A masked Vivian and Duncan Morris share a selfie in Thailand, where they remained for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Contributed)

Out of quarantine: Salmon Arm residents back in Canada compare COVID-19 response

Travellers find pushback on mask use not as prevalent overseas as at home

Vivian Morris remembers sharing a nervous laugh with her husband Duncan when they were handed face masks by their Hanoi cab driver.

“That’s when we started to see the early warnings…,” she explained. “We chuckled and put them on. The momentum kind of built from there.”

It was mid-February, 2020. Word of Coranavirus, later referred to as COVID-19, had reached the Salmon Arm couple, though use of masks was already common among people in Southeast Asia.

“Masks are part of the… culture, so whenever anybody is sick they wear a mask,” said Vivian.

Vietnam’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on Jan. 23. Before the country would implement travel restrictions, the Morris’ were in Bangkok, Thailand, where they would stay for the next three months.

During that time, the two experienced Thailand’s COVID-19 response.

The first case of COVID-19 outside of China was reported by Thailand on Jan. 13. With policy informed by previous pandemics, Thailand began a program of surveillance and and contact tracing. \

Not long after Thailand saw an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases related to a public fighting event, a national state of emergency was declared. Other countries would later follow suit, but Vivian said a key difference was in how Thailand was quick to utilize extensive contact tracing, and how “everybody wore masks if in public.”

“Any public building you went into. and a lot of businesses. would take your temperature,” said Morris. “All the staff wore masks and shields and there was hand sanitizer everywhere.”

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Later, when businesses began to reopen, Vivian said she and Duncan were comfortable to be out in public.

“You can’t physically distance when there’s eight million people… so we always wore masks,” said Vivian. “When they opened up at the end of April, we felt perfectly comfortable going anywhere.”

Vivian noted that despite having a population of almost 70 million, as of mid-August Thailand has seen 3,376 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 58 deaths.

The Morris’ were able to return to Salmon Arm in May. One of the first signs Canada’s pandemic response was not yet at the level experienced in Thailand came in a meeting with an unmasked immigration official.

“An immigration official at the Vancouver airport came right up to me, completely unmasked, to talk, and I just was horrified,” said Vivian. “Here’s somebody dealing with hundreds of people every single day and they’re breathing in my face.”

Brent and Rose-Marie Kowk recently returned to Canada from Nantes in France. After six months in a country that’s recorded more than 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 30,000 related deaths, the two are relieved to be home once more in Salmon Arm, having just completed their quarantine.

Brent said he and Rose-Marie also received an unwanted welcome when they returned to Canada.

“It just so happened when we came out of the Calgary airport, the first people that drove by us as we walked out the door… they were yelling not very nice things about us wearing a mask. It was like, welcome back to Canada,” said Brent.

Most people Brent saw in France were wearing masks out in public before the French government made them mandatory.

“If that’s what it means so you don’t have to get locked down again, we’re happy to wear a mask,” said Brent, who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital in maintenance.

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The pushback on wearing masks in Canada Brent believes has to do with peoples’ stress levels being heightened by the pandemic.

“Everybody, their stress level is very high,” said Brent. “If it makes somebody feel a little bit easier if they put a mask on and walk through a store, then let them do that.”

Overall though, Brent appreciates the effort he’s seeing at home to curve COVID-19, and is optimistic it will continue to pay off provided everyone continues to do their part.

“Hopefully, when the fall comes around, it’s not going to be the big second wave that they figure…,” said Brent. “I like to be more positive about this and think we’re trying to do the right thing…”

Vivian is also pleased with the stricter actions being taken by the federal government, and the encouraging guidance of Dr. Henry.

“When we were in quarantine for two weeks, we got phone call every day provincially and federally, both of us…,” said Vivian. “If I stepped off my driveway and somebody reported me, it’s a $750,000 to $1 million fine. I wanted to check my mail, but I was too afraid to cross the street.”

In addition to mask use, Vivian would also like to see temperature taking at public buildings and more hand sanitizer stations.

“I’d like to see consistency and protocols – I think we’ll get there,” said Vivian.

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