On Thursday March 12, like everyone else on the planet, we learned in our little apartment in Kuta Bali, that the United States would close their borders to all countries, except Canada, in the coming days. The same week, many countries closed their borders to all European countries to counter the pandemic, making our return to Quebec by the usual route impossible. That evening we spent it on the phone: Canadian Embassy in Indonesia, National Office of Covid-19, Canadian border post, visa office in Indonesia, checks of our registrations on the lists of Canadians abroad, Services Canada, etc. Everywhere the same answer: for now, do not worry. Indonesia was littly affected, you are safe there and you can stay there as long as you have planned. Even in fact, we were led to understand that given the number of Canadians who had to return quickly and who were in the most affected countries, it was better that we not clog up the system by trying to return immediately. And it was true. At the time, Indonesia was reporting very, very few cases, and Bali had only had one, a Briton who arrived with a fever and was immediately taken to the airport. We lived, as many thought at the time, in the impression that tropical climates were less conducive to the outbreak of the disease. That evening, when we went to bed, we did it by telling ourselves that the next day, we would go to the grocery store to make a small stock of food in case it became more difficult for me, with my allergies, find the staples I can eat and that’s it.
A few hours later, in the middle of the night, Jakarta launched the alert. A large number of cases had been reported. The disease had reached the archipelago, and in a meteoric way. Three islands, including the capital, were particularly affected. Bali was not yet part of it, but it was believed that it was only because the tests were analyzed in Jakarta. The results were taking longer to arrive. At this time, panic set in for real. When we woke up that morning, the dreaded message was on our laptops: “Come back as quickly as possible while there is still time.” This famous Friday the 13th will forever remain in our memory. How to organize a return too fast as more and more borders and airports are closing, that it is totally impossible, given the distance, to have a direct flight to Canada, and that all countries urgently recall their citizens? Airlines quickly started to push up prices, but we were lucky we were able to find an overnight flight Monday through Tuesday, three days later, at an acceptable price, which passed via Seoul and Detroit, and took 28 hours. Increasingly persistent rumors suggested that both Singapore and Taiwan airports were to close in the next few days, it was completely impossible to pass through Europe or North Africa, so there weren’t many possibilities left. And now the long and agonizing wait began …
For the next three days, panic really set in in Indonesia. The government has cut access to the three most affected islands, including that of the capital, confirmed cases have multiplied and tourists and expatriates from all countries have rushed to airports depriving the archipelago, particularly the island from Bali, from its main source of income. This is something we are thinking less about at this time of crisis, but for the inhabitants of more or less developed countries, where the economy is primarily based on tourism, like in Bali, the coronavirus is doubly dramatic. Since the end of December, tourism had already slowed down on the island due to the crisis. Indeed, Indonesia had chosen to close its borders to Chinese nationals who usually take Bali by storm at this time of the year, depriving the industry and small traders of a good part of their income. Our mass departure deprived them of their last hopes, the country having neither the means nor the resources to come to the aid of the population which already struggles, in normal times, to provide for their basic needs. Here, the fear of not being able to feed there family was often much greater than the fear of the virus. We wish we could have helped more than we did. Honestly, despite the fact that the situation is not obvious, it is important to realize how lucky we are here in Canada, how privileged we are, even more today than usual!
Then the day of the great departure arrived. We went to the airport with a ball in our belly, unable to be 100% certain that we could make it. When we arrived in Denpasar, we learned that the Singapore airport no longer accepts any flights. Everyone who had to pass through there could no longer leave. The stress went up a notch, especially since less than three hours from the start, we were still waiting, not yet allowed to leave our luggage and pass through security. We were told it was because there was an abnormal number of travelers at the tiny airport, but everyone was concerned that it was more because we didn’t know if we were going to be able to leave. Then, at 1:30 am, the plane finally took off, for our first of three flights. A little more than 6 hours later, we would arrive in Seoul. The tension was palpable. Were we going to be able to land? Was our second flight going to be able to take off? When we got to Seoul, we thought the trip ended there. Indeed, upon arrival, a large sign with the names of all the Americans and Canadians to take the Seoul-Detroit flight was waiting for us. We had to go to the office of the aviation company. Finally, it was to tell us that we were the lucky ones who still had the right to take this flight and they wanted to check our papers and print us new boarding passes. The others couldn’t go any further. It was no longer possible to travel to the United States for nationals of other countries … Once on board the aircraft, we were separated from each other. We had to leave a seat between each passenger in order to comply with security measures. But this time, the stress could drop. We were on an American plane, he was going to be able to land without problems in the United States and from there we were sure we could return to Canada, one way or another. When he took off for the long 12-hour flight, the relief was palpable. This time we were coming back for real.
Several hours later, in Detroit, a surreal scene awaited us. This usually crowded airport was completely empty. The shops were all closed. Only two convenience stores, McDonald’s and Starbucks were open, and again, it was impossible to eat on site, we had to take a meal to go. Screens everywhere showed a replay of the Donald Trump press conference that morning announcing the immediate closure of all non-essential businesses, and a ban on restaurants opening their dining rooms. His speech already suggested what was going to happen the next morning: the closure of the last border still open, that with Canada. At the airport, many officers were on duty, regularly taking our temperature and giving us or not the authorization to board our plane in the direction of Montreal. If we did not have their agreement in the hour before our flight, it was impossible to board. But we had experienced the same thing in Bali and in Seoul. Security was the same everywhere … up to Montreal. Indeed, once there, what a shock. Almost all the shops were open, no security, no one took our temperature and all we did was give us a tip sheet with instructions on what to do if we had symptoms. in the next few days. In less than 45 minutes, we had gotten out of the plane, we had passed security and customs, collected our luggage and we were at the apartment where we were going to spend our quarantine in the Hochelaga district, and everything between 4.45 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. on a weekday. I grant you, there was nobody on the road between the airport and our apartment, but it still took us less than 30 minutes, in the midst of a global crisis, between the time we got out of the plane and the one where we got into our taxi. And nobody, at any time, asked us to confine ourselves for 14 days. It was only written on the sheet that many hastened to throw in the first trash can. Yes, at that time, quarantine was a recommendation, not yet an obligation, but all the same. I think the reasons for the scale of the crisis we are facing are not hard to understand …
For our part, we chose to live this quarantine in Montreal in order to avoid having to take public transportation or to ask a member of our family to come and pick us up at the airport. David’s mother-in-law, who normally works in Montreal, made us a grocery store before returning to Abitibi for the duration of the crisis and we spent the next 14 days locked up before coming to settle in the little cottage of my mother where we will spend the next few weeks, with my son, while waiting for the end of this whole story, hoping, like all of you, that it will not be too long.
See you tomorrow,