Families still suffering with separation, despite arrival of vaccines

Art Li wants to get vaccinated and to give his 89-year-old mother a hug. 

The problem is, he lives in England and she’s in Vancouver.

They talk on the phone every Sunday and video chat when they can, but it’s not the same as seeing each other face to face.

“There’s nothing like getting a hug and just holding her hand, you know?” he said. “It’s very tough and it’s tough on her as well.”

They’re among the untold millions who have been kept apart by the pandemic and who, despite the arrival of vaccines, seem unlikely to be reunited anytime soon. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated Friday that Ottawa is still “discouraging all non-essential travel” as it tries to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and prevent a possible third wave.

Art Li, a lawyer and British citizen, has been unable to visit his family in Canada because of the pandemic. (Submitted by Art Li)

Canada also has a long way to go before herd immunity is reached and at least one immunologist believes the ability to travel more freely is still months away, at a minimum.

“The biggest challenge is that society currently sees vaccination as a checkmark and not as something, you know, that comes with different functional states of the immune response,” said Dr. Jörg Fritz of McGill University in Montreal.

“So, while hopefully, we can reach a level where we can say the vaccine, at large, protects people with infection of SARS-CoV-2, it would also require that most people around us have gotten the vaccine as well.”

More than 260,000 Canadians have been fully vaccinated to date, but the country was recently ranked 27th in the world for vaccines administered, behind the U.S., the U.K. and smaller countries like Poland and Serbia, according to data aggregated by the University of Oxford.

Fritz also misses his mother, who lives in Austria and who he’s not visited during the pandemic. Vaccination will be a key part of seeing her again.

However, Fritz says more open travel will depend on various factors, including seeing a large proportion of the population immunized, the relative effectiveness of the vaccines themselves and keeping track of who has been vaccinated. Having proof of vaccination could, potentially, be a component of being able to travel.

Dr. Jörg Fritz, a McGill University immunologist, misses his mother, who lives in Austria and who he’s not visited since before the pandemic. (Submitted by Jörg Fritz)

“I can imagine, you know, that travel should be more opened, in a sense of that, on this flight, only people that have been vaccinated,” Fritz said. “Something like that I think would make sense.”

Dr. Rakshanda Ishrat is dealing with a smaller geographic divide, but still not small enough. She’s a Canadian citizen and she lives and works in Baltimore, Md., but her family resides in the Calgary area.

Ishrat was last there in 2019, before the pandemic changed everything.

“I haven’t seen my parents in that long and I have a niece who is just two, so I’m missing all of her life, as well,” Ishrat said.

“So, it’s been extremely hard not having family around.”

She’s been vaccinated — which makes her more comfortable with the idea of flying home. But she would almost certainly have to quarantine upon arrival (there’s currently no exemption for vaccinated citizens arriving for non-essential travel), which makes such a journey more difficult.

Like so many others, Ishrat simply wants to know when she’ll be able to see them again.

Dr. Rakshanda Ishrat lives and works in Baltimore, Md. The pandemic has kept her from her family in Calgary. (Submitted by Rakshanda Ishrat)

Trip not taken

Gina Bateson has a suitcase ready to pack when it’s possible to see her parents in California again, whenever that is.

She and her immediate family moved to Ottawa for work ahead of the pandemic; comfortable knowing it wasn’t that far from the United States.

“The thing that threw us for a loop is the border suddenly closing after we moved here,” she said. “That’s just resulted in us being a lot more isolated than we thought was going to happen.”

And while Bateson wants to see her parents and other relatives, she’s clear on why travel restrictions are needed.

“I understand the public health issues and the need to hopefully keep the case numbers lower in Canada than what’s happened in the U.S., which has been really tragic,” said Bateson.

In any case, she’ll be ready to meet up with her parents again — something she’d hoped was going to happen last winter.

“We had actually planned a trip where one of my kids and I were going to go over the school break for March last year, we were going to go to California to see my parents and I was so excited,” she said.

“I even bought a new suitcase. I’m that person who bought a suitcase in February 2020 and I have definitely never used it.”

Gina Bateson moved to Ottawa with her family shortly before the pandemic changed everyone’s day-to-day lives. (Submitted by Regina Bateson)

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