An Edmonton woman with celiac disease says that she did not eat for more than 40 hours because she did not receive gluten-free food at a quarantine hotel in Toronto.
Janet Game said that before arriving in Toronto, she last ate around 4:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 4, while on her flight from Ethiopia.
Janet and her husband Maku Game arrived in Toronto at 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 4 and were ordered to quarantine until they received a negative COVID-19 test because Maku had been in South Africa 13 days earlier, where the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread.
As of Nov. 30, Canada requires those who have been to South Africa within 14 days to stay at a designated quarantine facility while they await the results of an arrival test, even if they are fully vaccinated.
Maku has had three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and Janet has had two doses.
Maku said they arrived at the Hilton hotel for quarantine at around 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, but did not receive dinner that night.
The next morning, they also did not receive a meal. It wasn’t until lunchtime on Dec. 5 that she said they got their first meal — one portion of crispy chicken that was not gluten-free.
Janet said she has severe celiac disease and her food cannot even be cross-contaminated with gluten. If she eats gluten, she will be in great pain and have diarrhea, she said.
“I have to be careful.”
Maku said they told the hotel about the dietary restriction when they first arrived.
They said there is only one point of contact at the hotel, Red Cross Canada, and there is no one at reception.
They tried calling Red Cross Canada at least five times throughout Dec. 5 and said they were on hold for up to an hour before getting in touch with someone.
When they finally were able to reach a representative, they took their food request, but at dinner-time, they again received one portion of a meal that was not gluten-free.
It wasn’t until around 9:40 p.m. EST that she received a banana and apple from the hotel, and then a gluten-free bagel the next morning a little before 9 a.m. Her involuntary fast lasted around 41 hours total.
Janet had been drinking sugar-water to keep her energy up before as she has to contend with a broken leg she injured in Africa, she said.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Monday that the expectation is that those in quarantine hotels “get access to appropriate food and accommodation.”
“We put the measures in place to protect Canadians,” he told Global News. “We have to buy ourselves some time to learn more about Omicron.”
He said the government would not spare any expense or resources when it comes to protecting Canadians.
Canada Red Cross spokesperson Kirsten Long said the organization is looking into the issue and that it is “supporting returning travellers with immediate and emerging needs upon arrival, and is working as quickly as possible to help meet their unique needs.”
Back at the hotel, Janet has felt the effects of not eating.
“I just want to go home,” Janet told Global News. “I’m extremely tired and extremely exhausted.”
The Games are not allowed to leave their room or receive any food orders, such as from Uber Eats or from their relatives who live nearby.
“It’s so scary,” Janet said of the hotel atmosphere. “You can’t see anybody. They put wall-to-wall plastic.
“It’s like a science-fiction world here. … They’re taking it too far.”
They have received a negative COVID-19 test result after making an effort for it to be expedited by the lab, but were still waiting for public health to give them the go-ahead as of Monday at noon to be able to board a flight back to Edmonton, where they have lived for 20 years.
“It is terrible,” Maku said. “We comply with public health measures, but this treatment shouldn’t happen in Canada. Not even elsewhere. We say Canada — this kind of treatment shouldn’t happen anywhere.
“It is very disgraceful.”