"We've had 14 families cancel in the past week," says Carolina Cintra, Accommodations Manager at ILSC Vancouver. "Hosts with small children or who are elderly are afraid to take students from countries where outbreaks have been reported."
Unfortunately, ILSC has had trouble finding new homestays for these incoming students. "We call around to other hosts on our list but no one wants to take them," Cintra says.
The largest coronavirus outbreak is in China where 80,000 cases and 2,873 deaths have been reported. As well, South Korea, Iran and Italy have identified a large number of cases. Japan has reported a relatively small 239 cases but has taken the drastic step of closing all its schools until late March.
Cintra says that ILSC is still open for students from all countries. ILSC has posted a notice on its website advising students about the precautions the school is taking. Throughout its schools, ILSC is encouraging students to wash their hands and is making hand sanitizer available.
Airport pickup staff won't go
Lyda Baquero, Accommodation Program Manager at Academie Linguistique Internationale in Montreal, says that a few of her hosts have canceled. In addition, some airport pickup staff are refusing to meet students when they arrive in Canada.
Enrolments at several language schools are down 20 percent. With the busy summer season approaching, school managers have their fingers crossed that the outbreak will end or at least slow down.
In the K-12 sector, some short-term groups have postponed plans to come to Canada. A few school districts were expecting Japanese students here this spring and were planning to send Canadian students to Japan in the summer as part of a reciprocal exchange. With the outbreak in that country, the Japanese school partner has decided to defer the program to 2021.
Many high school programs are urging full-time students from infected areas not to travel to their home countries for spring break or summer vacation. They fear that homestay hosts will refuse to take them back when they return to Canada.
Toll on student mental health
Having K-12 students stay for the summer will be complicated - they can enroll for summer school for part of the vacation period but will need activities for the remainder. In addition, it could take a toll on their mental health if they are unable to visit their parents. It's stressful for hosts if they don't have an opportunity to take a break during the summer.
For some, the outbreak brings back memories of the SARS outbreak 17 years ago. Ann Friesen, Homestay Coordinator at the English Language Centre at the University of Manitoba, recalls that Canada was hit in both directions.
Between November 2002 and July 2003, SARS killed 721 people in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As a result, students from those areas could not come to Canada to study.
At the same time, Toronto had a serious SARS outbreak that took 44 lives. Even though SARS was confined to Toronto, programs across Canada saw a decline in enrolments, including the University of Manitoba.
"With SARS, there were the facts about the case. And then there were people's perceptions and fears - these had the biggest impact on international education," Friesen says.