Travellers entering Canada by air can avoid paying more than $1,000 each for a mandatory quarantine because the federal government will pay the whole bill, Global News has learned.
In fact, the government is providing free accommodations at one of the most comfortable spots on Toronto’s airport strip: all someone arriving from outside Canada needs to tell health officers is that they can’t afford the three-day package at one of the 19 hotels enrolled in the government program.
Or, in the case of an Ontario woman returning home after several months outside the country, all it takes is for the original hotel to mess up the reservation and not have a room ready on arrival.
The woman, who Global News agreed not to identify because she fears reprisals from the government for speaking about her experience, said she arrived at the hotel at about 3 a.m. after a full day of flying.
The hotel said it did not have room for her.
“It’s fully booked,” the woman said she was told after taking a shuttle to the hotel and presenting herself at the front desk as government rules require.
She recalled she was told she could not check in until about 12 hours later, but waiting in the hotel lobby was not an option.
“You are presumed to have COVID until you have a negative test,” the woman said she was told.
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Public Health Ontario attempted to find her a room at one of the other hotels participating in the government quarantine problem, she said. The woman said she was told all the hotels were full.
At that point, the woman was transferred to what was described to her as a “government facility” instead. She said she had no choice but to board a small shuttle bus for the alternate accommodations.
“This is not the Canada I know,” the woman said in an interview with Global News.
In fact, the woman was taken to one of two hotels that are not part of the government’s voluntary quarantine program. These are intended to house travellers who have tested positive for COVID-19, who did not have reservations, or who have declared that they don’t have the money to pay for a hotel.
But the woman wasn’t told where she was going, and said she got rebuffed when asking about the destination.
“Upon arriving I said, ‘Where are we? And they said, ‘Well, we can’t tell you that,'” the woman said.
When she was escorted to her room after arriving at the hotel in darkness, the woman used her smartphone to identify her location: the Hilton Hotel on Dixon Road.
Global News travelled to the facility which was blocked off by steel barriers. It is not open to the general public. A security officer sitting in a car out front moved large pylons to allow approved vehicles in or out.
The other designated government facility is the Radisson Hotel a few blocks away. It is also under 24-hour guard, and ringed with temporary metal fencing and black plastic sheeting to conceal activities behind the fence.
Inside her comfortable room, the woman opened up a welcome package with a set of rules which worried her.
“It scared me at the time,” she said after reading a list of written expectations, which she provided to Global News.
The document started with the heading, “Expectations while at this facility.”
“We ask that you maintain strict confidentiality regarding the name and specific location of the designated quarantine facility during and following the stay,” it read.
The document forbids any photography during her stay, which was entirely in her private room, alone, other than being walked to and from the room when she arrived and left.
“It is strictly prohibited in order to protect the privacy and safety of current and future guests,” it concluded.
The letter outlined that it is prohibited to consume alcohol in the room, or to smoke or use vape products. Outside deliveries are not permitted “to ensure the safety of all guests,” the document read.
Travellers are delivered three meals a day to their rooms, as well as any required medications.
But the woman, who noted she followed all the rules and wished to pay for her stay at one of the designated quarantine hotels, said she should not have been forced to stay at the government-run hotel when she had arranged to stay at one of the others.
“That’s not what I signed up for when I came back to Canada, and I did everything by the book so there was nothing I did that was wrong,” she said.
The woman didn’t complain about service or meals or the quality of bed linens.
She said, however, that she continued to be detained at the hotel for more than two days after receiving negative COVID-19 test results.
If she had been staying at one of the other hotels, she could have checked out immediately. However, she would have still been responsible for the three-night package (typically worth more than $1,000 per person).
But at the government-operated facility — the Hilton in this case — she was required to remain until a federal quarantine officer released her.
She arrived at the hotel on Saturday, had her test results on Sunday, but was not permitted to leave the hotel until Wednesday.
“It’s absolutely not reasonable — the public needs to know that this is being done,” she said.
Global News contacted the federal government for comment, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.