An Alberta humanitarian aid worker is calling on Ottawa to grant hotel quarantine exemptions for aid workers working overseas.
Christine Fletch is an aid worker with Magna International, a non-profit organization that provides medicine and supplies to children and their families in developing countries.
Fletch spent the past month working in the village of Duk Pagaak, located in Northern South Sudan. She said their medical hospital is the only infrastructure in the area. The village is inaccessible by road, and the airstrip is only safe to use a few months of the year when there’s no rain.
“This is a region, to put in perspective, the war-torn area of South Sudan.
“There is nothing there. There are no roads, there is no electricity, there’s no running water,” she said.
Fletch said the area was devastated by floods last year.
The hospital provides much-needed medical aid and supplies to those who live there.
In addition to COVID-19, she said countries in Africa also have to deal with much more.
“We have malaria, cholera, severe malnutrition, and HIV, gender-based violence, you name it. The work that we do, it really does save lives. I’ve seen it,” she said.
Fletch is seeking an exemption to the hotel quarantine rule for aid workers like herself. She said she can quarantine safely at home, like she has for the past six months.
Fletch said she’s never contracted COVID-19 and takes all the necessary precautions, like frequent hand washing and social distancing. She lives in Red Deer, and said the money spent on hotel quarantine could be better spent on those who need it most.
“It’s really a lot of money — that’s nutrition supplies, those are medical aids. It’s substantial… I don’t always have hot water, electricity. It’s not a vacation.”
“As a Canadian, I feel like I’ve been given a lot of privileges. It’s my responsibility to help those who don’t have those privileges, and I believe that that’s Canada.
“I get so frustrated when I see that, you know, just in December, we announced half a billion dollars in extra aid money for COVID. And yet, people who are Canadian citizens are discouraged from doing that humanitarian aid, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Fletch said she’s reached out to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) numerous times, by email and by phone. She said she was told she’s not essential, and therefore not exempted.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said exemptions will be made on a case-by-case basis, and officials will work with ministers involved and “continue to watch closely for additions or adjustments that need to be made.”
Shadow Health Minister Michelle Rempel Garner has been calling for exemptions to the hotel quarantine rule, saying Ottawa needs to grant exemptions for those requiring non-elective medical procedures, family reunification, unaccompanied minors and compassionate travel, including missionary work.
“I believe that these measures are classist — people who can afford (the money) and three days away, have the luxury of being able to travel for compassionate reasons. Those who can’t afford it, cannot.
“The government should have thought this through prior to implementing the measures,” Rempel Garner said.
She recently penned a letter to Health Minister Patty Hajdu, saying many Canadians travel for essential reasons should not be faced with high costs.
“Those travelling to reunite with a spouse, an ailing relative, or to access medical treatment should not be faced with what is an insurmountable barrier for many in these situations. Your government recognized this principle when you made an exemption for athletes, citing affordability concerns,” the Feb. 11 letter read.
In a response to Global News, PHAC said it does not comment on individual situation and specific cases, but suggested Fletch call the agency’s general inquiry number, something Fletch has done numerous times.
Fletch said she has rescheduled her flight home from Africa for next month, hoping that will give her time for Ottawa to change its mind.