South African travelers report extended stays in quarantine hotels – at taxpayer expense

Several Canadians who recently returned from South Africa told CBC News they were forced to stay in government-funded quarantine hotels for an additional 23 to 36 hours after receiving negative COVID-19 test results .

“It’s a total waste of taxpayer dollars, and I think it’s an embarrassing way to treat Canadians,” said Simon Dragland.

Dragland, a television producer who was in Cape Town for work, returned home to Toronto on December 5 and was sent to a quarantine hotel. He said he got his negative test result the next day, but didn’t hear from the federal government until 36 hours later, when a government official finally approved his release.

“I left the hotel quite angry with the whole process,” he said. “The real frustration here is the complete lack of organization or communication.”

After the new omicron variant was identified in South Africa late last month, Ottawa recently demanded that Canadian air passengers from that country and nine others in Africa be subject to stricter travel rules, including a COVID-19 test upon arrival. They must also spend part of the required 14-day quarantine at a government-designated hotel while awaiting test results.

Foreign nationals who have traveled to any of the 10 reported countries in the last 14 days are not permitted to enter Canada.

CBC News interviewed four Canadians who returned from South Africa this month. Each said after receiving their negative test results, they had to wait a day or two in their quarantine hotel before being officially released.

Alyna Wyatt flew from Johannesburg to her Toronto home on December 2. After getting her negative test results, she said she spent almost 36 more hours in a quarantine hotel before being released. (Submitted by Alyna Wyatt)

The travelers said they were eventually released via a phone call from a Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) official, who in three out of four cases verified they had a post quarantine plan. – suitable hotel.

Travelers have all complained that the wait to be released is frustrating and weighs on taxpayer dollars as Ottawa foots the bill for quarantined hotel stays.

“I stayed two nights to get my test results. I stayed two more nights after getting my negative test results, unnecessarily doubling the cost,” said Alyna Wyatt, an economist who was in Johannesburg for the job. and who flew to Toronto in December. 2.

After getting her negative test results, Wyatt said she spent almost 36 additional hours in her quarantined hotel room before being allowed to leave.

“You start to feel helpless,” she said of the wait. “It feels like we’re in this black hole.”

Wyatt said his release came shortly after he argued his case with two nurses stationed at the hotel, who came to take his temperature.

“I asked the nurses… ‘At what point do I throw myself on the floor, moaning and screaming and having a temper tantrum for someone to pay attention to me?” She said. . “Their response was that they were working on the backlog.”

Ottawa is working to speed up the process

The federal government has repeatedly said that if and when Canadian air passengers from the 10 targeted African countries are negative upon arrival, they will be able to leave their hotels and complete their 14-day quarantine at home.

However, the process is actually more complicated, as the experiences of the four travelers have shown.

According to a government backgrounder distributed to those entering a hotel quarantine, travelers who test negative should always wait in their hotel rooms until a PHAC official approves their release . The document also says it could take up to 48 hours to wait for approval, and those who leave without permission face fines of up to $ 5,000.

This section of a Public Health Agency of Canada backgrounder provided to travelers quarantined at the hotel states that they may have to wait up to 48 hours before being released from the hotel to following negative COVID-19 test results. (PHAC)

Before releasing travelers, PHAC officials should ensure they have a suitable place to quarantine after the hotel, PHAC spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau said. She added that the agency is trying to speed up the approval process.

“PHAC is working to increase its ability to release travelers as close to their test result as possible,” Jarbeau said in an email.

She confirmed that the government pays the hotel’s quarantine costs, including transportation and three meals a day for each guest. Jarbeau was unable to provide an estimate of the cost of the program in time for this story to be published.

GA report criticizes previous hotel quarantine program

Frustration over new hotel quarantine rules comes as Canada’s Auditor General released a report criticizing the federal government’s old hotel quarantine requirement, which was in place between February 22 and July 4 for all leisure travelers entering Canada by air.

Auditor General Karen Hogan filed a report on Thursday concluding that PHAC was struggling with whether travelers ordered to stay in quarantine hotels actually did. He revealed that PHAC only had records to verify hotel stays for about a quarter of air travelers between February and June 2021.

The AG’s report also follows a report by a government advisory group released in May that found the hotel quarantine program to be flawed and unnecessary, ultimately recommending its removal.

Choose certain countries?

University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr Prabhat Jha said he believes it is unfair to make travelers quarantined in hotels wait long before they are released.

He also said it was unfair to force only Canadians traveling from 10 African countries to self-quarantine in a hotel, as the omicron variant now has spread around the world.

“It attacks some countries,” Jha said, noting that people entering Canada from places like the US, UK and Denmark – where omicron is spreading rapidly – are exempt from hotel quarantine.

A more practical solution would be to allow all travelers to quarantine themselves at a location of their choice and step up COVID-19 testing, Jha said.

“If we are concerned about imported cases and their reduction, then really expanding testing – including home testing – would be a key pillar,” he said.

WATCH | VSanada toughens travel rules in response to omicron

Canada extends travel bans and tests requirements on omicron variant

Canada has expanded the list of countries from which travelers are banned and will require anyone arriving from anywhere except the United States to take COVID-19 and self-isolate upon arrival due to concerns about the omicron variant, which is already present in at least four provinces. 1:51

Most travelers to Canada are required to take a pre-departure test and Ottawa is currently rolling out mandatory arrival testing for all international travelers. Persons entering from the United States will be exempt from the arrival test, even if at least 19 states have now detected cases of the omicron variant.

At a December 3 press conference, the federal government said travelers from the United States could potentially face stricter rules, according to public health advice.

He also said the government had imposed tougher restrictions on the 10 African countries due to a range of factors, such as their COVID-19 positivity rate, vaccination rate and ability to detect and respond to the omicron variant.

“You have to act quickly and then reassess what’s going on,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer.

But as Canada reassesses its current travel restrictions, travelers who have endured long hotel waits say they are speaking out to draw attention to the issue.

“Other people are [still] suffer in there, ”Dragland said.

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