I made it back to Canada from Southern Africa just before the Omicron travel ban. no one knew what to do with me

It’s a little embarrassing to publicly admit, but as soon as I got off the plane in Calgary, I ran straight into Tim Hortons.

Even worse, I snapped a picture of my big coffee — three milks, not sugar — and posted it to my Instagram stories with a “Home Sweet Home” banner flashing pink.

In my defense, I got a little sleepy while traveling back from a three-week reporting trip to Southern Africa, and coffees outside North America are very, very small.

A former colleague responded to my post immediately.

“Welcome back! Made it home just before the flight ban.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. Little did I know, while my plane was probably somewhere over Europe, South African officials had announced the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus, called Omicron, and were rushing to find out its effects.

As I soon found out, I had slipped under the wire, before widespread border closures were ordered by politicians fearful of the prospect of an advanced version of the virus.

It is to reiterate that there are still a lot of questions about Omicron that need to be answered, but, at the very least, the edition has raised the specter of a punitive new wave of COVID-19.

It’s also been shown that, 20 months into this thing, we’re not very much in this together.

If anything, Omicron has finally forced the world to heed what global health advocates have been shouting from the rooftops for a year – that if vaccines are not shared, new versions that will surely They will come, they will be.

It is possible to draw a straight line between the emergence of new forms and swaths of people around the world who have not been vaccinated – each infected person presents a new chance for the virus to mutate. It was Canada and other wealthy countries that bought most of the global vaccine supply, and are only now starting to consider giving away some of them.

In recent weeks, I’ve made my way to Angola, South Africa and Namibia as part of an upcoming project on global vaccine equity, called R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding Fellowship, a Canadian media bursary in memory of a longtime foreigner. Reporters who firmly believed that what was happening in the world required journalists to testify.

Perhaps the most important boundary I crossed in coming home was the boundary between the illiterate world and the vaccination. About six percent of Africans are fully vaccinated, compared to about 75 percent of Canadians. If Omicron becomes more dispersive or more toxic—again, not things we currently know—it could bring a new storm in Canada, but a tsunami elsewhere.

Calls for border restrictions have come from familiar corners, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Ontario’s Doug Ford, who also called for testing and quarantining those who arrived before the restrictions were imposed.

On Friday, the federal government announced that borders would indeed remain closed to travelers from a handful of southern African countries.

Hours after the new rules were announced, I called the provincial health hotline in Alberta, where I live, which sent me to the helpline for ArrivCan, the app that allows travelers to now confirm for their vaccination or test status when entering. should be used for. Country.

No one who answered had any idea what I was talking about. “Can you please explain to me what you heard about Africa?” Asked a good employee. I was advised to send an email to an address that did not get a response.

Things became clear over the weekend. On Saturday, two days after I arrived, I received a call from a federal investigator who told me that I had been selected for a routine COVID traveler screening program not related to South Africa, she said, adding that she wanted to know more. That was what I did my first test.

The only problem was that no one told me this at the airport, so my take home tests would have to be mailed to me first.

However, she was familiar with the new South African policies, and said it was recommended that I quarantine, but as a vaccinated traveller, it was not mandatory for me.

That evening, I received an email from the province recommending that I quarantine and get a PCR test, which thankfully, I was able to do at the Calgary drive-in site within hours. The province also offered to send me some rapid antigen tests so I could continue to test myself while I waited the clock on isolation.

It was not until Monday, four days after I returned, that I was called to say that the quarantine was now mandatory for the remaining 10 days.

To put it bluntly, international travel, even if there is no global pandemic, is a luxury.

It is a sign of privilege that not only was I able to avoid border closures – check out New York Times global health reporter Stephanie Nolen twitter feed To see what happened when he left the continent a short while later — but as I’m typing this, I’m in my home office wearing fuzzy socks while the new virus version spreads dark clouds over millions of people. Is.

Back in South Africa, the general sentiment on social media is that the country has been scapegoated for doing its job in tracing the type, while work continues to determine where it originated, including possibly , including in any other country.

Calling from Cape Town at 10 p.m. local time after a busy weekend that felt like time back in the early days of the pandemic, Kate Stegman looked exhausted on Monday.

Stegman advocates and policy for the Médecins Sans Frontires Campaign for Access to Vaccines and Medicines in Africa and says that while much of the world worries, many qualified South African scientists are rushing to find out What does version mean.

“We need to wait to get more data. We need to wait to deliver the dose of COVAX. We need to wait for the dose to be redistributed. We need to wait for the intellectual property to be forgiven We need to wait for the transfer of technology,” she says, and sighs. “It has been incredibly tiring.

“Sometimes it’s hard not to feel a little disillusioned.”

The clip is currently being widely shared in South African social media and WhatsApp groups, according to a BBC interview with Ayoade Alkija, co-chair of the Africa Vaccine Alliance.

With her hands tucked under her chin, Alkija says nothing about what many see as the unfairness of travel restrictions.

“If the first SARS had been the COV-2 virus, identified last year in China, which originated in Africa, it is now clear that the world would have locked us up and threw away the keys.”

Despite Canadian efforts, Omicron was confirmed to be here shortly after I got off the plane.

Now a world divided between those with vaccine protection and those without waiting to see what happens next.

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