Living abroad in times of COVID-19: Perspectives from IWS

 “On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China. The virus did not match any other known virus…”  

Three months later on March 11, 2020, WHO declared SARS-CoV-2, also known COVID-19 a pandemic. What followed seemed straight out of a dystopian future from science fiction; thousands of people affected or succumbing to the new threat, world economy taking a big hit, and mass hysteria and panic set across the borders. By mid-March, Canada, despite initial quarantine measures and an efficient healthcare system had already reported more than 800 confirmed cases and  ~10 fatalities.

As the virus has spread becoming a global threat, our lives are temporarily suspended, our work disrupted, normal activities seem a luxury, and with springs at our door, we can barely enjoy the warm sun as much as we can. We try to conduct life from home as normal as possible, considering the circumstances.  What makes it so potentially risky:

  • It can spread through people with no or mild symptoms (carriers).
  • It can linger in aerosols (the atmosphere) for up to 3 hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, on copper (your doorknobs) for up to 4 hours and on plastic and steel stainless steel for up to 3 days.
  • It can be fatal for the people aged 65 and over, or adults with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions.

And of course, we are all aware of those precautionary measures

Fear v/s responsibility

Consequently, we have grown more anxious about our near future and more suspicious about the people we cross in the street or in the grocery or in the commute. Social distancing is necessary but can be difficult for morale. We keep reading all the news, scientific and not. And as women in science, we know all we need to know about this virus. These days, since the spreading of the virus became pandemic, we feel the word WORRY has taken much more space in our thoughts.

COMMUNICATE, EDUCATE and create awareness.

But as women in science, we need to keep our scientific rationality in check and use our understanding of the situation and the virus to communicate, educate and create awareness among the public and our families. We have a large pool of information on COVID-19 coming out every day. Since January 13, over 1200 articles have been published in scientific journals and many more have been published on social media. The pandemic has changed how scientific information has been communicated and pre-prints are released and reviewed much faster. The degree of collaboration is uncanny!COVID-19 has been taking over our daily lives but also our Twitter feed! As scientists, we can help debunk the information that we receive daily and also help understand the severity of the situation, why social distancing is essential to flatten the famous curve.

We can also take this time to learn new skills, go through the pile of books that you were waiting to open or just watch the Netflix series that you postponed because of the lack of time. And if you are in a laboratory setting, it is time to catch up with your readings, think about the next project or just write your thesis! On another hand, if we are women in science and also moms, we know these times are also extremely difficult to handle all at once, working or studying from home, while also making sure our little ones are fed, entertained and continue learning on an everyday basis. On the positive side, this is a great opportunity to be with our families 24/7, teach resilience to our kids and promote equal engagement from our partners on home responsibilities. Finally, it is important not to forget our elderly and those who are immunocompromised,  to keep checking on them so they do not feel isolated. We need to protect the most fragile population in this situation. 

A home far away from ‘Home’ As immigrants in Canada, we are far from our families in our hometowns. We WORRY about our ageing parents, and if we will be able to see them soon. We gave for granted that we can jump on the first plane if necessary and just go home. Now, we cannot. We WORRY that they could need us and we cannot goWe WORRY double, We WORRY about the situation there and the situation here. We WORRY. Period. And it is ok to worry. It is ok to feel overwhelmed or anxious.


The Government of Canada has now imposed border restrictions for most “non-essential” travel to other countries. But if you must travel due to UNAVOIDABLE circumstances, please ensure that you:

  • Check all the possible options, advisories, alternatives and health notices for Canada, and the country of visit.
  • Cut your time in crowded areas and public places like airports to a minimum. In these times, remember, 3 is a crowd!
  • Avoid contact with people showing COVID19 symptoms.
  • Strictly follow the guidelines regarding COVID-19, in line with the country/region you are travelling to.
  • Personal hygiene etiquette, sanitation, social distancing cannot be stressed enough.
  • Making washing hands for at least 20 seconds as frequently as you can be the norm, especially while travelling.  In case that is not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitizer (yes, we know that is difficult to find these days but innovate, you can, make your own).
  • Keep on closely monitoring your health, during travelling and afterwards in self-isolation for 14 days. If you develop symptoms, a self-isolation is as important as seeking medical help. Equally important, inform the cabin crew or a Canadian border services officer of the development.
  • Upon coming in contact with someone you believe to have COVID-19 like symptoms, it should be reported to the border services agent on arrival. 

For detailed information on the travel advisory, follow the country-specific guidelines. The guidelines for travelling to and from Canada can be found on the website of the government of Canada.

What can we do to release our worries?

We can talk to our families more frequently, making sure they are home and they are as safe as possible. We are lucky technology is coming to our help! But we need to think about our mental health as well. Try to exercise regularly, eat well, sleep, and keep a working routine with fixed hours, organize virtual coffees to have some time with friends over the screen. IWS will be doing a virtual get-together session. Stay tuned! Let’s stay safer and #StrongerTogether!

By Giulia Cisbani and Pooja Shree Mishra