My COVID-19 quarantine diary

My trip to the Northwest was originally planned for July 2020. I bought a Mexico City to Vancouver ticket from Aeromexico in February 2020, which was before the pandemic started. I postponed it a couple of times. Then, Aeromexico told me that I had to make a specific booking by the end of April 2021, So I booked it for September, and for the duration of 40 days, in case a quarantine was required. Three months later, the news came that visitors to Canada who were fully vaccinated would no longer be required to quarantine, so I thought, "good".

A few days prior to the flight, I started making the required preparations. One of them was completing the online ArriveCAN form, and that gave me the first sign of trouble. One of the questions was, what type of vaccination did you receive? One of the entries on the drop-down was Sinovac, which was the vaccination I got. I selected it, and was then informed that Sinovac is not one of the vaccinations approved by the Canadian government.

I got the two Sinovac jabs in April and May. It's important to understand (and the Health Canada employees that I dealt with either didn't understand, or, more likely, didn't care) that I had no choice in this matter. I showed up to receive the vaccinations at a certain time and place, and had to accept whichever vaccination was being dispensed at that time and place. At that time, Mexico was also dispensing the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, which do have Canadian approval, and it was the equivalent of a dice roll that I ended up with the unapproved one. There were two chances in three that I would have gotten an Canadian-approved one.

As I said, the non-approved status of Sinovac was new information, and there was no possibility of getting a different vaccination prior to my flight. Even if I had known a month earlier that Sinovac was not acceptable, I don't know if getting re-vaccinated with a different vaccine would have been a good idea.

On to the plane flight on September 11. It arrived at 9:15 PM. After waiting in line in Customs for an hour, I showed the Customs guy my passport, the official Mexican government-issued vaccination certificate, the result of the PCR test I had taken the previous day (which, of course, was negative), and the ArriveCAN registration number. He told me that I had to see one of the Health Canada employees that was wearing a red vest. She gave me the bad news: I would have to quarantine for 14 days.
The issue was, where? My idea was, I had a reservation at an inexpensive hotel in Kamloops a few days later. So, I phoned this place. (This is a good argument for the indispensability of cell phones.) First, I apologized profusely for calling him at 11 PM. Then I said that there was a change in plans, and could I quarantine there? He said that his policy was a maximum stay of five days. I handed the phone to the woman in the red vest so that they could discuss whether his place was acceptable. The result was, the woman in the red vest insisted that the 14 days had to be spent in one place. She was insisting that I say in Health Canada's facility. So, I said, how much would that cost? The answer was, nothing. (Note that if she had agreed to my Kamloops idea, Canada's taxpayers would not have been paying for my quarantine.)

The next problem was, I had a hotel reservation in Abbotsford for that night. The red vest woman grudgingly allowed me to phone them and cancel. (See my previous comment about cell phones.) Then I had to hunt down my checked bag, which was a bit of a challenge because everyone in the baggage claim area had gone home. (I suppose I should be thankful that nobody took my bag home with them.) Then, I had to take another PCR test. The result was emailed to me the next day, and was also negative.
I should mention that there was an ESL woman who was required to take the PCR test, and refused to do so. I don't know what her reason was for this. She was being warned of the legal consequences of this refusal, which included a fine of several thousand dollars. At the red vest stage, there was a man who said he would make a legal challenge to the quarantine order, and was being told what his rights were by a policeman.

The next step was an airport shuttle (one of my last paying jobs was driving them) to the quarantine place. That turned out to be the Pacific Gateway Hotel, a ten-story modern and clean hotel near the airport. The Federal government rented the entire building. All of the hallways are lined with plastic sheeting. I was taken up to my room on the seventh floor, and was not given a key to the room, because I was not allowed to leave it unless escorted by a security guard.

After a long day, something positive happened. Mexico is a noisy country at most times in most places. And I spent all day at the Mexico City airport, which is especially noisy. Then there was six-hour plane flight, and more noise. But when I was finally left in my hotel room, it was quiet. I heard the sound of planes coming in for a landing a couple of times a day, and that was it. I was left thinking that, compared to some famous detainees like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, I had it pretty good. For one thing, they didn't have a laptop, WiFi, and a 56" TV screen.

Sunday, September 12: A breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage inside a box inside a paper bag was left outside my door. It was pretty good. I received several phone calls advising me of the various ins and outs of my detention. There's a London Drugs nearby, and I could order things from there, pay with a credit card, and they would pick it up for me. I made a list of things I needed, and ended up getting most of them. One thing that was on the list was alcoholic beverages, and that was not allowed, so no glass of wine with dinner.

I completed my absentee ballot for the upcoming Canadian Federal election, and handed the ballot to one of the security guards to mail it in.

I canceled a couple of hotel reservations I made. In one case, I was already past the cancellation deadline, but they agreed to transfer the reservation to after I get out of here.

I've been a non-fan of the NFL to many years, and the only exception to this is when Virginia Tech alum and great human being Tyrod Taylor is playing. His team this year is the Dallas Texans, so I switched on the TV to watch their game. Well, it wasn't on. This TV gets only 60 channels. Thirty years ago, this would have been considered luxurious, but I'm now accustomed to being able to watch any athletic event at any time. I was able to watch the game anyway via streaming video on my laptop, and I cooked up a solution to this problem that you'll read about a few paragraphs down.
At 2 PM, I was escorted by two different security guards to the "fresh air break". The hotel has a garden area enclosed by a temporary fence, and there were a couple of domestic rabbits in it. I made a joke asking, "where's the volleyball net?" I walked laps around it for 45 minutes. I told the guard that I normally walk at least an hour a day, and was able to get the break extended for a few minutes on subsequent days.

During the fresh air break, I met the other internee. You read right; a ten-story hotel, with multiple security guards, an unknown number of hotel employees, a nurse, and a Red Cross person, all at the expense of Canadian taxpayers, to confine two people. The other guy was from Puerto Vallarta, and his story was identical to mine; he got the Sinovac vaccine because it was the only choice made available to him.

Monday, September 13: I remember that Nelson Mandela said that, during his long imprisonment, he was the safest person on the planet, because if anything happened to him, the South African government would have some explaining to do. With the security guards here outnumbering the internees, I feel the same way.

My project for today was obtaining a VGA cable so that I could connect my laptop to the big-screen TV, in order to watch streaming video. I encountered a 21st century problem with this. I'm dead certain that London Drugs has this cable, but it's not on London Drugs' online ordering pages. And with chains like London Drugs, it's no longer possible to phone your local store. That is also the case with Best Buy, another nearby store that has lots of great stuff. Best Buy does have the cable on their online ordering pages, but it comes from a third party. So, I phoned Best Buy's customer service (which, as I wrote, is not local), and the woman was able to find the a cable actually in their stores using a different search criteria. Once this was solved, I was able to enter my credit card info on the site, the name of the Red Cross person who was going to pick it up, and actually make the order. It was delivered outside my door with dinner.

I managed to lose four pounds in the weeks leading up to this trip, and I sure as hell didn't want to gain them back. I tried doing pushups, and discovered that I'm no longer capable of doing even one. There was a time in my life when I could do 30 of them. (I figured out later that I could still do pushups if I put my hands on the edge of the bed, and my toes on the floor.) I phoned the hotel desk and asked if they had a gym. Not because I had any expectation of using it, but because I wanted to borrow a piece of exercise equipment, such as dumbbells. She said no, although the Pacific Gateway Hotel's web site says that they do, on the top floor. When I made the food order for the next day, I told them to hold some of the items, and well as having salads instead of french fries. No more french fries until I'm out of here.

I learned that there is a coffee bar in the hotel, and after giving my credit card info to the front desk person, in order to start a tab, I was able to order a latte, which was delivered to the hotel door. It was pretty good. I was left wondering, how many customers does this coffee bar have? Me, and maybe five hotel employees and security guards?

I mentioned how quiet it is here. One thing that happens when you live in Mexico is, when you get wax accumulations in your ears, you don't notice. Well, now I'm noticing it. I asked the resident nurse if she could flush out the ear wax. She obviously didn't know what I was talking about, and I came to the conclusion that I don't want this woman anywhere near my ears. They did send up some Q-tips, which was helpful, although it didn't solve the problem.

Wednesday, September 15: A man came into the room to clean it this morning, and he wore a full-body hazmat suit.

I repeated my request for a pair of dumbbells, making the argument that there is a gym in the building, and unless they hauled away all the exercise equipment in a truck, the exercise equipment is sitting in there gathering dust. I didn't get anywhere with this.

Friday, September 17: A Health Canada woman phoned, and I asked her if I would be able to get a BC Vaccine Card when I get out. She said no, because the Sinovac vaccine is not approved by Health Canada. I didn't like this one bit. I said, you mean that I won't be able to go to any restaurants, bars, or a lot of other public places for the remainder of my visit to Canada? She said, you can still visit friends and family. She also said that I could get an approved vaccination. Problem with that is, there needs to be a 28-day gap between the two vaccinations, so I would be SOL for the duration of this trip. She seemed to have a sadistic pleasure in telling me this.
So, I made another phone call to MP Peter Julian's (New Westminster-Burnaby) office, with the message, this is simply unacceptable. The woman I talked to said, the BC Vaccine Card is issued by the Provincial government, and they have different criteria. I checked the BC Government web site, and made a phone call. It turned out that BC goes by the WHO emergency use authorization list, and Sinovac is on that list. And further, foreign visitors don't actually need that BC Vaccine Card if they are in the Province for less than six months; just show the government-issued vaccination certificate.

Saturday, September 18: Someone suggested that getting a third (or booster) shot would be a good idea, so I looked into it. I first went to the British Columbia government's COVID-19 response site. They did a great job on this; it includes a slick "COVID-19 Digital Assistant", a good artificial intelligence implementation. This led me to a phone call with a human being (on a Saturday, no less), and I learned a number of interesting things from it.

First, to get help from the BC government, it helps to have a "personal health number", which is the same number that was on the "BC Care Cards" that were issued 30 years ago. I asked the person to look me up in the computer, and see if I'm still in there. To my surprise, I am, even though I haven't lived in BC for nine years. So, I have that personal health number.1

We then discussed my story with the Sinovac vaccine. He confirmed what I was told yesterday with regard to the vaccine card; although Health Canada has a pathological hatred of Sinovac, BC is OK with it. However, he also gave me the reason why this is the case. Sinovac is a Chinese product, and a lot of Chinese people have received it. And a lot of Chinese people have either relatives or homes in both the Vancouver area and China/Hong Kong. He said that it's OK for the third shot to be a different vaccine from the first two.

The way we left it was, I will get a appointment for a consultation after I'm out of quarantine, and that will determine whether I get the third shot.
I did another PCR test. The way this worked was, they gave me the kit at the airport a week ago, and told me I was required to do the test today. I booked a "virtual appointment" online. (All this online stuff must be a real nuisance for travelers who don't bring a laptop with them, or don't have a lifetime of computer literacy like I do.) At the appointed time, I connected with a technician, and she walked me through the test, which is mainly sticking a swab into each nostril for 15 seconds. After that, I placed the completed test outside my door, and somebody took it away. Got the result the next day. Again, negative.

Tuesday, September 21: Two people dressed in hazmat suits came in to clean the room.

quarantine release letterFriday, September 24: A Health Canada employee gave me a letter authorizing my release.

I got a phone call about a car ride to take me away. I said, where is this car taking me? The answer was, to the airport or a nearby Skytrain station. I said that I was going to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car agency was only a kilometer away, and I planned to walk, because I really need the exercise. She asked if I had very much luggage (not a lot, but I didn't care) and said there was a lot of traffic on the bridge. So I said OK, and I would be taken away at 10:30 AM.

Saturday: September 25: It turned out that my transportation was the same airport shuttle van that brought me to the the Pacific Gateway Hotel two weeks ago. So, the reason for discouraging from walking was to justify the driver's ongoing employment.

I had planned to spend the final week or so of my trip visiting people in Washington State and Oregon, but I had to address a problem; my flight home was from the Vancouver airport, which is 45 km. from the Blaine border crossing. I asked several people whether I would be allowed to travel this distance, with no stops on the way, without having to quarantine for another 14 days. I got multiple answers to this. One of the answers was, take a PCR test 24 hours prior to crossing the border, take another one at the border, and show evidence that I had a plane ticket to Mexico City. That sounded reasonable, but I thought it would be a good idea to drive to the border crossing, and get the answer from the people that would actually be making the decision. When I got there, I explained the situation to two different Customs employees before being directed to a Health Canada employee. Her final answer was, I would have to do another 14-day quarantine.

This makes no sense, when you consider that people traveling from Washington State to Alaska, a distance of 2,850 km., are allowed to do so, with some restrictions.

Before leaving, I talked to one more Customs employee. I told him that I had brought some gifts for three grand-nephews in Washington State that I have never met. Would it be OK if I arranged for someone to meet me at the border crossing so that I could transfer the gifts to that someone? He said, no, that would require that someone to enter Canada (actually, it wouldn't), which would be allowed only if he/she met Canada's entry requirements. I said, couldn't he/she just meet me at the Peace Arch? He said no, the Peace Arch Park is closed (which was a lie). He said, "you have issues" when sending me on my way. He got that one right.

Fortunately, there was a solution to this problem that none of these civil services geniuses told me about. I booked a flight from SeaTac to Vancouver earlier on the same day as my flight tom Mexico City. Because I will be both arriving and departing from the international area, and will not be leaving that area, I can make this connection with no problem. More trouble and expense, but I will at least get home.

In closing, I would like to hear someone ask Health Canada what their justification is for their non-recognition of Sinovac. Did they evaluate it and find it to be inadequate, or did they not evaluate it at all?

1 There's an irony here. After the Gordon Campbell regime outsourced MSP processing to a US company, MSP lost my record; they got the idea from somewhere that I moved to Alberta.