I Got Caught in a Pandemic Panic 2 Years Into Covid. It Felt Like Day 1.


GALIFAX, Nova Scotia – I flew to southern Africa in early November to deliver a series of stories on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the region, including some great work done. stop the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus… On the last day of my stay there, South African scientists announced the discovery of the Omicron variant. A few hours later, I boarded a plane in Johannesburg to travel home to Canada.

By the time I landed in Amsterdam on the morning of November 26, the world was in a state of total panic, and I was engulfed in a chaotic, at times intimidating tangle of orders and conflicting rules that seemed more driven by fear than medical science.

My own familiarity with the Covid response showed me that after two years we have not yet learned how to predict how viruses and humans will behave, or how to plan accordingly. We will need to do much better on both challenges if we are to survive the next pandemic with less loss of life and less suffering.

When my plane landed in Amsterdam, the flight attendant told us that passengers must be tested for Covid before we can continue our journey. Five hours later, we were still on the runway, the plane was tightly sealed, and more and more travelers were dropping their masks.

My despair over a missed connecting flight turned into dismay as the pilot informed the increasingly anxious passengers that he could not get us food and drinks because the airport authorities “did not allow” food trucks to approach the plane.

In the end, we were driven to an unused departure area and were tested for Covid within three hours. As the hours passed in the stuffy room where we were kept, many stopped even pretending to be a disguise. None of the authorities made any attempt to enforce the camouflage rules.

I tweeted about this experience and around midnight a Dutch journalist who saw my posts contacted us to say that the test results were reported by the Ministry of Health. Between my flight and another that flew in from Cape Town at the same time, 110 tests were processed, and 15 of them were positive, he said, at an infection rate of 14 percent.

I looked around a room full of people, many screaming men and crying babies, and began to quietly panic.

It will be a few more hours before I get my results. Finally, at 3 a.m. a couple of tired-looking healthcare workers lined us up, forced us to pick up our passports one by one, and read the results from the database.

If our tests were negative, like mine, we had to sign a document in Dutch. A traveler who hastily translated for me said that I had promised that I needed somewhere in quarantine at home and that I would leave the country to travel there.

This promise seemed like a bad public health idea, but I hadn’t slept for 42 hours and was desperate to get out of this room, so I signed and passed it on.

I was taken by bus to a dark and quiet part of the terminal. There I spent another nine hours in an increasingly frantic search for someone who could help me access a copy of my alleged negative test, without which I could not continue the journey I had just signed.

A few days after this chaotic detention, Dutch airport and health authorities blamed the protracted delays on the fact that they never expected such a situation and did not have provisions on how to safely screen passengers – even though we were detained for just a few weeks. before the deadline. Second anniversary of the first known event.

At 11 o’clock, I managed to access my negative test and fly to Toronto. My phone was filled with warnings about the new rules for people arriving from southern Africa, and when I introduced myself to the border agent as having flown in from Johannesburg, he gestured me to a special line. The physical took my name, address and temperature and then sent me on the road.

I moved away from her, but remained in the line in confusion.

“I was just kept in prison for almost a day with people whom we know there is Omicron, – I said almost pleadingly. “You want to quarantine me!”

She shrugged. “I think you should establish a bond and perhaps isolate yourself at home. Get tested on Day 4. I have no other recommendations for you. “

It was the first of a day of conflicting and confusing reports from health authorities that left me wondering how best to keep people safe.

I flew to Halifax, my N95 was gripped as tightly as I could get it, gratefully collected a series of PCR test kits from the airport table and made my way to the Airbnb near my house as quickly as possible. My kids came to the strange meeting, wearing masks on the opposite side of the backyard.

Over the next week, I received a dozen phone calls from federal and provincial health authorities. They said that I must be quarantined for the full 14 days. Or that I only needed to go into quarantine until I tested negative on the 4th day. No, on the 8th day. Oh, fully vaccinated? Well, in that case, no quarantine! I could isolate myself at home until I tested negative on day 4.

Without any helpful advice, I stayed on Airbnb.

On the 7th day, I missed my daughter’s 12th birthday celebration. A good friend brought in Thai food, beer and a portable campfire pit, and we sat in the parks on opposite sides of it and had a heart-to-heart talk in raised voices.

On the 8th day, the doorbell rang at 23:00. I didn’t answer, because I assumed that they were guests from the tenants of the second floor (apparently no one came to visit me). The ringing was replaced by a thump, which became more insistent and louder. When I opened the door, I found a police officer who demanded my name and said that he had come to conduct a “Covid check”.

I asked her what her instructions were for me – maybe she would have an understanding. “We have to check on you by December 11th,” she said.

Another federal health tracker called the next day. She asked if I had any visitors. I said that I saw my children across the yard. She got upset and told me that she would have to “report it.” Remote visits in the open air were strictly prohibited.

I said that no one had ever told me that. (I retained my opinion that this makes no scientific sense and works directly against the conditions that help people to quarantine, for me.)

My instructions to Canadian officials were confusing. But from emails and LinkedIn messages from other passengers on my flight, I learned how far we are from a single global answer to the travel question. Those who left for the US and UK lived without quarantine. Those in Germany and the Netherlands were quarantined pending negative on the fourth day.

I couldn’t understand how 18 passengers on two flights to South Africa tested positive when we had to test negative when boarding the flight. But then I found out, while in the airport isolation ward, that Pre-flight testing requirements are set by the country of destination.n. South African airport authorities took a close look at the negative test that Canada requested of me, but passengers in the United Kingdom (and there were many) did not need to be tested to fly. The militant Briton, who stood in front of me in the last line in Amsterdam, was told that he was sure and was taken away by a police officer.

Ever since Omicron began showing up in Europe and the United States, British policy was finally changed and US demands were heightened to a test the day before the flight. This failure should not have been used to create a basic test standard for safer flight.

I have no objection to my journey being thwarted; I would gladly go to quarantine in Amsterdam. I am, perhaps unsurprisingly to someone in this job, am a fan of public health measures.

But I am enraged by the completely unnecessary risk that the Dutch put me and all the other passengers. After they concluded that our flight was a health hazard, they had to tie us off the plane, hand out N-95 masks (and insist that people wear them) and took us to a place where they could keep us. apart from each other while they completed the plan.

I’m equally disappointed that Canada has done such a lousy job of spreading its rules – or using evidence to create them. Omicron’s circulation in Europe is currently accelerating rapidly, but flights are still banned only from southern Africa.

The discovery of Omicron and the rapid transmission of critical information about this option around the world has shown how well a sophisticated scientific response to the pandemic works.

But everything I’ve seen since then clearly shows that we still have not dealt with the dirty human steps – and they can be even more important.


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