Reactions to a virus
On March 13, on arrival at Pearson International airport after a complex itinerary of flights, my daughter arrived exhausted from Madrid, Spain, where she had been studying since January. Fully prepared to quarantine as she had been required to do during her overnight stay in Dublin, she was shocked at the lack of response by officials at the Toronto airport. She repeatedly identified as having returned from Madrid, the then emerging new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her temperature was never taken. She was not offered a mask. There was no visible hand sanitizer. She was given no instructions to quarantine. She was handed a single piece of paper that highlighted the existence of the pandemic and identified symptoms for which she should be on the lookout.
This was two days after the coronavirus epidemic had been upgraded, in hurricane parlance, to a pandemic. There may not have been time to acquire adequate supplies for all arriving passengers but there should have been a more concerted effort to protect our communities from the potential risk posed by those who were arriving from known hotspots. My daughter, not wanting to be the pariah that brought the virus to her community, her home, or her grandparents, chose to quarantine in place for two weeks. Almost two weeks later, on March 25, the government “announced an Emergency Order under the Quarantine Act that requires any person entering Canada by air, sea or land to self-isolate for 14 days whether or not they have symptoms of COVID-19.”
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear our response as a nation could have been faster. We are a polite nation. Perhaps we didn’t want to insult anyone by suggesting they might be carrying COVID-19 into the country. That being said, I believe our Canadian sense of social responsibility may have been our saving grace. This is especially apparent when juxtaposed against American-style independence. I suspect that many Canadians repatriating themselves from Spain, Italy, Iran, China and other locations made the self-sacrificing decision to quarantine in the absence of a directive.
Our community response has been most impressive. Money raised for the food bank. Mask making collectives. Adoption of online formats for many local businesses. Local delivery. Care mongering of neighbours and strangers in need. Social distancing birthday car rallies and food drives. Bagpipers on parade. Innovative restauranteurs. New found appreciation for the previously unheralded essential workers – grocery store employees. The list goes on.
For me the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. While many have been lamenting social isolation, I have been hard-pressed to find time to be alone. The kids are all back with a few add-ons. Our bubble has been large from the beginning. Previously, the best I could have hoped for was a couple of weeks here and there where all four of my kids would be home. There is something wonderful in getting to see your adulting children interact, debate and discuss on a daily basis. With all that has been going on with respect to the global pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, challenges to LGBTQ+ rights, the race for a vaccine or effective treatment, systemic racism and police brutality, and the increasingly scary response from the White House, our dinner table discussions have never been livelier. And amid the seriousness, I am being schooled in the world of memes.
This is a cool and caring generation. Their presence is my silver lining to an all-round devasting event.