Opinion: Travelling home during a pandemic only adds to the fear and anxiety

The burden of uncertainty faced by international students

Opinion: Travelling home during a pandemic only adds to the fear and anxiety

On March 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would close its borders to non-essential travel. He later announced that it would remain open to international students. The sheer scale and suddenness of Trudeau’s announcement meant that anything was possible. 

At that moment, the preventative measure didn’t affect me personally, but it was nevertheless abrupt and unexpected.

Fast forward 24 hours later, and I had packed all of my things and prepared to board a 14-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean to Bahrain — with a 20-hour layover in Dubai. 

Everything was chaotic. I ended up missing some of my online classes, but that was the least of my concerns. I was primarily worried about getting home. Navigating a pandemic places an additional burden on international students, whose sense of belonging is threatened as the world shuts down.

Trudeau’s announcement created room for greater uncertainty than my family and I had anticipated. After all, wasn’t the situation better in Canada? Wasn’t it less dire than in the US or UK, where my school friends were? Ostensibly, yes. But, what could come next? Shutting down outbound travel? A complete lockdown? 

It is incredibly difficult to make reasoned decisions when your position as a visa-carrying foreign student is at stake and changing by the hour. For those of us who are international students and have no family or relatives in Canada, the prospect of getting stuck by yourself on a different continent for an indefinite length of time is scary. 

This is not so much a question of being safe as it is of being separated.

This precariousness of the situation was apparent on my flight. Right before it took off, the government of Mauritius closed down its borders to all commercial flights. There were a handful of passengers on the aircraft whose final destination was Mauritius, and the crew had to make arrangements to escort them off the plane and locate their luggage. 

The resulting two-hour delay was ample time for me to reflect upon the perilously changing circumstances that we are currently facing — for me to reflect on the fact that those who left the plane could have been acting as fast as they could with the information they had. Yet, they fell prey to circumstance nevertheless — and many international students did too. 

Other than the emotional and situational burden of these uncertain times and having to make swift decisions without knowing the consequences, there is a real financial burden that international students may not be ready for. Booking a flight to the opposite side of the Earth incurs a potentially devastating invoice, especially when travel is both seriously limited and in especially high demand.

International travel itself is becoming increasingly restricted and unpredictable. Certainly, these measures are necessary in order to curb the spread of the virus, but they place international students, like myself, in a dangerously awkward position. 

After my layover in Dubai, there was some confusion as to whether or not my next flight would actually go to Bahrain. This was based on a rumour, but it sparked a serious dilemma on my part. If Bahrain shut down its borders, I wouldn’t be able to go home, and I wouldn’t have been able to return to Canada. 

The mere fact that I found myself in a position to contemplate this dilemma shows that there are things international students have to consider that are particularly burdensome. I entertained the notion that my passport, which validates my citizenship and existence, might not get me anywhere. In a crisis where everyone is feeling anxious for their health and safety, I was worried about becoming displaced. 

Under ordinary circumstances, I would go to India, where I am a citizen, but on that very day, India announced that it was blocking all international flights for a week. Had I been unable to board that flight to Bahrain, I would be stuck in a limbo of international borders, like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. No one wants to be him, but under the dystopian reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems eerily plausible.

Despite how dangerous it was and still is to travel internationally, I had to leave. The fact that myself and other international students still felt the compulsion to get on a plane, in spite of everything, is testament to the essentiality of being at home in a time of global crisis. 

Stuti Roy is a second-year Political Science student at Victoria College.

Letter from the Editor: The Varsity’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Reliable news and social distance journalism

Letter from the Editor: <i>The Varsity</i>’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

When I first picked up the proverbial pen at the beginning of the year to write to you, our readers, I never would have guessed that the next time I would address you would be under such circumstances. A pandemic has made it so that our U of T community has been thrown into chaos, and many of us are dealing with stressors that we never could have imagined. During this time of great uncertainty, The Varsity will persevere in bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date news.

We have decided to cancel the print run of our last two issues of the year, but we will nonetheless continue posting PDF versions online for all to read. While we never thought that we would cancel issues because of a pandemic — we were placing our bets on the Student Choice Initiative instead — there is no reason to keep printing when our campuses are nearly deserted and, moreover, when we want to encourage them to stay that way.

However, we are continuing to produce our paper online for the purposes of documenting the times we live in.

In this issue, you’ll find print-exclusive roundups of all our COVID-19 coverage in news, as well as movie reviews to keep you company while social distancing, pieces on why you should even be social distancing, and how to be kind to yourself and practice compassion during this difficult period.

At this time, I want to give my thanks to our dozens of writers, editors, illustrators, designers, and more who have gone to great lengths to keep the U of T community informed. The Varsity is entirely student-run, which means that none of us are exempt from the confusion that all U of T students are experiencing right now.

Even though many of our masthead and contributors have had to hastily leave campus and scatter across the world, and many more are scrambling to complete assignments in the midst of upheaval, they have nonetheless managed to continue producing high-quality and valuable content because they care about keeping you informed.

I am forever in awe of the brilliant people who work at The Varsity and I want them to know that their contributions do not go unnoticed.

As such, please enjoy our last two issues of the year, made entirely by our editors while working from home. I hope you are taking care of yourselves and those around you at this time. We can all get through this together by doing our part not only for ourselves, but for our community.

Residences shut down, take safety measures amid COVID-19 pandemic

Students with exceptional circumstances permitted to remain in residence

Residences shut down, take safety measures amid COVID-19 pandemic

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most U of T residences have required students to vacate by this past weekend, unless they are undergoing exceptional circumstances: namely, if they have nowhere else to go.

Victoria College required that students leave by March 19, while New College, Innis College, Trinity College, University College, Woodsworth College, St. Michael’s College, UTSC, and UTM required students to leave by March 21. The Graduate House is requiring students leave by March 25.

Student Family Housing and Knox College have opted to keep its residences open.

Second-year New College student Lucy Zuo told The Varsity that the environment in residence was “bittersweet.” “There [were] friends supporting friends, friends helping friends move out, but that also means there are friends saying goodbye to friends, saying goodbye to memories that they thought they still had time to make,” Zuo said.

Common spaces have been closed off at a number of residences. At Trinity, Victoria, and St. Michael’s Colleges, the dining halls have been shut down, and students are required to take food out to their rooms.

Many residences have promised refunds to students who move out by the required date, but have yet to release details on the reimbursement. At Woodsworth College, students who move out by March 21 will receive a refund of $1,100.65.

Though Student Family Housing will remain open, it is putting extra precautionary measures in place. The residence is undertaking an enhanced disinfecting schedule. Common spaces, including the daycare, will be closed, and maintenance staff will be performing emergency repairs only.

A U of T spokesperson explained to The Varsity that requiring students to leave residence is in line with the university’s social distancing measures, so as to avoid putting too much of a burden on the health care system.

However, students with nowhere else to go will not be forced to leave. “We know how important our residences are to those students who call them home. U of T wants those students who need to stay here to be with us during this challenging time,” the spokesperson said.

The shutting down of residences is one of many measures the university has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. U of T has also moved all classes to an online format. Most labs and libraries have been closed, and student groups have been asked to refrain from holding events at this time.

Opinion: Stay away from others — it’s the ultimate form of community care

The necessity of social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Opinion: Stay away from others — it’s the ultimate form of community care

Introverts like me have been preparing for social distancing since we were shy bleacher-type kids, so the break from face-to-face socializing during the COVID-19 pandemic might be a relief for many of us.

It was for me as well, at first. I’ve been staying home for the past few days, and plan to do so for at least another week. Though I haven’t previously been in contact with symptomatic people or travellers, I have commuted frequently and attended social gatherings prior to the widespread adoption of social distancing measures.

I’m thankful to have the privilege of freelancing from home and participating in online classes. I will probably go out to buy groceries, but I will only be seeing friends through my digital screens. I’ve started to catch up on some reading — not the academic kind — and I’ve been watching those weird made-for-TV movies that air on Global TV and the W Network. In the past few days and nights, I have also been going through bouts of anxiety and serious basketball withdrawal.

And yet, it is hard to stay away from other humans. Not everyone may be able to stay home and do classes online like I do, but, if you can, staying home could save someone’s life.

For the sake of our communities, it is important that we recognize this outbreak as what it has now been declared: an emergency. The number of confirmed cases in Canada is rising dramatically on a day-to-day basis, making it even more likely for you to be in contact with someone who has the virus.

That’s why people who attended a recent conference held by the Prospectors and Developers Association in Toronto must self-isolate and self-monitor for two weeks, as an attendee tested positive for COVID-19. Similarly, 20 per cent of NBA players, along with staff and officials, were asked to self-quarantine for two weeks after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the virus.

It has been proven that infected people without symptoms can still spread the virus, but not as much as people who have symptoms such as coughs, fevers, and difficulty breathing. This means that if you have no symptoms, you don’t have to self-isolate, but social distancing is still important.

Even if you are not experiencing severe symptoms, there is a chance that you may pass the virus on to someone with a suppressed or vulnerable immune system who might have a higher chance of complications, including death. Hospitals also have limited capacities, and having a large influx of patients will put great strain on our health care system.

With 424 cases — and rising — in Ontario, staying away from others is the ultimate form of care that we can provide our communities with in this rapidly evolving crisis.

In the individualistic North American culture, it’s easy to get carried away with our own personal fears and start panic-buying all the toilet paper in sight. But this isn’t necessary as there will be enough supply in the coming weeks.

If you have bulk-bought things, consider sharing them with others. If you are healthy and able, consider buying groceries for disadvantaged neighbours. These are trying times for everyone, and we may not even trust our leaders to protect us. That is why we must trust each other.

So remember, keeping two metres apart from others, avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people, and staying home when you can are all acts of love. Your community is counting on you, and in this difficult time we should all keep each other’s wellness in mind.

Hadiyyah Kuma is a third-year Sociology student at Victoria College.

First positive case of COVID-19 in the U of T community

University denies knowledge of case

First positive case of COVID-19 in the U of T community

In an email obtained by The Varsity, the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies told its graduate students and staff on March 15 that one of its students had tested positive for COVID-19.

Multiple sources confirmed to The Varsity that they had received the email from the Director of the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies Audrey Macklin shortly before 10:00 am on Sunday.

However, the university told The Varsity that it is not aware of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 affecting a U of T community member. Toronto Public Health deferred The Varsity’s request for comment to protect the privacy of the individual.

The email from Macklin noted that the centre had not received official notice from Toronto Public Health nor from the university, and that university guidance suggested that Toronto Public Health would contact individuals that were in contact with the student; however, people should self-monitor for symptoms.

A university member familiar with the situation told The Varsity that public health officials had contacted five other members of the centre, three of whom were apparently showing symptoms.

Macklin later sent out a follow up discouraging centre members from speaking with The Varsity and that she herself would not be replying for “appropriateness of discretion and of showing respect for members of our community.”

The university has not notified undergraduate criminology students at this time.

Two sources told The Varsity that they were disappointed with how the centre and the university had handled communication, though one other source added that they believed the centre had done an adequate job in letting graduate students and staff know about the situation, especially given its limited resources. However, the source agreed that the central university administration should provide wider notice.

A University of Toronto spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that, “If we were to be informed by a Public Health authority of a positive case of COVID-19 affecting a U of T community member, we would follow a very prescribed process as per public health directives to protect the health and safety of our community and to ensure medical confidentiality for those affected.”

Background on COVID-19

The Public Health Agency of Canada maintains that the public health risk of COVID-19 in Canada is low to the general population. The university recommends that those who have travelled anywhere outside of Canada self-isolate for 14 days and to call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or their primary care provider’s office if they’re experience symptoms.

On March 11, the World Health Organization designated this outbreak as a global pandemic. As of today, there are 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. Five cases have been resolved and another 1,537 are under investigation. The first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Ontario was identified on January 25.

COVID-19 is a newly identified strain of coronavirus, which encompasses a large family of viruses. Coronaviruses typically cause illnesses that range from the common cold to respiratory infections and are mainly spread through close person to person contact.

Symptoms of COVID-19 may take up to two weeks to appear and include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. If you believe you might be sick, the Government of Canada recommends that you self-monitor your symptoms, stay home, limit contact with others, and contact local health officials.

Proper hygiene is the primary way to reduce the risk of infection. Public health officials recommend that you wash your hands with soap and water and clean high-touch surfaces often, cough and sneeze into a tissue or your arm, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

Those who are over 65, have existing medical conditions, or are otherwise immuno-compromised may have an increased risk “of more severe outcomes,” according to the Canadian government.