Surprise, surprise: Canada’s quarantine hotels for travellers returning from Africa aren’t going so well, according to first-hand accounts making the rounds in mainstream media this week.
The Canadian government ended its ill-fated hotel quarantine program for fully vaccinated travellers in June, and at that time, it was (optimistically) fair to assume the term “hotel quarantine” would never be spoken of again.
Until recently. Over the past two weeks, in response to the newly-identified Omicron COVID-19 variant, the Liberals announced fresh travel restrictions requiring travellers from 10 African countries to isolate in a federally-managed hotel near the airport until they receive a negative result from an on-arrival test.
While Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has previously said that on-arrival testing at airports – a procedure that Ottawa hasn’t really figured out just yet – could take up to three days to process, tales from inside the hotel quarantina suggest otherwise.
According to a report in the Globe and Mail, some travellers sent to quarantine hotels have waited days for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to set them free – even after receiving a negative test result.
Other horror stories, such as difficulties getting diapers for babies, being fed “subpar food” and having no access to laundry, have also surfaced.
One woman the Globe spoke to, a humanitarian consultant in Nigeria, said she spent four days at her hotel without her luggage. On top of that, she was forced to stay in the quarantine facility much longer than required.
She arrived in Toronto on a Friday, received her negative test result on a Saturday, but was not allowed to leave until Monday.
“These measures feel draconian, and I think that it’s really surprising that the Liberal government would react so poorly,” traveller Mary Ellen Havlik told The Globe.
Another traveller from Brandon, Man., that CTV News spoke with made a similar claim.
Lennard Skead returned to Canada from South Africa on Thursday last week and wasn't allowed to leave his Toronto quarantine hotel until the day after he received a negative result from his on-arrival test.
Canadians travelling from one of 10 African countries, including South Africa and Egypt, are required to obtain a COVID-19 test in the country they're travelling from, obtain a second test while in transit and get a third after arrival in Canada.
A temporary testing exemption was recently granted, allowing Canadians to obtain a negative PCR COVID-19 test from an accredited lab in South Africa within 48 hours.
But all this is in addition to being required to stay in a government-managed facility on arrival.
The quarantine facility is technically a hotel, but travellers say they don’t have the usual hotel services, like restaurants or cleaning or room service.
"This is absurd for a family with a solid quarantine plan, who has no history of not following public health directives, who's fully vaccinated, who's following all the rules, who has done all the PCR tests," Tiffany Gaura, who returned to Calgary from Cairo on Saturday, told CTV.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was asked by media about the conditions of Ottawa’s quarantine hotels on Monday.
He called the measure a “a necessary and fair trade-off."
"We're not going to spare any expense or resources when it comes to protecting Canadians, including at the border. We're going to continue to provide clear travel guidance to all Canadians and others who are travelling to Canada," he said.