Coronavirus pandemic: As we're living it
By Sharon Xu
Special to The Wallflower
COVID-19— better known as the Coronavirus, has recently been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Billions of people are staying home in order to keep this strange and new virus at bay— one with an infectious rate higher than Influenza. This respiratory illness targets the elderly, people with underlying health issues, and those with weak immune systems. By inflaming and infecting the lungs, it eventually suffocates patients who are unable to combat the virus on their own.
Thousands of people have died from COVID-19 since the start of January, but self- isolation in Canada was not enforced until March, nearly two months after the outbreak. Schools and workplaces started shutting down a few days before March Break, and there were very few cases in Canada at the time. Although communities were advised to stop travelling, it was not completely banned, so many decided to go forward with their vacation plans. Young people, in particular, moved ahead with their trips.
“I travelled to Varadero, Cuba. I went on vacation because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel with two of my best friends. I had been saving money since I can remember so I had enough to cover everything, [and] I figured I’d rather spend my money on experiences anyways,” says Alice Miller, a high school student in Ontario.
Many like Alice have been saving up and looking forward to their trips for years. These vacations are few and far between, especially to those in high school, since there will be hardly any chances to travel after university or college. When she realizes the health and safety of others are threatened, she recognizes that the threat is much more real than she anticipated.
“We thought we were being cautious by bringing hand sanitizer, but the threat didn’t seem that large when we left. When we landed and saw the whole Cuban government wearing masks, that’s when it kind of hit us that it was bigger than we thought,” Alice sheepishly admits. “Back at home, my mom works for Canada Post at the post office. She has to handle packages from all around the world and deal with people every day without the use of masks. Because of boredom, everyone thinks online shopping is a great idea, but it’s putting people like my mom more at danger.”
Many public service workers are still working five days a week outside of their homes, and are at high risk for contracting the virus. Without proper face masks and gloves, they are susceptible to contracting the disease, even with proper sanitation. Family members of these workers are also at risk of being exposed to COVID-19. For those like Alice who have family working in public services, it’s an extremely jarring reality.
Contrary to her, Matthew Park who was in Cancun, Mexico during March Break, was strongly opposed to his parent’s decision of going forward with their vacation. “They [my parents] didn’t really feel as if it was such a big deal. I was really stressed and panicked like at 3 am when we went to the airport, but I feel like my parents didn’t register anything. And whenever I told them it was a bad idea, they would avoid the problem. My dad still doesn’t really take it seriously. We bought hand sanitizer, [but] that’s it.”
Social media definitely impacted my opinions and made me a lot more stressed about travelling ‘cause like everywhere on Insta[gram] is news about cases and people dying and telling you to stay home.
Influencers, social media and the news play a huge role during these difficult times. Many are using their platform to ease fears and inform people about the virus, advising their audiences to stay home and to keep up social distancing. Tiktok users, in particular, have been adamant in spreading awareness, by making creative skits and dances with different audios and effects about COVID-19. With 800 million active users, and 41% of them being aged 16-24, it is certainly a growing platform for young people. Many users are sharing ‘quarantine recipes’ like whipped coffee, and dance challenges are surfacing amidst the app’s ‘for you’ page.
“Social media definitely impacted my opinions and made me a lot more stressed about travelling ‘cause like everywhere on Insta[gram] is news about cases and people dying and telling you to stay home.” Matthew jokes that Charli D’Amelio— a TikTok Influencer— is an inspiration, but says that ultimately, the news left the heaviest impact— particularly the numerous incidents regarding COVID-19 aboard cruise ships.
Although the threat of the virus remains great, many younger people have thought of continuing their vacations. With tourist attractions and travel tickets reduced to an all-time low, some have even decided to cash out on some cheap vacations and make some once-in-a-lifetime memories.
Kiera James, 16, is currently in France doing an exchange program. She left Canada in January and intends to stay in France until June. When asked if she’s thought about taking advantage of the cheap travelling tickets, she is amused. “A little bit, considering I’m on a different continent, and it’s already pretty cheap to travel around Europe because the currency is almost the same everywhere you go. But in France, we aren’t in self-isolation, we are literally in confinement and you can’t leave the house unless you have some paper filled out. You can only leave for 1 of 4 reasons (groceries, work if you’re unable to work from home, medical purposes and exercise but it must be alone). So even if I wanted to travel around, I would not be able to without being fined.”
Back in Ottawa, Alice is optimistic about potential trips after the pandemic. “Travelling is my absolute favourite thing, but what point is there to travel at the moment if everything’s closed anyway?” she laughs. “However, after all of this passes, countries will need to get their tourism back up, so I’ll hopefully be able to snatch a lot of deals to various places on my list.”