When Will I Be Allowed To See My Fiancée?

It has now been a month since it has been illegal in the province of Quebec to “gather” with anyone with whom you do not live, work, or from whom you are not receiving an essential service. It has been difficult during this crisis to follow all the developments, at least in part because it is a global concern. This means that, though the virus itself is affecting everyone, the response to it is regional. Even though we are quite attentive to what our Prime Minister is doing, what the President is doing, or even what governments in Asia and Europe are doing to combat the spread of COVID-19, we are obviously subject only to the policies of our own governments. Having this information come at you from all directions, every day, from different sources and applying to us municipally, provincially, or federally is a bit confusing sometimes.

For instance, this ban on gatherings of even two people is provincial, but it is Montreal only where police officers are able to issue $1000 fines on the spot for transgressing it. Even the law itself is not universally known. Again, many people are under the impression that a lot of these rules are recommendations. Several people with whom I have discussed the issue have been surprised to hear that, yes, it is illegal for me to meet up with my fiancée right now.

Let’s have some dialogue about what is “essential”, beyond services. I called my grandpa recently, to see how he was doing. The verdict is that he’s bored out of his mind, because he can’t see the people he used to see, especially family. Does he want to die of a virus to put him out of his misery? Well, I’m not sure he would go so far as to say that. But he is taking bigger risks in his behavior with regard to the pandemic than most people. I asked him if he was washing his hands often. “Well, I wash the dishes, and obviously I wash my hands in the process.” Alrighty then.

I recognize not all our elderly population is as relaxed about the prospect of succumbing to an epidemic as my grandfather is, so I won’t hold the whole world to his standard. But I will ask, as I did in my previous piece on the coronavirus, why there is no honesty when it comes to risk-assessment. Is there no point at which it becomes more pain than gain to completely cut off all the people we love the most dearly, especially for an indefinite period of time? My grandfather’s opinion is obviously reflected in his actions, and he isn’t the only one breaking the rules.

I asked a friend recently if she had gotten to see her boyfriend recently, with all this going on. I was careful to say “gotten the chance”, because that makes it seem less investigative than “have you gone to see your boyfriend”, which makes it sound like I’m trying to police her social activity.

“Yeah, sometimes I stay at his place, but just so I don’t have to take public transit too much.”

Notice she had to offer transit avoidance as an excuse because she’s just as afraid as I am that someone’s going to shame her for failing to abide by the social distancing laws.

I think an important question when weighing the quality of these policies is this: is the government even capable of abiding by their own rules? What I’ve been told by people in the medical field is that there isn’t anything we should hesitate to give up to prevent loss of life. How about alcohol then? The government-controlled wine and spirits depot, SAQ, is open. The precautions that can be taken in order to make liquor stores safe cannot be applied to all private business, apparently, neither does seeing loved ones constitute an urgent enough exception. Is it fair that virtually no public sector has been deemed non-essential, whereas only a select few private businesses have the right to operate?

Here’s another example. I work in pathology, so I have an idea of the volume of specimens being received in my department. Abortion clinics are wide open for undesired pregnancies. But that’s healthcare, right? And yet there are many other medical services that are being severely curtailed. The McGill University Health Centre has cancelled all appointments and is rescheduling based on urgency. Most procedures have been put on hold, unless they are querying cancer. It’s important to mention that cancer and other serious, unexpected conditions are often discovered even when they are not suspected, which should make even routine procedures some kind of medical priority. There are a variety of medical services that are taking a back seat to abortion, many of which carry larger potential consequences.

If we were not in the midst of a pandemic, would anyone deny that certain social activity is essential? Now that we are in the throes of COVID-19, the government is enforcing a definition of ‘essential’ which only takes into account loss of life, and they aren’t even holding to that definition consistently. Don’t worry though. They have a web page dedicated to mental health during the outbreak with helpful tips such as “count on your own strengths” and “allow yourself life’s little pleasures”. That should do the trick. Can’t see your family? Take a nice warm bath.

The following video tweeted by the Gatineau police department is a microcosm of these over-the-top social distancing policies. It is a response to public queries about whether or not it is okay to go for a walk with someone who doesn’t live at your address, as long as you maintain a distance of two metres. The officers who recorded the response essentially mock the question by making various outrageous suggestions, such as a) you will lose the ability to walk in a straight line, b) two metres is too large a distance to hear speech, and c) you are likely to trip and fall. What exactly is the point of creating a standard and then suggesting to people that they are actually too stupid to follow it?

What would be nice to know is how much longer some of these rules will be in place, especially the most extreme ones, such as being prohibited from gathering with anyone at all. Even a rough idea would go a long way to put people at ease. At first, they were kind enough to let us know they were extending the deadline. On the weekend of March 21st, it was reported that the ban on gatherings would be extended to March 29th. But after the 29th, I guess it was just implied that we will be released from confinement when our government graciously permits. That could be in two weeks, or two months. This kind of uncertainty is not sustainable.

I know it isn’t straightforward, but our governing authorities need to offer us more specific projections if they expect the populace to comply with such restrictive policies. The laws should be realistic. You cannot expect a majority of people to refrain from seeing the most important people in their lives, so enforcing a massive fine for doing so is a significant overreach. Businesses should be allowed to operate with the same precautions as the government’s non-essential alcohol distributor does, or else our elected officials should have the integrity to lead by example and shut it down.

A little more realism, consistency, and specificity would make this whole ordeal a lot more bearable.

Do you know what else would make it more bearable? Listening to my music.

One Response

  1. I enjoyed reading your post David and think that the points you’ve made are valid. I do hope the most restrictive constraints will be lifted soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You can use certain markup in your comment.