Tracing Testing and Travel
Sat May 01 2021
My wife is a US citizen, and my immigration process to live with them was delayed because of COVID at the final step. The rest of my immediate family lives out west, and I haven’t seen any of them in now over a year. My wife has been able to travel to Canada, quarantine for 2 weeks, and visit me for short spans while working remotely before returning home; we count ourselves extremely fortunate, as we know countless others who have been unable to travel (interprovincially or internationally) for over a year as well.
While we are resilient people, the pandemic added additional layers of anxiety, fear, and grief to the already difficult process of immigrating. Indefinite separation from loved ones – whether in Canada, or the ever-present fear that I would be separated from my wife – have taken a toll.
As the pandemic has progressed, we have seen the same rhetoric over and over about international travellers, including those from the USA: that the border restrictions which came into play in March 2020 are inadequate, and that further restrictions are necessary to curb the spread.
We have obeyed every single public health guideline since the beginning, from mask-wearing to physical distancing to every single stay-at-home order. When the restrictions lifted, we obeyed bubbling rules. I shop for groceries roughly once every two weeks to reduce exposure. We have medical workers, teachers, essential workers and immunocompromised individuals in both our families. We take the pandemic extremely seriously.
Quarantine is a horrible, arduous experience – fourteen days of absolute isolation. Walking each day has helped track the passing of seasons, made me feel connected to the world; my wife also walks daily. When in quarantine, you don’t even have that option. What little freedom you have gets taken away, and if you’re not lucky enough to have a yard that you can sit in or pace around, I can imagine things being impossibly claustrophobic.
So I feel little else beyond helpless fury that I’m seeing, yet again, an escalation of rhetoric against international borders when over and over again public health officials have said that closed borders are of limited efficacy compared to other measures. Testing before and after entering the country is a reasonable expectation. Checking in on people if it’s suspected they aren’t quarantining? Fine.
But interprovincial travel, and even inter-city travel within Ontario, was given a free pass only up until April 2021. Anti-masking rallies and other gatherings see maybe a handful of fines? Meanwhile international travellers are treated as a convenient scapegoat, with suspicion, and now with derision if they choose to fly to the border, be tested, and cross by land.
I understand how one international traveller with close contacts can start a chain reaction of infection. But after more than a year of doing my utmost to ensure that I could see my wife when I CANNOT see the rest of my immediate family, I am exhausted. I’m tired of needing to worry whether we and others in a similar position are about to be blamed yet again for a spike in cases, whether the border is about to become even more closed than it already is, whether we have any certainty at all what comes next for us as a couple. I cannot emphasize enough, we have followed every precaution possible, and we are not wealthy people. Not even close.
Contact tracing and testing are needed. Paid sick leave for essential workers, including grocery store workers, has been needed far too long. Viable and inexpensive quarantine facilities are needed in the event that someone in a shared household needs to self-isolate – I live alone working from home. I cannot imagine what it’s like to have a large family, or children who have to go to school, or a spouse who has to leave the house to work in a hospital or care home or other high-risk workplace.
I am fully aware that there are people who have travelled internationally for frivolous reasons. But I feel that because international borders require an interview with customs officials, there’s been an over-emphasis on testing and quarantine mandates there. I don’t think that punitive measures work, and I recognize there is no practical way to check how or why someone is travelling from one city or province to another. And it feels like disproportionately, the people most likely to be blamed for breaking the rules are the people with the least opportunity not to, such as low-income workers. Meanwhile flagrant violation of the rules has led to very little consequence and a lot of bullshit about ‘violation of rights and freedoms’ when what’s being asked is the bare minimum: to care about other people. To take easily-followed precautions like masking up and going outside if you're meeting others outside your household. To have a beer at home instead of on a f*cking patio.
The best we can do is re-emphasize voluntary compliance, focus on a harm-reduction model, strengthen social supports, contact trace and test, and expand vaccine eligibility to those who are most vulnerable. But yet again, international borders are making headlines – because we should demand that people pay exorbitantly out of pocket for a hotel stay at the land border? Somewhere overcrowded, underserviced, and poorly equipped to monitor for compliance, assuming they can even arrive in the country at a major port of entry?
Absolutely not. There are better ways to solve the problems we have, and those methods don't involve misdirection.