Tony Wilson describes returning home from overseas, self-isolating, and what the feds are doing right
I’m not supposed to be at home for the next two weeks. I’m not even supposed to be in Canada. I’m supposed to be in Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum and other exotic locations in the desert on the second half of a tour called “Classical Egypt and Jordan.” The first half of the trip was excellent. A couple of days in Cairo. An Egyptian sleeper-car train to Luxor. A cruise down the Nile for three days. Stops at the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Abu Simbel, and the sites of other temples.
But there was an underlying level of stress magnified by daily internet news and text messages from home about how the COVID-19 virus was spreading around the world. It wasn’t a pandemic before we left. It became one when we were in Egypt.
One telltale sign of trouble was that the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were empty, other than for our small group of eight (and one long-dead famous king). My wife and I visited the pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb with no one else except the dead King Tut’s partially exposed body. Because we were alone, and the chance would never come again, I opened up iTunes on my iPhone and played Steve Martin’s novelty song “King Tut” rather loudly. The music reverberated throughout the tomb, and I wondered if King Tut himself cracked a smile, notwithstanding the very bad state of his teeth. Although Tut gave his life for tourism, the tourists had stayed away that day.
At a dinner in Aswan a few days later, our guide announced that we could not get into, or out of Jordan, so the tour would end in Cairo, and we would have to make our own travel arrangements back to Vancouver 10 days earlier than originally planned. The next two days were spent trying to rebook our Amman-Heathrow-Vancouver business-class flight on British Airways to Cairo-Heathrow-Vancouver. But despite toll-free international help lines for British Airways that weren’t even accessible in Cairo, or so-called help lines that were not toll-free numbers and which put us on hold for an hour until we hung up, or a special emergency email address that we tried (an auto-response said there wouldn’t be a real response for 14 days), or even having our adult kids separately dial a number in Toronto and being put on hold for six collective hours, we had to give up on changing the British Airways tickets. Texts were coming from my son and a friend in Victoria that we had better get a flight out of Egypt immediately, before there were no flights left, or Canada closed its borders, or both.
We finally got flights via Cairo-Munich-Toronto-Vancouver, and as much as people like to criticize Air Canada for virtually everything that goes wrong in their lives, the airline was professional and understanding of their new responsibility to get Canadians home. Our flights were filled with people like us: Canadians cutting their holidays short, desperately trying to get home before the next day’s bad news. Had we waited another day, we may have been stranded.
I am satisfied with the government’s initiative to close the U.S. border to non-essential travel, but also with its objective to get Canadians home, whether from the U.S., Morocco or elsewhere.
On March 16 we arrived home to New Westminster, British Columbia, and are now in self-isolation. My wife, also a lawyer, is with me in our house. I’m fortunate enough to have adult kids who are happy to drop off bags of groceries at the front door, although 50 per cent of my grocery order is unavailable. We have enough wine to last for two years. And I’m not worried about toilet paper.
What’s self-isolation, or self-quarantine like? As I teach ethics at Thompson Rivers University, I’m trying to find a way to deliver the three remaining lectures remotely, and preparing an exam for my 119 second-year law students to write in April.
My law firm has an excellent and robust remote-access system to allow me to work from home and access, edit and produce any document that I need. As most of my clients didn’t expect me back until March 25, there are no pressing deadlines. Everything got off my desk before I left, and is now on someone else’s desk. But the courts are closed. Commercial deals are on hold. Conferences have been cancelled. Bars and restaurants are closed. My street is filled with people who are not going to their places of work.
There will be serious economic and political repercussions to this pandemic, no matter for how long it lasts. Many businesses -- even law firms -- may not survive. Clients and firms are no doubt looking at the arcane law of force majeure. They are looking to their business interruption insurance. And there may be lockdowns, such as in Italy and California, that could last into April. Defiant spring break partygoers in Florida who are not self-distancing may learn about Darwin and natural selection the hard way.
I feel fine so far, and I’m washing my hands regularly, but if I did catch something in an Egyptian sleeper train, a Nile River boat, a 4,000-year-old Egyptian temple, through the curse of King Tut, or even on the three plane rides back to Vancouver, I probably won’t know for a few more days. Our kids are very concerned. I reassure them that we are fine. This will end. Things will get better. I speak with them a few times a day.
We’re catching up on movies on Netflix and Prime, of course, but our gaze tends to gravitate to CBC News Network as if we’re looking at a roadside accident from our car. I appreciate that the federal and B.C. governments are relying on healthcare professionals, rather than bots, “Karen on Facebook” or the factually challenged scandalmongers at Ontario Proud, BC Proud, the Post Millennial, or Rebel News.
I’ve had to correct a few members of the social media-manufactured outrage machine who believe the federal government isn’t doing enough at Canada’s major airports. Having experienced it firsthand, there were at least four points of entry to Toronto’s Pearson International airport (and one point in Vancouver) at which officials asked disembarking passengers how they were feeling and told them they must complete a two-week self-quarantine once they returned to their homes. There was a notice that was handed out as well.
It would be impossible to test the tens of thousands of daily passengers whose flights land at YVR or Pearson. There aren’t enough test kits for that, it takes 48 hours to get results, and it would deplete the resources of healthcare professionals to be able to test those who are legitimately at risk as opposed to those who were simply on a plane. I prefer to rely on B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and her colleagues with respect to the steps that governments should be taken, as opposed to the Russians bots and right-wing lunatics who have infected social media like a virus.
Self-imposed quarantine and social distancing isn’t without its moments of levity. There’s a joke going around that the Corona beer company is offering to pay the World Health Organisation $500 million to rename the novel coronavirus the “Heineken virus.” The recipe for a drink called the Quarantini is making the rounds. It's a regular martini. You just drink it by yourself. And someone sent me a link to comedian Rick Moranis’s profound ditty “I Ain't Goin' Nowhere.”
I plan to clean out the cupboards today. Because I ain’t goin’ nowhere, either.