For some Canadians, this is the second half of the coronavirus battle. With family overseas, they’ve lived it for months

For so many of us, whether first, second or subsequent generations, connections to countries of origin or family members in other countries, this is very much or our reality. In our case, family members and friend in countries in Europe, the USA and the Mid-East mean we follow those statistics and situations as we do the situation in Canada:

Although it may have seemed an eternity, Canada has been on a travel lockdown for only two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many Canadians didn’t see major disruptions to their ordinary lives until mid-March.

For Canadians like Shahien Alipour, however, who have family in global epicentres of the pandemic, the coronavirus has been a cause of distress for months.

Alipour was born and raised in the Greater Toronto Area, but feels closely connected with his Iranian culture.

The York University student speaks fluent Farsi and together with his parents, he would visit Tehran once or sometimes twice a year to take in the historical sites and spend time with extended family.

“Just today, I got off the phone with my cousin. He told me he got it,” he said in an interview with the Star on Wednesday.

His cousin, who is 32, is expecting to make a full recovery from COVID-19, but several of their older relatives in Iran weren’t as lucky.

“Three of my dad’s cousins died from coronavirus. I hadn’t met them personally, but just …wow,” Alipour said with a tone of disbelief.

He is worried about his surviving relatives, because Iran was already in a precarious state with serious economic and political problems. Now, the country has been devastated by coronavirus, with more than 53,000 confirmed cases and at least 3,294 confirmed deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

While Alipour has been reading the news from Iran and around the world since early February, he felt that many of his friends and acquaintances in Toronto weren’t taking the highly infectious disease seriously at first.

“I feel that Canadians do tend to live in a bubble where we assume bad things happen elsewhere,” Alipour said.

“Now that the bubble has burst, we’ve been re-examining our lives and I hope that leads to a breakdown of barriers between people and nations.”

As Yue Qian, a Vancouver-based native of Wuhan put it: “If we think of coronavirus as a global battle, there were first and second halves.

“For people with transnational ties, we’ve had to experience the whole battle. This adds more stress because we’ve been worrying about the situation since January,” she said.

Then there was the dynamic where Asians who quickly began to social distance and wear masks at the outset of the pandemic were being mocked for “overreacting.”

Qian is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia. Her current research focuses on a cross-cultural analysis of human experiences of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The effectiveness of quarantine and social distancing measures seems to differ between countries,” she said, speculating that cultural norms might have something to do with it, but there isn’t data to prove it.

For Laurel Chor, a Canadian-born multimedia journalist from Hong Kong who recently reported on coronavirus in Italy, the relatively relaxed response she’s seen from some Westerners has been baffling.

Chor lives in Hong Kong, where there has been intensive handwashing, social distancing and a near-universal wearing of masks in public. Despite its proximity to mainland China, there have only been four coronavirus-related deaths in the city.

“In Milan, I was really shocked. I didn’t understand what was going on,” she told the Star, adding she was very surprised by how people were reacting.

“I was there one week after the region had gone into lockdown, and at that point people were getting bored of it and already coming back out and saying the government was taking it too seriously and it was just the flu.

“I was at a café scripting, and on the other side, there was a man coughing uncontrollably at the faces of his three companions, and they didn’t care,” Chor said. “If this happened in Hong Kong, he would be kicked out by an angry mob. I just didn’t understand how everyone was being nonchalant.”

She thinks peer pressure and self-consciousness might have something to do with the different reactions.

“When people around you aren’t reacting, you don’t want to react. You don’t want to be the odd one out. And in Hong Kong, everyone was reacting, so you want to react.

“It’s interesting how the prevailing attitude indicates how everyone acts, because no one wants to be the odd one out.”

Alipour thinks that differing levels of trust in a society are a factor, too.

In Iran, many people have been disillusioned and angered by the government for so long, that even if officials there had responded more quickly, he doesn’t think that would’ve galvanized much public action.

“People in Iran seemed to start taking it seriously mostly after they saw that it was spreading and people were dying, so people started staying home and shutting down businesses … out of concern for their communities,” Alipour said.

“I would say to Canadians, don’t think this will happen only to other people. It can happen to anyone. But there are ways to protect ourselves, so keep your heads up and have hope.”

Source: For some Canadians, this is the second half of the coronavirus battle. With family overseas, they’ve lived it for months

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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