Anyone returning to Canada from abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic will no longer just be asked to self-isolate upon their return — that order is now mandatory.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said during an appearance at the Senate on Wednesday that the government is done asking those returning to Canada from other countries to respect the request to go directly home and stay there for 14 days.
She is now invoking the Quarantine Act to force them to do so, effectively immediately.
The move comes after repeated reports of travellers, including Canadians rushing to return as the border closed and commercial travel options disappeared, stopping to pick up groceries or do errands after they had crossed the border back into Canada.
It also comes after Global News reported that border officials allowed a Markham woman back into the country who was so ill with the coronavirus that she died within hours of re-entry.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that mandatory isolation will apply to all travellers, including those from the U.S., but that it will not apply to those deemed to be doing “essential work.”
Travellers will also be barred from using public transit to get to the place where they will be isolating.
“It will, from midnight tonight, be a legal obligation of people entering Canada from outside Canada to self-isolate for 14 days,” Freeland said.
“In terms of the specific penalties and enforcement mechanisms, we will be giving you more information later today.”
She added the measures will not be retroactive for people who have already entered Canada in recent weeks, but said border officials will be taking the contact information of everyone entering the country as of midnight so that they can monitor whether they are obeying the mandatory isolation.
Hajdu told reporters in a scrum on Wednesday that there will be “significant penalties” for those who don’t obey the new law.
“There will be follow up. There will be random screening and there will be spot screening based on particular situations.,” she said. “My officials are working with CBSA right now to ensure that people know that this will be serious and that there will be significant penalties if people violate the quarantine.”
The government has faced questions over its border screening measures for weeks, particularly with regards to whether the screening being done on the ground was effective and why measures like temperature testing were not being rolled out at re-entry points.
Officials have said things like taking temperatures are not effective and that the screening being done at borders includes questions about a person’s travel history and health designed to identify who needs to be directed to further resources.
Even earlier on Wednesday, Trudeau had been asked about why his government had not made isolation mandatory for travellers coming into the country.
“It is required for people to stay at home for 14 days,” he said, but was repeatedly pressed by reporters who noted that there was no legal obligation to that request.
He gave no indication that the government had, just hours earlier, invoked the Quarantine Act.