Carmen and Lara Messerlian only have one more sleep to go until they can finally squeeze their dad simultaneously in a giant bear hug.
The two sisters travelled from the United States, where they live with their families, to be with their father, John Messerlian, in New Brunswick.
He has stage four cancer of the kidneys and is dying.
The sisters crossed the Canada-U.S. border almost two weeks ago and have been self-isolating in a tent about nine metres behind their parents’ home in Rothesay.
“We’ll be able to go onto the patio and actually give our dad a proper hug,” said Lara, the younger of the sisters.
Messerlian has renal cell carcinoma and was sent to hospital in an ambulance at the beginning of June when his symptoms worsened.
He spent 10 days at the Saint John Regional Hospital. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, he was allowed one brief visit from his wife, Heleni. Eventually, the medical team suggested their dad stay in palliative care, where he could receive better treatment.
Instead, the family decided to bring him home, so he wouldn’t be in isolation.
Driving to the border ‘no matter what’
This isn’t the first time the sisters received a call like this about their father. His health has been deteriorating for five years.
So the sisters, who are only one year apart, did what they normally do — jumped in a vehicle and headed home to New Brunswick.
Only this time, they had to try to cross the international border that has been closed since the end of March because of COVID-19.
“There was no doubt, no matter what was happening, I would drive to the border,” Lara said.
“And if they turn me away, they’ll turn me away. But I would rather just get there and hope that I’ll be able to see my father.”
Sister recovered from COVID-19
Before they left, Lara travelled from Pennsylvania to her home in New York City. She was in quarantine at her in-laws’ home because she had tested positive for COVID-19 in early April, but has now recovered.
From there, she travelled to pick up Carmen in Boston. Then the duo set out for the border crossing at St. Stephen. They arrived at 2 a.m. on June 13, and were the only ones in line.
The sisters had to give an oath they would follow public health guidelines. If not, they were told, they could be fined up to $1 million and possibly face jail time.
The process took a total of 12 minutes.
“It was kind of scary for that moment,” Lara said. “We kind of had a moment of, are we doing the right thing? We don’t want to put anyone at risk and we don’t want to bring anything into the country.
“We certainly don’t want to be patient zero in New Brunswick.”
As a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, Carmen said she’s a strong believer of mitigation measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“My sister and I took this very seriously.”
Lara, who works in public relations in New York City, said the border scene was intimidating, but she respected the patrol officers because they “had a serious job to do.”
“But we also had a serious situation and a family emergency we needed to tend to,” she said.
Once they arrived in New Brunswick, the sisters began their search for a place to stay in isolation.
Without any luck, they had to choose between spending a night camping for the first time in their lives or sleeping in Carmen’s van.
They chose camping.
“It was easy to choose this as opposed to an Airbnb,” Carmen said. “We could be close to my dad, which was a big factor.”
Camping for the first time
But they had to get some camping supplies. Just before Canadian Tire closed, the sisters were on the phone with a staff member in Rothesay. He was picking out all the supplies they would need. Then the items were picked up by a family friend.
“We [had] never pitched a tent, but we were going to do this even if it’s dark,” said Lara. “There was no light at the time, and there were mosquitos everywhere.”
He’s the perfect package of a person and he’s been unmatched in my life.– Carmen Messerlian
For the next two weeks, the sisters had two large tents, one for sleeping and one for work and leisure. They had lanterns, a makeshift sink, toilet and shower, which offered only cold water in the mornings from a hose. They also had an inflatable bed, which they said allowed them to have the best sleep of their lives.
“Everything, you would need for backyard living,” said Lara.
Throughout their camping experience, they were also checked on by police to make sure they were following the rules.
During their stay, the sisters said they were able to enjoy New Brunswick’s fresh air, eat chips and hang out as they did as teenagers.
“We could be like sisters again, sharing a room,” Carmen said. “It’s a tent, but it’s a room to us.”
But most important, they were able to be near their dad.
The sisters have spent the last two weeks talking with their father about everything, including the weather and childhood stories, and singing old songs he taught them when they were kids.
In his checkered pyjama pants and black T-shirt, he often sits or stands, gripping the deck railing, as Lara and Carmen chat on the lawn.
They’re looking forward to snuggling under the covers with their dad and listening to his heartbeat, which they have been doing during their visits since he was first diagnosed with cancer five years ago.
And although he might be a little slower and 25 pounds slimmer since the last time they saw him, he’s still their dad.
Their father grew up in Lebanon and moved from Europe to Canada in 1969, where he continued to chase his dreams as a musician. He is known by many as the Golden Sax of Spain.
The sisters described him as a feminist, human rights activist and a good cook, who made everything from scratch.
They said he’s also a fighter. And has escaped death more than once.
Although they’re grateful for the time they’ve had together with him over the past two weeks, time might be running out.
A few years ago, Carmen said, she and her father made a pact that he would live at least until he turned 90.
He turns 87 at the end of August.
“He said to me, ‘I don’t want to break our pact. We made this goal together,’ ” Carmen said, trying to hold back tears.
“I said even if you’re not here at 90, we’re still here. We’re together. Nothing separates us.”
Not even a major border closure in the middle of a pandemic.
And no matter what happens, the two women promised they would throw a 90th birthday bash for their father in three years.
“He’s the perfect package of a person, and he’s been unmatched in my life,” Carmen said.
Canadian airlines accused of ignoring COVID precautions, denying refunds – CBC.ca
When Bobbi Jo Green booked a flight back in May for her, her husband, and her children to see two ailing family members, she was counting on the airline’s physical distancing rules to still be in place.
But just three weeks before Green and her family were set to fly from Edmonton to Sydney, N.S., on July 17, WestJet announced it was ending its policy of leaving the middle seats on its flights empty.
“I was devastated,” Green said, noting her family spends every summer in Nova Scotia with her 93-year-old grandmother who is suffering from severe dementia and another family member with an incurable form of cancer.
“We all knew it could very well be the last summer we would spend with them.”
When Green called WestJet to see if any accommodations could be made, she told the company she has a heart condition that puts her in the high-risk category for COVID-19.
Despite her pleas, Green said the airline told her it was unable to make any special accommodations, nor would it allow her to change the date of the flight to before July 1, when the rules were relaxed, without paying a fee.
And Green’s not alone: as provinces begin to relax domestic travel restrictions, the cessation of physical distancing rules by two of Canada’s biggest airlines — WestJet and Air Canada — is causing frustration and grief among some passengers.
Gabor Lukacs, head of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights Canada, said he has fielded countless complaints from passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which are related to the same issues: airlines refusing to offer refunds or accommodations amid the abolition of physical distancing rules.
While he acknowledges the effort to fill seats is due to airlines attempting to recoup billions in lost revenue, Lukacs argues the companies risk deterring customers from flying at all.
“The question is: do we allow economic considerations to override public health? We don’t allow supermarkets to sell spoiled meat because it’s cheaper. Are we going to allow doctors to skip disinfecting their tools to save the cost?”
There’s some evidence he’s right: a new poll conducted by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies found 72 per cent of respondents say they are not comfortable flying now that Air Canada and WestJet have culled their seat distancing policies.
Only 22 per cent said they would be OK with flying under the newly relaxed rules.
Seat distancing was never intended to be in place permanently or throughout the pandemic.-WestJet Statement
In response to criticisms, WestJet forwarded The Canadian Press a statement from a July 3 blog post regarding changes to its seat distancing policy.
“The blocked middle seat was introduced at the beginning of the pandemic before the myriad of safety measures were put in place and mandated on board,” the statement reads.
“Seat distancing was never intended to be in place permanently or throughout the pandemic.”
The post notes a number of measures WestJet has taken to help stop the spread of COVID-19 on its flights, including mandatory masking, pre-boarding questionnaires for all passengers, temperature screening, thorough cleaning of aircraft between flights, and the restriction of in-flight dining services.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Air Canada did not respond to a request for comment.
However, the company has also denied it’s putting passengers and staff at risk by filling flights up, pointing to other safety measures as mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Yet some passengers report first-hand experiences in which masking protocols were not followed.
‘Risking their life’
Maureen Isabel Green, 31, flew from Vancouver to Fredericton three weeks ago with Air Canada to visit her family, and said she was shocked by the lax use of masks by both airport employees and the passengers on her two connecting flights.
“I just think of all the people who are getting on a flight and risking their life, or risking the life of the people they’re going to visit, because some people don’t want to wear a mask for a few hours,” she said.
Green, who is a health-care worker, said there were numerous instances on her flight from Vancouver to Montreal where a group of young, male passengers took off their masks when flight attendants were not present.
While at the Montreal airport, Green said a man was able to board a flight without wearing a mask, simply by telling attendants he had a medical condition that prevented him from doing so.
Air travel has been at the centre of several headline-grabbing incidents throughout the pandemic — particularly since travel restrictions have been eased in some regions.
On July 2, health authorities in B.C. warned the passengers of four separate flights that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Just a day before — on the exact day the airlines ended their social distancing policies — the Nova Scotia Health Authority warned passengers of a Toronto-to-Halifax WestJet flight from the previous week that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
And on Sunday, a Halifax man reportedly walked off of a St. John’s-bound flight after learning he was the only passenger travelling within the so-called “Atlantic bubble,” sparking discussion about the effectiveness of airlines’ COVID-prevention policies.
COMMENTARY: Are the American hordes really at the gates of Canada? – Globalnews.ca
In British Columbia, they’re calling it the “Alaska Loophole,” a sneaky border-hopping move by Americans looking for an illegal Canadian vacation.
And with COVID-19 cases exploding in many states south of the border, why wouldn’t Americans want to head north to chill out in a country where the novel coronavirus pandemic is under better control?
“Some people are trying to escape and I don’t blame them,” said Jim Abram, a municipal politician from the Strathcona Regional District on the B.C. coast.
Nearly 3 million Americans test positive for COVID-19
“But we fought hard against this pandemic, risking the lives of our front-line health-care workers, and we’ve been very successful in flattening the curve.
“We don’t want to let that sacrifice be for nothing. We sure as hell don’t want to see tens of thousands of new COVID cases every day like we’re seeing in the United States. We need to keep that border closed.”
But the border is closed already, restricted to essential travellers only.
That’s where the “Alaska Loophole” comes in.
According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, Americans are allowed into the country if they are driving straight to Alaska, as long as they can “substantiate their purpose” for the trip to border officials.
According to the CBSA, very few travellers appear to be doing this.
Out of a typical weekly flow of 200,000 border crossings in June, over half were truck drivers delivering essential goods to Canada. About 60,000 were Canadians and permanent residents of Canada returning home from the states. And about 35,000 were American workers in critical “exempt industries” like health care.
According to those figures, it would seem only a handful of Americans are using the “Alaska Loophole” to flee their own country and escape the virus.
But B.C. Premier John Horgan is not convinced.
“We’re concerned about this phenomenon and we’re hearing about it in communities right across the province,” said Horgan, who also points to the province’s success in flattening the transmission rate of the virus.
“We do not want to throw that away for queue jumpers, for people who want to say they’re going somewhere and then do something else.”
Are Americans really sneaking across the border in large numbers?
Concerned critics point to recent police action, including a pair of Minnesota residents ticketed for entering Ontario and failing to observe a required 14-day quarantine.
And the RCMP ticketed seven Americans apparently enjoying an illegal vay-cay in Banff.
Residents of many B.C. towns and cities, meanwhile, report unusually high numbers of vehicles with American licence plates, some of them towing boats and trailers.
“I hear about it every day,” Abram said. “The border needs to be tightened up.”
But others think the border is sufficiently secure already.
“I’ve been getting calls from people who have not been able to enter Canada even when they have a legitimate reason,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Alex Stojicevic, who warns against judging someone by their licence plates.
Coronavirus: Why reopening the Canada-US border too soon could mean a ‘second wave’
A lot of Americans are legally in Canada already and can drive a vehicle with American plates for up to six months, he said.
And then there’s the matter of lying to border officials or breaking Canada’s Quarantine Act, offences that can trigger massive fines, jail terms and bans from entering the country.
Still, watch for this issue to heat up. If the virus continues to rage in America, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government may fall under increased pressure to clamp down harder on the border.
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Ontario introduces legislation to extend emergency orders into next year, as province reports 112 new cases – CBC.ca
Ontario introduced new legislation Tuesday to enable the extension of some pandemic emergency orders over the next year, as the province reports 112 new cases.
The legislation, to be tabled Wednesday, would allow the government to extend or amend some emergency orders a month at a time, with the law expiring a year after it’s passed.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the proposed legislation would “bridge the gap between the public health measures that were necessary to respond to the initial and immediate threat of COVID-19, and those now needed to support Ontario’s safe recovery.”
Under current legislation, the province can only issue emergency orders while the state of emergency is in place.
“This [new] legislation will not allow us to create any new emergency orders, they can only be amended or removed,” said Premier Doug Ford at a daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday.
Ontario’s state of emergency is set to expire July 15, and the Premier’s office said it would introduce a motion Wednesday to extend it until July 24 to ensure there is no gap between the provincial declaration and when the new bill takes effect.
If the bill passes, the government could move parts of the province back to earlier stages of the pandemic lockdown if required.
It could also continue the redeployment of health-care staff and change public health orders limiting social gatherings.
Emergency orders that permit the pick-up and delivery of cannabis and prohibit price gouging on essential goods will not be included in the bill, and will expire next week.
Jones said the bill will also introduce additional reporting requirements to bolster oversight. The government will have to report any emergency order extensions to a legislative committee once every month and table a report on the use of the law six months after it expires.
“We want to make sure that we’re not over-using the declaration of emergency,” she said.
Ontario first declared a state of emergency March 17 when the province’s COVID-19 cases began to increase.
Ontario reports 112 new cases Tuesday
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 112 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The additional cases bring the total in Ontario since the outbreak began to 36,060. Of those, 87.6 per cent are resolved.
Another 177 instances were marked resolved yesterday, according to the Ministry of Health, meaning there are currently about 1,723 active cases of COVID-19 provincewide.
Twenty-eight of Ontario’s 34 public health units reported five or fewer new cases, while 23 of those 28 confirmed no additional cases at all, Minister of Health Christine Elliott noted in a series of tweets.
Only Toronto, Peel and York reported 10 or more new cases, with 30, 39 and 10, respectively.
Testing levels, however, dropped considerably. The province’s network of about 30 labs processed just 15,122 test samples, the fewest since June 1.
Ontario officially reported zero additional COVID-19-linked deaths in yesterday’s update, and only two more were confirmed today. That puts the province’s official death toll at 2,691, though a CBC News count based on data directly from public health units puts the actual toll at 2,734.
After steadily declining over the last week, the number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped up slightly, to 131 from 118. Thirty-four are being treated in intensive care units, while 24 require ventilators.
Kingsville, Leamington move into Phase 2
The towns of Kingsville and Leamington are joining the rest of the province in Phase 2 of the government’s reopening plan.
Ford announced Monday that the communities, which were the final two towns in Stage 1 of the process, would move up as of 12:01 a.m.
WATCH | Ontario premier clears Kingsville, Leamington for Stage 2:
Ford said COVID-19 outbreaks on local farms are under control and community spread of the virus is low.
Most of the Windsor-Essex region, except for those two towns, moved to the second stage of reopening on June 25.
The government dispatched a team from Emergency Management Ontario to the region last week to help co-ordinate health care and housing for hundreds of agri-food workers who have tested positive for the virus.
Ford said Monday he will be visiting the region soon, and thanked people in Kingsville and Leamington for their patience in recent weeks.
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