The federal government spent just shy of $389 million over three years on its designated COVID-19 quarantine facilities, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
In a statement provided to Global News on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said there were a total of 38 sites set up as designated quarantine facilities between March 2020 and September 2022.
“DQFs and alternate sites were active in a total of 14 cities across Canada: Whitehorse, Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Fredericton, Halifax and St. John’s,” said Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for PHAC and Health Canada.
“In total, $388.7 million was spent on DQFs between April 2020 to December 2022.”
The designated quarantine facilities were arrangements set up by the federal government with hotels under Section 7 of the Quarantine Act. They “provided travellers a place to quarantine or isolate and helped limit the spread of COVID-19 through our communities,” Jarbeau said.
“The costs associated with this program included lodging, meals, security, traveller support and transportation.”
During the fiscal year of 2020-21, the government spent $158.5 on these facilities. The following fiscal year, that cost dropped slightly to $153 million, before dropping again in 2022-23 to $77.2 million.
The price tag attached to these quarantine facilities first made headlines this week after Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner posted about the contract in place for one designated quarantine facility in her hometown of Calgary.
The document with the pricing information was disclosed by the government on Monday in response to an order paper question submitted by Rempel Garner last month. It showed the government spent more than $26 million over three years on the contract with the Westin Calgary Airport hotel, which was one of the designated quarantine facilities.
A total of 1,490 people quarantined at that location between June 2020 and June 2022, according to a copy of the order paper question released to Global News by the Library of Parliament.
Per year, that broke down to 119 people staying in the Westin Calgary Airport hotel at a cost of $8.9 million in 2020, 1,356 people staying there in 2021 at a cost of $11.1 million, and 15 people staying there in 2022 at a cost of $6.8 million.
The Public Health Agency of Canada noted in its response to the order paper question that because the data was manually collected, “it is possible there is a small degree of human error when determining the amount the federal government paid to the Westin Calgary Airport hotel.”
“This is just something that I think will really hit home with a lot of Canadians of all political stripe, at a time where we’re really struggling to make ends meet and we’re really talking about affordability on lodging, on housing,” Rempel Garner said in an interview with Global News on Tuesday.
Travellers were required to quarantine upon arrival to Canada for much of the pandemic.
Those who couldn’t show proof of a suitable quarantine plan between Feb. 21, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022, were required to quarantine at one of the designated quarantine facilities, described by Health Canada as “a last resort for travellers.”
Canada eventually lifted all of its travel-related quarantine requirements in October of 2022.
When pressed on the price tag attached to these hotel stays on Tuesday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government’s “primary responsibility” was “to protect the safety and the health of Canadians, including the tens of thousands of people who had to access designated quarantine facilities.”
“Because of these measures, and vaccinations in addition, we have saved together tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars in economic costs,” he said.
Read more: Travellers to pay ‘more than $2K’ for new mandatory COVID-19 hotel quarantine, Trudeau says
Still, during the years the quarantine facilities operated, stories emerged of a number of issues with the lodging throughout the pandemic.
In the weeks after the three-day quarantine rule was implemented, travellers reported long wait times and difficulties booking a place to stay ahead of their arrival in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada also launched an investigation into allegations that two returning travellers were sexually assaulted during their mandatory quarantine periods.
There are currently no more quarantine facilities in operation, the spokesperson for PHAC and Health Canada said, adding that the government held “discussions with hotels to confirm the end date of the agreements.”
Designated quarantine facilities were not the same as government-authorized accommodations. The federal government contracted with the hotels that became designated quarantine facilities, whereas there were no federal contracts in place for government-authorized accommodations.
Rather, those were hotels approved by the government where people could book themselves in for their isolation requirements upon arrival to the country.
— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly, Craig Momney and Jayme Doll