HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA - While the COVID-19 pandemic rages in the United States, Canada has seen a dramatic decline in cases, making the U.S. health crisis particularly upsetting to American expatriates enjoying the relative safety afforded in Canada.
“This has all hit so hard, and it’s distressing to see what everyone is going through,” said Derek Brett, a lawyer who once worked on American political campaigns. Now a Canadian citizen, Brett lives and works in the Canadian city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Brett said his sister in Florida works for a long-term care facility and was diagnosed with COVID-19 but has recovered and returned to work.
“My mother in particular has been in a COVID lockdown for 150 days in her home. It doesn’t seem like there is going to be a relief in the foreseeable future,” he said, adding he is lucky to be in Canada. “I feel secure. I’m happy for my family here in Nova Scotia where we go for days without any cases.”
In Canada’s remote, sparsely populated Atlantic region, cases are so rare that the four easternmost provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island – have formed a “travel bubble.” Residents of these provinces may visit the other three without self-quarantining for two weeks, unlike visitors from the rest of Canada, who are required to self-isolate as if coming from abroad.
Meanwhile, the Canadian-U.S. border is closed to nonessential travel.
“We would like to plan a trip back to the U.S. to see family,” said Michelle Sinville about herself and her husband, Geoffrey Sinville. “But not until the border is open and the virus is under control."
From New Hampshire originally, Sinville now lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where she is a pharmaceutical industry consultant.
“I had a close family member pass away in June,” Sinville siad, “and we chose not to try to go back to the U.S., due to travel restrictions and virus transmission.”
Coronavirus concerns aren’t limited to foreign travel. Some favor opening the Atlantic travel bubble to the rest of the country and eliminating the self-quarantining requirement. But the idea is unpopular in the travel bubble provinces, as infection rates in the rest of the country, while lower than in many parts of the world, are still higher than in the Atlantic region.
“I think it’s a mistake to open up the Atlantic bubble,” Brett said. “I don’t believe it should open up to the rest of Canada. I think the Atlantic bubble should remain the Atlantic bubble. It doesn’t seem like Quebec and Ontario are ready."
Americans in the rest of Canada feel the same concern for family back home. Daniel Lopes works in Montreal for an American publishing company that works with Canadian libraries. He is from Boston originally and lives with his partner, Andrew Zageris, who works for a tax firm in Montreal.
Lopes worries about his mother, who lives in Boston and lacks health insurance. “My mother is getting older, and ... we thought about renting the apartment next to us so she can stay there.”
Lopes said he has been strict about social distancing. “Over eight weeks I went on one walk with a friend, and I met with one friend on his porch.”
He added that he feels for COVID-19 victims and does not wish to shame people who get sick.
“At the end of the day it’s people’s grandparents and cousins and neighbors. They made perhaps dumb choices, but that doesn’t mean they deserved to die.”
Canadians who work with Americans have found their businesses disrupted.
“I am still conducting business in the U.S. but have no intentions of travelling across the border for the foreseeable future,” said David Gough, who directs the Atlantic Canada office of the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada.
Gough said Nova Scotia has been lucky during the outbreak and has been able to “stay smart.”
“The problem will be in remaining smart.”