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N.S. international students voice frustrations with policy to quarantine in hotel

Click to play video 'International students forced to isolate in Halifax hotel' International students forced to isolate in Halifax hotel
International students arriving in Nova Scotia say they’re stuck paying over $800 in hotel bills as a result of a university policy to complete their 14-day quarantine at The Westin. – Jan 5, 2021

International students arriving in Nova Scotia are facing hefty, unexpected costs as several universities are forcing them to quarantine in a hotel without covering the cost.

Noah Kivler is originally from Maine but now lives in Halifax as he completes a music degree at Dalhousie University. He’s on the third day of his 14-day quarantine at The Westin, even though he could be completing it in his apartment.

It’s a policy from Dalhousie that’s costing him hundreds of dollars.

“Frankly, if it’s not necessary for us to be in hotels, I don’t have any interest in paying for that,” said the 19-year-old.

Dalhousie University declined an interview, but in a statement provided guidelines the university has to follow as part of the federal government’s decision to open borders to international students.

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Read more: Nova Scotia to welcome international post-secondary students in early November

University spokesperson Janet Bryson says the plan was developed in consultation with Nova Scotia’s education department and Public Health.

“Universities may have slight differences in their approach, however the provincial government has mandated particulars for the plan,” Bryson stated.

Some of those particulars include a mandatory 14-day isolation period, and institutions providing and arranging quarantine accommodations and suitable transportation for international students from the airport.

“Dalhousie has chosen a hotel in which our students arriving outside of Canada, can complete their quarantine,” Bryson said, but did not indicate why the university would not cover the cost.

Saint Mary’s University also declined an interview, but in a statement said students returning to Canada can complete their mandatory 14-day quarantine in residence or in an SMU-arranged hotel.

“Recognizing the financial impact this may have on returning international students, Saint Mary’s has created a subsidy program,” said university spokesperson Cale Loney.

“International students who are determined to be eligible may receive up to $875 towards the cost of their quarantine in a local SMU arranged hotel or SMU residence if arriving before the end of January.”

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But, international students say if the university is making them stay in a hotel, they shouldn’t have to pay at all.

“I know that what they want ultimately is to keep people safe, and I understand that, but I think there can be different ways of keeping people safe,” said Anaik Chacón, a third-year international student at Dalhousie University student in isolation at The Westin.

Clancy McDaniel, executive director of Students Nova Scotia, says the policy is fundamentally unfair, as last semester, Canadian students arriving from outside the Atlantic bubble were allowed to isolate on campus.

“What we have been hearing of course is confusion, disappointment, and even anger that international students are being treated differently than domestic students,” said McDaniel. “We certainly have questions as to why this was the approach that was taken.

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McDaniel also notes that this type of policy isn’t being implemented in universities in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island.

“We really feel that individual institutions could have better mobilized their internal resources, or perhaps gotten volunteers so that students could remain in their apartments,” said McDaniel.

“Not only is it inconvenient, it’s also expensive.”