affected.

I was on Twitter this morning (one of my main news source), and I came across this really eye-opening thread from an Italian citizen that outlined the different stages of how we react to the virus (from behaving like it's not going to happen to us to holy shit, the world is dying and this is our reality), and how we must act now to prevent further outbreaks.

(click the picture above the read the full thread)

My oldest sister, Jessica, who currently lives in Singapore with her family also sent us an important, thought-provoking video to our family group chat this morning. It was an interview with David Fisman, a Professor of Epidemiology from the University of Toronto, who spoke about how right now is Canada's golden time to act and prevent explosive outbreaks when it's quiet. We don't have to go down the same route as Italy.. It's better to be considered "dramatic" and be proactive in reducing the spread of this pandemic, as opposed to being reactive when it's too late.

Family updates:

  • Jessica and her family in Singapore are doing well. Their government and health care professionals have been extremely diligent in preventing the negative affects of this virus.
  • Brenda's company acted quick and made everyone start working from home a while ago. She's been feeling a bit unwell with headaches, but has been recovering.
  • Jaclyne recently came back from Hawaii before the virus situation spiraled, and shows no signs of any symptoms. We've all been okay still - hopefully it remains this way.
  • Amanda's school courses have shifted from in-class to online. In order to reduce the number of people in the school residences, her school is also offering some money back for those who can move out by Friday. After hearing this news, she plans to move out this Wednesday and return home where she'll finish up the rest of her semester online.

Jaclyne actually went grocery shopping yesterday and the Loblaws she went to completely ran out of bread, meat, and canned foods. I personally haven't witnessed the shopping chaos or emptiness in stores, but seeing the pictures and hearing more and more stories of what's happening in the world is giving me a better understanding of the overall situation.

EDIT: Vanessa was able to get in contact with her travel agent and reschedule her return flight home for tomorrow! I'm still hoping everything runs smoothly... We'll know by tomorrow. *Prays*

How was canceling your travel plans?

I was supposed to travel around Europe with Vanessa for ~ two weeks after she finished her school practicum as our "best friend graduation trip," but with the virus outbreak, the situation completely flipped. Right now we are just concerned about safety, and pray that everything will be okay. 

As for our actual expenses... So far, Vanessa and I successfully managed to cancel all of our Europe airbnbs for a full refund. Originally, it was only Italy that was eligible for full refund (Venice, Rome), but with the number of COVID-19 cases exploding within the last week, Airbnb recently expanded their extenuating circumstances policy and announced that full refunds are now available with no cancellation fees. This allowed us to cancel our London and Paris homes with no trouble. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how understanding the European hosts were because when I was requesting a refund with my SF host, she adamantly refused. Since then, I've taken it to Airbnb support and am still waiting for a reply to see if I can get my money back. I know hosts also take a hit in this situation (the host commented on how rent prices are high), but I find it really unfair that I lose $400+ when I gave her a good heads-up, and I didn't even stay at her place and just wanted to protect the safety of others :'( 

Transportation Cancellation Process:

  • West Jet: Toronto (YYZ) → London (LGW): fully refunded in travel credits - stored up until March 31, 2021
  • Easy Jet: London (LGW) → Venice (VCE): fully refunded due to flight cancellation by airline
  • Train: Venice (VCE) → Rome (FCO): currently requesting refund from the train company
  • Alitalia: Rome (FCO) → Paris (CDG): unable to receive full refund - could only refund taxes ($48/person). Note: I was on hold for 1.5 hours before receiving a response from the airline, and the representative wasn't the most friendly.
  • Air Transat: Paris (CDG)→ Montreal (YUL) → Toronto (YYZ): fully refunded in travel credits - stored up until the Dec. 31, 2020. Awaiting reply from the airline after submitting an online form.

What have you been up to recently?

Hii, well aside from going through the whole cancelation process for my travel plans, I've been staying home as usual. I've been working on releasing my Japan travel vlogs on YouTube (streaming my editing process on Twitch while I'm at it), spending time with family at home, journaling, cleaning my room, catching up on anime (Haikyuu and My Hero Academia - the recent episodes were so hypee ahh), and also started watching the Korean drama, "Crash Landing on you." LOL my dad and sisters were watching it on Netflix last month and I kept hearing how great the reviews were, so I finally hopped on it and it's actually addicting!! I've also been keeping up with some freelance video work, so still making some income during this time :')

Anyway, I hope you guys continue to stay safe and healthy amidst the chaos. Let's all do our best to adapt and become stronger and better for each other. Maintain cleanliness, and spread love and not fear!

Talk to you all soon,

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