Nearly 350 days into the COVID-19 pandemic, international travellers arriving at Canadian airports are now required by federal law to go directly to a designated hotel for three days while awaiting tests to see if they are positive for coronavirus.
If the test result is negative, the traveller can leave the hotel and spend the balance of their 14-day quarantine at home. Toward the end of the two-week quarantine period, each traveller is required to self-administer a second test.
In Toronto, many arriving passengers who spoke to reporters expressed frustration with the new government requirements.
“I’m paying $1700 (for the quarantine accommodation) plus the expense of travel. I don’t know where I’m going to get the money from,” she said, adding she did not have a job at the moment.
Passengers arriving in Canada are required to make reservations from a small number of designated hotels: six are located near Pearson International Airport in Toronto; five are in Vancouver; two are in Calgary; and five are in Montreal.
The cost of accommodation varies widely.
“I paid $1200 (for three days),” said Asif Shaheed, who said he spent a month in Guyana visiting his ill grandmother.
Shaheed didn’t book the accommodations at the Holiday Inn until he arrived at the airport.
Many travellers complained on social media sites that they could not reach hotel agents to make reservations in advance.
One arriving traveller said “$300 a night per person was the cheapest” rate he could find at the Holiday Inn, one of the less expensive hotels on the preferred list.
But another, Rosamond Nelson, claimed she booked a room at the Holiday Inn for just more than $100 a night, food not included.
When the federal goverment first revealed plans to require a hotel-based quarantine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested individuals brace themselves to pay about $2,000 per person to cover lodging, food, cleaning, and security at the designated hotels. By all accounts, the price tag is actually much less.
Still, the requirement to check into a hotel came as an apparent surprise to some as they cleared the border security and health screening queues.
“I’m not happy,” said Carmen Rodriguez, a Canadian who arrived from Atlanta, GA. She said she was unaware of the rule changes that provide for a compulsory hotel quarantine period.
Travellers to Pearson Airport on the first day of the new testing and quarantine regime were greeted by a beefed-up police and security presence and a sizable contingent of public health and private testing staff.
Mohamed Ali, at the airport to meet his wife and toddler son, grew frustrated with a Public Health Agency of Canada staff member after he says his wife was unfairly delayed before being permitted to leave the airport for the quarantine hotel.
“You shouldn’t be travelling in a pandemic,” the exasperated employee called at the passenger who had just arrived via Egypt.
Realizing the moment was on video, the health staffer declared to a reporter: “Can you please stop recording?”
The federal government is urging Canadians to cancel or postpone non-essential travel plans outside the country but travel remains legally possible, if increasingly difficult and more expensive.
International flights at Canada’s busiest airport was light on Monday, especially compared to the weekend. Many airline staff members told Global News they were inundated with arriving passengers, eager to touch down here before the new rules took effect.
One passenger, arriving from China, said the new rules probably don’t go far enough.
“They’re very necessary,” said Heather Yuen, who has been in China since October because of a family emergency, she said.
Yuen, dressed head to toe in protective equipment — including a face shield, mask, gloves and goggles — said she was required to quarantine twice in China. First, for 14 days when she arrived in the country; then, for an additional 14 days when she travelled to the city where her family lives.
As for the Canadian quarantine response and facing her third period of isolation, beginning with an airport hotel stay, Yuen is positive.
“It should be like this.”