More than 3,000 travellers who returned to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic spent their two-week quarantine period in a hotel paid for by the federal government – a move that has cost taxpayers more than $37 million dollars, according to a new investigation by CBC News.
CBC details incidents whereby travellers that were unable to find suitable lodgings to fulfill Canada’s mandatory 14-day isolation order were instructed by public health officials to board a shuttle bus and stay at a "federal quarantine facility."
In the words of one returning traveller who was interviewed by CBC, the quarantine facility he was sent to was a “very nice” hotel with “plush” rooms and a “nice, big bed.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), 3,222 people have been placed in hotels paid for by the Canadian government since Aug. 16th.
Canada is currently operating 11 quarantine sites across the country, plus two addition ones that are run jointly by federal and provincial governments, CBC revealed.
The program, which is not publicized on the Government of Canada’s website, reportedly includes accommodation, meals, transport, health checks and security and were mostly located near airports.
Some sites reportedly offer 24/7 nursing support.
A last resort option
Speaking to CBC, PHAC spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau said hotels rooms are offered to travellers as a last resort if they are unable to find suitable accommodations to complete their 14-day self-isolation period.
A situation whereby someone may be unable to complete their quarantine would be if they, for example, lived with someone who was at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as a senior citizen.
Canada’s 14-day quarantine order for travellers returning to Canada was first issued on March 25th.
According to PHAC, as of Aug. 6th, there were 258 returning travellers staying at a federal quarantine site.
Other travellers interviewed by CBC described their hotel rooms as small and confined after a few days, given that travellers were not, under any circumstances, allowed to leave their rooms.
One interviewee said he felt like he was “being jailed” given the high presence of security guards he saw on site.
Click here to read CBC's full report.
Quarantine under fire
Canada’s 14-day quarantine measure has been criticized by members of the Canadian travel industry in recent weeks as some view it as a major barrier in restarting Canada’s travel and tourism economy that will potentially lead to irreparable damage.
Some have argued that Canada follow Europe, which has eased its quarantine rules for several countries while establishing rafts of air bridges for travellers in select regions.
The Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable, a group comprised of leaders across the travel and tourism industry, is one coalition leading the charge here at home.
As explained by Charlotte Bell, chief executive officer of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), in a release last May, ahead of the summer season, the group plans to work with governments to “take meaningful steps to ease travel and quarantine restrictions so that they are more targeted and less universal.”
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