Coronavirus: the watchword is solidarity, not autonomy

Françoise Baylis asks everyone to do their part to protect each other during this pandemic.


A few weeks ago, while in Vietnam, I wrote about the public health measures in place there to stop the spread of coronavirus. A few days ago, I returned to Canada from Vietnam in direct response to the federal government’s official global travel advisory. Mid-March the advice to Canadians travelling abroad was: “Find out what commercial options are still available to return to Canada. Consider returning to Canada earlier than planned if these options are becoming more limited.” This advisory has since been updated and now reads: “Canadian travellers should return to Canada as soon as possible.” When I left Canada for Vietnam, the travel advisory recommended a high degree of caution “due to increasing petty crime targeting foreigners.” My how things changed.

All returning Canadians are required to self-quarantine for 14 days, even if symptom-free. I am on day 5 of self-quarantine.  So far, I’ve spent most of my time sleeping and reading. My return trip from Vietnam was exhausting. More than 40 hours of travel through six airports — Saigon, Bangkok, Brussels, Montreal, Toronto, and Halifax.

Much of what I am reading and watching is deeply concerning. There are, for example, videos of massive crowds of young people frolicking at the beaches in Florida. When interviewed about this risky behaviour, a cavalier college student answered: “If I get Corona, I get Corona. At the end of the day I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” I ask myself if this person truly understands the risks he is courting, not only for himself, but for others. I have the same question when I read about non-essential businesses failing to follow the rules, such as Calgary’s Gold’s Gym locations.

A few days ago, I wrote that the best thing Canadians can do to help each other in this difficult time is to stay away from each other. This is counter-intuitive insofar as helping typically involves extending a helping hand. Helping hands are still very much needed, but in a curtailed context. 

Those of us with confirmed COVID19, such as our Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, need to self-isolate. Isolation is what happens when someone is infected with a communicable disease. Those of us who have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID19, such as our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, need to self-quarantine. Quarantine is what happens when someone has or may have been exposed to someone with a communicable disease. Those of us who have been travelling, such as myself, need to self-quarantine.

All others, who are not essential workers, need to stay home as much as possible. If they venture out, perhaps to buy groceries, they need to practice social distancing. Social distancing means avoiding crowded places like shopping centres, avoiding mass gatherings like sporting events, and maintaining physical distance from others (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters according to the CDC and at least 3 feet or 1 meter according to the WHO).

Individuals who are not in isolation or quarantine have freedom of movement. They are the ones to lend a traditional helping hand to those who are confined to their homes or otherwise need assistance, such as the frail elderly and single mothers.

Sadly, it appears that some people still haven’t got the message. There are some Canadians still engaged in non-essential travel. There are some Canadians returning from travel abroad and failing to self-quarantine on their return. There are some Canadians still congregating. This all has to stop! As a further incentive to follow the social distancing rules, governments are now introducing fines and possible imprisonment for businesses and individuals that do not comply with the public health directives. We must heed the advice of health officials and stay home and when we do need to go out we must strictly observe social distancing precautions.

The best thing we can do to help each other during this public health emergency is to stay away from each other. I’m doing my part in voluntary self-quarantine for 14 days and I plan to follow social distancing precautions once the quarantine period is over.  Are you doing your part?

The watchword in the time of pandemic is solidarity, not autonomy.  As Ryan Melnychuk and Nuala Kenny write “we are all in this together and protecting the public and hence ourselves will require society-wide collaborations.” In addition to solidarity we must attend to issues of trust, neighbourliness, and reciprocity.  We must trust the advice from our governments, health officials, health care providers and scientists. We must recognize our mutual vulnerability and interdependence. We must attend to the needs of the socially and economically vulnerable. We must accept responsibility for ourselves and our actions.


Françoise Baylis is a University Research Professor at Dalhousie University @FrancoiseBaylis

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