Four students reflect on how they experienced the Omicron breakout from home
By: Juliette Palin, commentary editor; Evan Lindsay, news editor; Talia Kliot, assistant commentary editor; Amanda Defillo, contributor
The day I left for Budapest, mandatory PCR testing was just being re-implemented for travellers on any Air Canada flight. No snow had managed to stick to the ground longer than 72 hours, and Omicron was just starting to bear its gruesome teeth. Once we got to Budapest, and the jetlag started to wear off, my sister and I got wind of the chaotic state Montreal was in: no available rapid tests, serpentine lines outside testing centers, and the familiar sight of cases rising, with one main difference. Never before had we seen such high case numbers in Quebec. One day it was five thousand… then twelve thousand… eighteen thousand…
My sister and I watched in terror from Budapest, where the fourth wave of Delta was dying out and Omicron was a looming threat. We went to the scenic city to visit our parents but had we known how fast the situation would deteriorate, I don’t believe we would have gone.
While we saw every Quebecer and Canadian become confined to lockdowns, and spending holidays alone — my own family catching COVID, and being unable to reunite for the holidays — our situation was different. We had no problem getting tested (which we did a total of five times) and everyone around us had already acquired a booster shot. Our only real issue was explaining why our vaccine passports wouldn’t scan, since they were not registered in any European database.
In Hungary, people were unbothered, lazy with their masks, aloof to what was happening all over the world, or even just a day’s drive away in France or Austria. Needless to say, it was difficult to face two alternate realities every day: that of the fifth wave back home, and an eerie sense that I was looking at the past — a city full of people still enjoying the normality of unregulated life.
The Omicron outbreak in Montreal was frustrating. I was lucky enough to spend it skiing, reading, watching movies, and going for walks with my family. While we were safe and healthy, it was annoying to see that even with COVID case numbers spiralling out of control, hours-long testing lines in the cold, and rapid test shortages, restrictions to help relieve healthcare professionals were only put in place after Christmas. But of course, Quebec is a secular province, duh.
When the government brought back our beloved curfew and shut down restaurant dining rooms, it was right before New Year’s Eve. Many restaurants had already ordered all their food, not only creating waste but causing many to lose much-needed income.
On one hand, I’m sick of all the restrictions and want to live my life again. I missed a Taylor Swift dance party because of this stupid outbreak! But, I know that we need to offer some relief to the healthcare system, which is crumbling as many workers get sick and are unable to come in. It also feels like everyone I know has or has had COVID, so I guess it’s just a matter of time before it comes for me. Wish me luck…
The longer that this pandemic drags on the more I wish that I could say it was somewhat exciting. To think that 40 years from now someone might ask me what it was like to live through a global health emergency… I wish that I would have some more dramatic stories to tell them. Unfortunately, the reality is that this holiday season was spent much like the last, trapped in my house with my family.
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to spend time with my family in Victoria. But if it wasn’t the spike in BC COVID cases keeping me inside, it was the snow. People from Victoria tend to refer to the southern part Vancouver Island as the “tropics of Canada,” which is to say that snow is rare — and when it happens, insignificant. Instead of blizzards, we get massive amounts of rain. This year the snow was neither rare nor insignificant.
Unable to drive due to the snow and a lack of winter tires, I wasn’t able to escape my family home as much as I may have liked. Again, this did yield some positive results: being unable to leave meant more quality time with my family, and kept me from rubbing elbows with potentially COVID-riddled Victorians.
My home is typically very busy during the holidays with out-of-town relatives coming in and constant baking, cooking and the occasional extra glass or three of wine. Despite the pandemic, many of these holiday traditions remained intact. On both sides of the family, my grandparents were unable to travel back to Canada from their vacation homes in the states. My dad’s parents stayed in Palm Springs and my mom’s dad from Seattle stayed in Arizona. More wine for the immediate family I guess?
Restaurants, bars and movie theatres in BC stayed open if you had a vaccine passport, but gyms closed (a popular topic of debate and internet outrage among many of my friends). I was able to take advantage of all our open amenities without much trouble, other than a few people scowling at me for showing a Quebec vaccine passport, and a small argument with my dad about whether it was safe to see Spider-Man: No Way Home (either way, it was worth it. Great movie).
Despite spiking cases in BC, most of my attention and anxiety was directed towards Montreal, knowing in just a few weeks, I would be back in time for a second curfew and record-breaking case numbers.
When the news about Omicron broke, I remember lying in my bed and receiving a call from my mom. At the time, she was overtaken with panic. She went on and on about how I needed to get back home immediately and told me I should start packing.
I’m from the Dominican Republic, studying as an international student in Canada. I just remember feeling scared that I, along with everyone else in Montreal, would have to go back into lockdown, unable to go back to university for an undetermined amount of time… Once again, I felt as if my life was being uprooted and it’s just not a fun experience.
Probably not even three days later, maybe even sooner, my parents had already bought me a ticket to go back home at the end of that week. Sitting on the plane, I thought to myself, “this can’t be happening, again?”
When I finally got back home things were okay for a while. A little bit better than Montreal, where everything was going to hell, but it didn’t take long for things to quickly go downhill here too. COVID’s fifth wave in DR coincided with an outbreak of influenza. People were getting sick left and right especially during the holidays, with rumours of full hospitals crowding every conversation. Things eventually started to calm down but still, a lot of people around me were getting sick either with COVID or with influenza. It just all felt very intense.
Visuals by Cathrine Reynolds