MUN delegation caught in B.C. viral outbreak

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Ambulances are seen stationed outside the Harbour Towers Hotel in Victoria, B.C. Saturday, Jan.14. An outbreak of an illness with symptoms akin to those of a norovirus struck conference-goers at the hotel. — Photo courtesy of Dan Seljack/The Varsity

A delegation of student journalists from this province, attending a Canadian University Press conference in British Columbia, have been caught up in an outbreak of norovirus symptoms (Norwalk being one strain), leading to violent illness with diarrhea and vomiting.

They are currently still in great discomfort, but are attempting to fly home, as Air Canada refuses to waive fees keeping them from rebooking their flight, according to one of the team members.

Air Canada has refuted the claim, saying it offered those affected to re-book without cost.

A total of six representatives of Memorial University of Newfoundland’s student newspaper The Muse flew into Victoria, British Columbia on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the last day of scheduled events, an estimated 40-100 conference attendees were hit by rapid onset of norovirus symptoms. Among those affected were four members of the MUN delegation.

The Muse’s Paul Hussey has experienced symptoms. He spoke to The Telegram from the airport shortly after 9 a.m. (NLT) this morning.

“Some people left the dinner there and were transported to, I guess, like an after party and that’s when it really started to spread, was on these shuttle buses. People were throwing up on the buses and projectile vomiting and it was catching very fast,” Hussey said.

“B.C. Health was called in. There were a number of ambulances called. At least 11, possibly 15 or more, were taken to hospital,” he said. “B.C. Health stayed there for at least 12 to 24 hours and advised.”

He described the initial response as a “voluntary quarantine,” though not an official one.

“We’ve had four different cases. My case — It was bad. It got better. Now it’s bad again. I’m a little bit worried about it and I’ve been fairly de-hydrated. Everyone has been fairly sick. No one’s bad enough or de-hydrated enough to go to hospital. People have been resting, taking some electrolyte drinks and trying to get their energy up without getting too sick,” he said.

“I’m only at the airport now because Air Canada said they’re going to do nothing for us, which is pretty horrible,” he said.

Hussey said the airline is willing to re-book flights for the group, if they are willing to pay a $75 change of flight fee plus any difference in cost. Unfortunately for the Newfoundland and Labrador contingent, those charges simply run too high.

“It would have cost us $2,000 to avoid getting on the plane right now. So we’re going to go home as best we can — see what happens,” he said. “Which is probably not good, but we’re going to try our best to get home without anything coming up.”

He said, WestJet has offered “zero-dollar changes” to anyone staying at the conference hotel where the virus hit who is looking to change their flight due to health considerations.

Yet Air Canada has said Hussey’s statements regarding what has been offered are entirely false.

“A flexible rebooking policy was put in place yesterday (Sunday) so passengers could rebook without any fees by contacting our reservation desk,” stated Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur in an email to The Telegram.

It is unclear as to why Hussey and his co-passengers had not found that to be the case as of their flight time.

The Telegram will have more in Tuesday’s edition.

Organizations: Air Canada, Canadian University Press, University of Newfoundland WestJet

Geographic location: British Columbia, Norwalk, Victoria Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • eastcoaster
    January 17, 2012 - 16:56

    To fly home with such a contagious virus is dangerous for the other passengers, families, children and crew of the plane!!! The virus will infect others since those sick would touch faucets in the bathroom, etc... also it is proven on long flights over 5 hours (Victoria-Toronto) they would definitely infect others. They should NOT fly until they are better and AC should waive the fees.

  • M. Atkinson
    January 16, 2012 - 09:47

    Air Canada can't care much for the other passengers on those flights and the virus spreading! Wouldn't it be worth it to them to allow the sick students to re-book without penalty if for no other reason than to protect the health of other passengers.