TORONTO — For more than four decades, Christine Mak travelled every year to Disney parks and various conventions to commune with fellow fans of fantasy and science fiction. But her streak was interrupted early last year when the COVID-19 crisis halted cross-border celebrations.
The Toronto resident thought vaccination would be her ticket to reuniting with the global group of friends she’s made through shared enthusiasm for the British sci-fi serial “Doctor Who” and all things Disney.
Soon after she received her first COVID-19 shot in March, Mak started making arrangements to get back on the U.S. circuit of pop-culture destinations, booking tickets to Florida theme-park capital Orlando and “Doctor Who” conventions in Chicago and Los Angeles.
But then the more contagious Delta variant emerged.
As case counts recently climbed in Florida, Mak scrapped her planned pilgrimage to Walt Disney World in January.
With dire assessments persisting for parts of the United States, she now wonders if the rest of her travel itinerary is just wishful thinking.
“It’s so disappointing that after doing everything right, we’re almost back to square one,” says Mak, who worries she could lose hundreds of dollars in cancellation fees if her other trips are thwarted.
“I love travelling. You can only make so many cakes and putter around your garden for so long.”
Mak is among many Canadians whose post-vaccination vacation plans have been scrambled by the pandemic, with ongoing COVID-19 uncertainty and ever-changing global travel rules complicating excursions, be they across the border or across the pond.
A number of Canadian concertgoers have taken to Billy Joel’s Facebook page to express dismay that the ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada land border will prevent them from driving to Buffalo to see the crooner perform next Saturday.
Meanwhile, many British expats feel slighted that Canada was excluded from the United Kingdom’s recent move to ease quarantine restrictions on fully vaccinated travellers from the United States and most of Europe.
Milton, Ont.-based travel advisor Kristin Hoogendoorn says she received a rush of inquiries this spring as the expansion of Canada’s vaccination rollout seemed to unleash a wave of pent-up wanderlust along with optimism.
Nevertheless, Hoogendoorn says she’s advising her clients against booking trips out of the country until 2022.
Every nation has its own convoluted set of COVID-19 testing, vaccination and quarantine requirements, and these standards may differ between your place of departure and destination, says Hoogendoorn.
For example, she says, Canadians who mixed and matched brands of COVID-19 shots don’t meet the criteria to be considered fully vaccinated in some countries.
And even if they do, further complications may await in the vaccination rules of event venues, hotels and restaurants you hope to visit.
“This isn’t 2019 anymore. This is a whole new world,” says Hoogendoorn. “(Travellers) never had to think about plan B.… That was always the worst-case scenario. Now, the worst-case scenario seems to be the reality.”
In this emerging era of contagion-constrained travel, tourists must accept the chance their trips won’t go as planned, says Frederic Dimanche, director at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University.
The travel industry is adjusting to the most significant challenge it’s faced since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dimanche says.
There’s going to be a learning curve for tourism professionals and travellers alike, he says, so visitors need to be more forgiving about complications such as flight delays, hotel mix-ups, barriers to public venues and other service disruptions.
There’s always some degree of uncertainty when it comes to venturing abroad, says Dimanche, and while voyagers can take steps to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19 restrictions, the truth is that this is what travel may look like for the foreseeable future.
“International travel was never 100 per cent easy … but now there is an additional level of complexity,” he says. “It’s going to be difficult, so we need to plan for it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2021.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press
Use the new Google Illustrations tool to create a custom Gmail profile picture – XDA Developers
If you use any of Google’s services, which we’re pretty sure most if not all of you do, you would be aware of the small avatar that’s displayed next to your name on Google’s homepage and other services. This is also the avatar that shows up next to your name when you email someone. It probably shows an old profile picture for most people that they set up back when Google+ was still a thing. But Google wants you to change it, and the company has released a new Illustrations tool to help you create a custom Gmail profile picture.
As per a recent report from 9to5Google, the Google Illustration tool is baked into the dialog box that appears when you select the option to change your profile picture in the Gmail app. It sits along with the options to upload a new image from your computer, choose an existing photo from Google Photos, or click a photo from your camera. As of now, the feature is rolling out on Gmail for Android, and you can try it out by tapping the avatar icon on the top right corner of the app.
You will then have to select the Illustrations tab to see hundreds of illustrations that you can use as your profile picture. This is a helpful feature for those who do not wish to reveal their identity online or make their photographs public. If you have privacy concerns with uploading your picture online but do not wish to see just your initials as your avatar, you should try out the Google Illustrations tool right away.
The avatar you set up will be used across all of Google’s services like Gmail, Drive, YouTube, Contacts, etc. If you want to look for illustrations related to a specific topic, you can search using relevant keywords. You can even customize the illustrations and switch out the background color to something that you prefer. In the coming months, Google plans to expand support for the Illustrations tool to other apps and iOS devices.
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The Alberta Medical Association says the province’s high COVID-19 numbers are behind a desperate shortage of specialized staff to care for critical care patients.
“The demand for (intensive care unit) nurses is currently so high that we need to increase the number of patients assigned to each nurse,” the medical association said in a public letter Monday.
“This reduction in staffing ratio is well below our normal standard of care. This will jeopardize the quality of ICU care that we are able to provide.”
The letter was signed by members of the group’s intensive care section.
Alberta’s hospitals and intensive care wards are overwhelmed by critical care patients, most of them stricken with COVID-19. The overwhelming majority are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Alberta Health Services has been briefing doctors on criteria to use should the health system collapse and they have to make on-the-spot decisions on who gets life-saving care.
Last week, Dr. Paul Parks, the medical association’s head of emergency medicine, said the staffing shortage is affecting care in other ways. Parks said some critical care patients are not being put on available ventilators because there aren’t enough nurses to monitor them.
Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says while typical ICU care is one nurse per patient, an alternative model, known as a hub, is being used to adapt to the pandemic while ensuring care is delivered.
Each hub includes one or two trained intensive care nurses and two to four registered nurses.
“This model partners registered nurses from other areas with existing trained ICU (nurses) to expand the availability of the critical-care nursing skill set to more patients,” said Williamson in an email.
“ICU patients are never cared for by nurses alone. Whole teams work with nurses in ICU, including respiratory therapists and many others. “
In recent weeks, the province has scrambled to create more ad hoc intensive care beds, effectively more than doubling the normal total of 173 to accommodate 312 patients currently receiving critical care.
Staff have been reassigned, forcing mass cancellations of surgeries, including cancer procedures.
Alberta has asked the federal government for help, and the Canadian Armed Forces has said it will respond with eight more intensive care nurses and air transport to take critically ill patients to other provinces.
Almost two weeks ago, Alberta reintroduced gathering restrictions and brought in proof of vaccination requirements for entry to restaurants, bars, casinos, concerts and gyms to try to reduce spread of the virus.
Daily case counts remain well over one thousand and a growing number of doctors and infectious disease specialists are calling for a “firebreak” lockdown, which would include a shutdown of schools, businesses and other activities.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, in a weekend radio interview, rejected a lockdown. He said it would make “no sense for the 80 per cent of the population that is vaccinated” and who are much less likely to transmit the disease and be hospitalized.
Alberta has lagged behind other provinces in vaccination. Kenney and his United Conservative government have been trying to persuade more people to get their shots by offering $1-million prize draws, other gifts and, more recently, $100 debit cards.
About 73 per cent of eligible Albertans, those 12 and over, are fully vaccinated, while 82 per cent have had at least one shot.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said it’s time to partner with community groups and health-care professionals to go door to door and help those who are not vaccinated due to health or work concerns or a language barrier.
Those groups could be “having conversations and offering Alberta vaccines right there on people’s doorsteps,” Notley said in Calgary.
—Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
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