So what data was used, exactly, to determine just how quarantining in a hotel will halt the spread of COVID-19 and its variants?
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) doesn’t have an answer to that question. Yet.
As Canada’s new requirement for international arrivals to pay to quarantine in a hotel while awaiting COVID-19 test results begins, questions are being raised over how the government arrived at this policy in the first place.
At a committee meeting last Friday (Feb. 19), Tory health critic MP Michelle Rempel Garner inquired about what data was used to conclude that hotels are better than homes for quarantining, post-travel, and how this measure outpaces the effectiveness of Alberta’s pilot project.
“What data was used to determine that hotel quarantines are a better option for stopping the spread of variants than the Calgary border pilot program, which employs rapid, on-arrival testing,” Rempel Garner asked.
Calgary-based Rempel Garner asked, twice, and was met with silence until Kimberly Elmslie, senior vice-president of the immunization program at PHAC, one of six health officials present at the meeting, spoke up and said she would have to check and follow up with the committee next week.
“We’ll come back to you with those data,” Elmslie said.
Rempel Garner went on to point out how the hotel quarantine measure is set to cost an estimated $250 million dollars.
"What data was used to inform that decision?" she asked, as more silence ensued. "...Anyone? I mean, it's just a quarter of a billion dollars. What's that between friends, right? ...Anyone? Any data? No?"
A video clip of the awkward exchange began circulating on social media over the weekend and some MPs shared their own commentary.
"Trudeau’s hotel quarantine policy has nothing to do with public health or public safety and everything to do with public relations," wrote BC-based MP Mark Strahl on his twitter account. "This exchange proves that."
Mandatory hotel quarantine begins
Canada’s mandatory hotel quarantine requirement for international arrivals began Feb. 21, 2021, at 11:59 pm ET.
All travellers flying into Canada must show a negative 72-hour PCR test before boarding their flight. Then, upon arrival, travellers will be tested again, at the airport, and then must await their results in a nearby government-authorized hotel.
The hotel stay has been framed around three days. However, if a traveller receives their negative test result earlier than that, they will be allowed to leave their hotel soon than that, officials confirmed last week.
Travellers that test positive for COVID-19 will be escorted to a federal facility for the remainder of their 14-day quarantine period.
Costs of these “hotel stopovers” will vary by location, the government notes on its website. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, previously, said the hotel stay would cost $2,000.
But as the Canadian Press reported on Friday, the quarantine rates are actually lower than that, with nightly rates at Toronto's Alt Hotel Toronto Airport and the Sheraton Gateway Hotel (two participating hotels) starting at $339 and $319 respectively.
The price includes costs associated with food, the room, security, transportation, and infection prevention and control measures, officials say.
The federal government, on Friday, released its preliminary list of approved hotels in each of the four city airports currently accepting flights – this being, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
Hotel bookings are managed by American Express Global Business Travel and available by phone only at 1-800-294-8253.
Travellers will be able to choose their hotel and will receive email confirmation of their accommodation within four hours of booking, the government says.
Starting Feb. 22, all travellers, whether entering Canada by land or air, will be required to submit their travel and contact information, such as their quarantine plan or hotel booking, electronically via the ArriveCAN app before crossing the border or boarding a flight.
Travellers entering Canada by land are not required to stay in a hotel upon entry due to legal and logistical reasons.
Alberta’s border testing pilot program, which allows travellers to shorten their quarantine period down to two days (or less) if their COVID-19 test is negative, has been running since November.
As of Feb. 11, the program had tested some 49,004 participants, and of those tests, just 1.08 per cent came back positive.
Alberta’s pilot project was suspended on Sunday (Feb. 21) to make way for the new hotel quarantine requirement.
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