A generally worry-free fully vaxxed vacation in Italy
Two days before leaving Italy, I boarded a city bus that plied the busy streets of Rome until it reached my stop, somewhere along a nondescript shopping street in the heart of the city. As I walked the block to my destination, my eyes riveted on the maps app on my phone, a tendril of anxiety tickled my throat.
I was early for my date. The waiting room was tiny and almost empty. The only other customers were two Americans, who read aloud the papers that we had all been asked to complete. I listened to them for a while, until a nurse appeared from a narrow hallway and read my name on a file.
Inside the testing room, she motioned for me to sit down. She seemed to be new to the job; a doctor in a white coat hovered above her, purring of instruction as she first swirled the swab along my gums, before dipping it deep into one nasal cavity, then into the other . As she put the swab away, I thought of everything that could go wrong from here on out.
“It’s the PCR test, isn’t it?” Not the antigen? ”
The doctor nodded. “It’s PCR,” he replied, spelling it out slowly, as if speaking to a child.
As he took me out, he handed me a few photocopied sheets of paper, which had obscure instructions printed on how to access my results online. As I rushed down the street, I stopped at the front desk to ask once again what was, for me, the most critical question.
âWhen will the results be ready? ”
The woman at the desk barely looked up from what she was typing.
I still tried to reassure myself. “But it’s sure by tomorrow, isn’t it?” ”
She stared at me tiredly and nodded. “Yes, tomorrow.”
That night, I lay down on my quaint breakfast flat mattress, obsessively checking the results website, listening to the rain pounding the cobblestones outside. I felt good. (Or did I do it?) I stopped Google search “asymptomatic positive”. I tried not to think about what would happen if the results revealed that I had COVID-19.
It wouldn’t be the end of the world, I knew that. (After all, I felt good. Right? Thinking about it too much seemed to cause aches and pains that I hadn’t noticed before.) But that would mean I wasn’t going home anytime soon. I checked the website again and it returned a message in Italian again stating that the results were not available.
For the most part, until this point, travel in the COVID-19 era had looked only slightly different from before the pandemic. I had felt some tension as I walked out of Canada, as airline staff checked my proof of vaccination and the negative test result I had taken in Winnipeg, but which happened within minutes.
In the sprawling Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, no official even spoke to me as I weaved through the crowds, exiting the terminal on a layover to savor an hour of fresh air. In Rome, a customs officer cordially waved me out, without looking at my COVID-19 papers or asking a single question.
Once released in Italy, life was similar to what we are used to here in Manitoba. In historic sites and restaurants, staff looked at my pan-Canadian vaccination card, shrugging when its QR code was not scanned on their European Union app, tapping my phone as they were looking on the screen for what they wanted to know.
“Moderna … Moderna,” they read aloud, before cheerfully inviting me in.
But now, at the end of the trip, the specter of COVID-19 was manifesting itself mainly in the form of stress. That meant a few other things that could go wrong, and one major thing that had to go right: in the end, no matter how badly it hurt to get home, it all depended on the results of this test, from microscopic events to microscopic events. inside my body that I could neither know nor control.
I rechecked the lab site. My test results came back early: negative. I was good to come home.
As I packed my suitcase for the long journey home, I thought about these new uncertainties about how we move in the world. Is it even fair to travel right now? This question was, in truth, not one with which I had struggled deeply; I am vaccinated, after all. I follow the rules set by the health authorities, confident to live within the limits of what is allowed.
However, for each of these rules, a difficult balance. Our modern world is defined, in part, by its ability and reliance on moving masses of people over great distances, with a speed and ease that our ancestors of just a century ago did. could not have imagined. COVID-19 has exploited this reality, and it won’t stop anytime soon. The world, however, cannot stop moving completely.
Shortly after I returned to Canada, there was a reminder of the chaos the virus can still unleash. Eighteen days after passing through Amsterdam airport so easily, two planes from South Africa were held up on its tarmac for more than four hours after Dutch authorities banned travel from several countries from southern Africa during their flight.
The 624 passengers were eventually cleared to disembark. They were held at the airport for hours, in cramped conditions, many without access to food or even necessary medication, until their COVID-19 test results returned. Sixty-one tested positive, including 13 with the new omicron variant.
It is not known where the new strain originated from. All we know is that scientists in South Africa were the first to identify it, in part thanks to the country’s sophisticated viral surveillance. Many countries, including Canada, have responded by rushing to close borders and tighten entry procedures, adding new testing or quarantine requirements.
It turned out that omicron was in the Netherlands at least a week before the Schiphol chaos. A leading epidemiologist has speculated that first impressions misdirected the path of the variant: that it may have first arisen in Europe and passed from there to Africa and to other places where it was found.
The world we live in is defined by movement. And so, the virus is moving with us, faster than we can catch it. For almost two years, we have learned to adapt to conditions, which are always uncertain, above all. At least we know where to invest now, to iron out the worst of the chaos: tests, vaccinations and vigilance.