Coronavirus cases in Canada are soaring to record highs. In Thailand there have been eight confirmed cases in the past 160 days. Yet, in North America’s far north, it’s possible for Canucks to return home while infected with Covid-19 and quarantines are on the honor system.
Thailand, of course, is an entirely different story.
Rhythm Sachdeva, a reporter for the Toronto Star, recently returned home from Thailand and was shocked at the difference in how seriously each country is taking the deadly disease, especially given the downward spiral her homeland is caught in.
As of Sunday night, Thailand-time, Canada had 236,456 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 10,171.
Ontario and Quebec are reporting the highest daily counts in Canada for new cases of Covid-19, while farther west in Manitoba, officials have again reported hundreds of new cases as its capital city gets set for tighter restrictions. Limited lockdowns are taking place again in various spots across the country.
Thailand, meanwhile, on Sunday recorded four new Covid-19 cases, all in state quarantine: Two Britons, one Russian and one Thai. Total cases rose to 3,784, 2,451 of them locally-transmitted and 836 imported. Deaths remained at 59.
Sachdeva said Thailand’s strictness and Canada’s lax attitude “were more different than I could have ever imagined”.
While not a Thai citizen, Sachdeva’s family in is in Thailand. She returned to Bangkok in April when she learned her university in Toronto would be going online for her last semester. Graduation was canceled and all exams would be online. So better to ride out the pandemic in Thailand.
The scenario she had to endure is all to familiar to expats who’ve tried or managed to return to Thailand since March. She had to procure a raft of documents, which – starting in April when the process was much more chaotic – took months, she said.
She arranged her alternative state quarantine at the small TwoTree Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 23 near her family’s home, Covid-19 tests and health insurance and, in July, finally was able to board her Thai-organized repatriation flight.
When she arrived, it was clear she wasn’t in Canada anymore.
“The bustling and crowded Suvarnabhumi airport I knew and loved was unrecognizable. Instead, it was stripped down and divided into sections for inspection,” she wrote in her comparative travel blog for The Star. “Reminiscent of a postapocalyptic tale, the neat rows of passengers awaiting inspection could be easily mistaken as subjects in a lab experiment.”
Before she could even change SIM cards to call her parents, Sachdeva was put in a car by two men in full personal protective equipment and sent the TwoThree which has given up the tourist business and is now solely an ASQ center.
She was released from ASQ in early August without testing positive. It took a while for dreams of men in full “hazmat” suits chasing her around to subside, however.
Certainly there were none when Sachdeva returned to Canada in mid-September. Her home country didn’t even require she had a negative-test result first. Fortunately, Emirates is responsible enough to require all passengers to have one. Not all do, with disastrous results.
Unlike entering Thailand, there was no need to pre-pay for a government-approved quarantine center. Canada only asks that returnees quarantine where others are not around.
Only in mid-September did the country begin testing whether a mandatory quarantine system was necessary.
Sachdeva booked an AirBNB and arranged for friends to deliver food and necessities and leave them outside the door. Food delivery and contactless shopping apps took care of the rest.
There were no hazmat suits at Toronto Pearson International Airport. In fact, she said, proof of quarantine booking and emergency contacts “were of little interest to my immigration officer”.
“The lax approach to my arrival felt odd,” Sachdeva wrote. “It was like any regular day at the airport, just with masks.”
No one checked on her while in quarantine, but she stayed put, reading news stories about others breaking quarantine and how cases in Ontario were soaring. She wondered if any would notice, or care, if she “popped out for a quick walk”.
The AirBNB owner checked in occasionally and marveled that she hadn’t left the apartment. And, when she finished her two weeks virus-free, she met a friend for a beer who told Sachdeva she was the only person he’d known who had taken quarantine seriously.
“For me, the contrast in my quarantine experiences is reflective of a fundamental cultural gap,” Sachdeva wrote.
In Thailand and Southeast Asia, the government sets the rules and enforces them. In North America, it’s up to individuals to educate and protect themselves. Based on how badly things are going in Canada, and especially the American virus hellhole to the south, North Americans lack the willpower to complete a simple quarantine, or even wear a mask.