Travelers returning from Africa say conditions are miserable in quarantine hotels

The Liberal government has announced new restrictions in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, including forcing travelers from 10 African countries to self-isolate at a federally-run hotel near the airport until they test negative on arrival.Cole Burston / The Canadian Press

Travelers returning from Africa say Canadian quarantine hotels don’t have laundry service, so they sit in dirty clothes eating bad food while waiting to know when they can leave, even after they’ve checked in. the negative result of the COVID-19 test which is supposed to release them.

Over the past two weeks, the Liberal government has announced new restrictions in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization, public health experts and scientists say the policy unfairly distinguishes African countries, while Omicron has been identified in dozens of others, including 18 in Europe.

In Canada, trade and tourism groups and federal opposition parties say the rules have been poorly enforced. They include the requirement for travelers from 10 African countries to self-isolate in a facility run by the federal government. hotel near airport until they get a negative result of their arrival test.

But travelers in quarantined hotels said even after receiving their negative result, they waited days for Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) officials to release them. And many are still waiting. In hotels, they said they struggled to get baby diapers, were served inferior food, and were not provided with laundry services. Some, after negative results, left without the green light, fed up with the wait.

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Mary Ellen Havlik, a humanitarian consultant in Nigeria, said she spent four days in the hotel without her luggage and was relieved to be free. She arrived in Toronto on Friday, received her negative test result on Saturday, but was not allowed to leave until Monday.

“These measures seem draconian, and I think it is really surprising that the Liberal government is reacting so badly,” Havlik, 55, told The Globe and Mail.

She said on arrival at the Hilton hotel, she was greeted by people in hazmat suits and the lobby was covered in plastic. She and the others were given a brochure, she said, which warned against taking photos or videos or identifying the location. “It was just dystopian.”

Ms Havlik and others in quarantine have created a WhatsApp group to share information. Everyone was vaccinated, she said, and all were ready to self-isolate. But the poor management of the establishment left people “angry”.

She said the woman in the room next to her, a breast cancer survivor, was out of medication and was in pain for days without anyone helping. A couple with young children ran out of diapers, Ms Havlik said.

“People were starting to get really belligerent. Some people threw their food out the window.

In the meantime, they were desperately trying to find out from Public Health when they could leave.

In response to questions from The Globe, PHAC outlined the quarantine process in a statement, but did not respond to travelers’ concerns. Mark Johnson, a spokesperson, said everyone staying in a quarantine hotel has access to 24-hour medical assistance and monitoring.

Larry and Liezel Kennedy and their two boys, aged 6 and 13, were still at the hotel Monday night.

Mr Kennedy said his family arrived in Toronto on Friday from Johannesburg. Like Ms. Havlik, they arrived at the hotel without their luggage. “We have had the same two sets of clothes since Wednesday.”

He said he watched people leave after their negative test results without waiting for permission. His family does not have this option. Even though they have tested negative, they need the approval of a public health officer to book their plane tickets to Calgary. He said the food brought to the rooms was “cold as a stone” and there was no children’s menu, so his baby was given a giant burger.

Mr. Kennedy said the Red Cross brought milk for the baby. But he also asked for diapers, and they were out of his son’s size.

In a statement, Kirsten Long, spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross, said her organization was working “in support” of PHAC to “To provide comfort and care to returning travelers. “

Laura Ford, spokesperson for the Hilton Toronto Airport Hotel & Suites, said a third party runs all operations and services at the hotel.

At Vancouver Airport, a similar scenario happened for Sara Sagaii, 34, who was brought to the Pacific Gateway Hotel on Thursday, received her negative test result on Friday, but had to wait a day before d ‘get approval to be released. . Ms Sagaii was in Egypt when Canada put the country under its travel ban, but she was able to get a flight through Turkey. People in hazmat suits greeted her in the plastic-covered lobby of the Vancouver hotel and during her three-day stay said she was served a “mostly rotten” salad. and that she had not been able to access clean laundry.

She said it would be easier to accept the restrictions if she thought the policy would protect Canadians, but it looks like she was “punished for coming from Egypt.”

“There are cases all over Europe, and the only two people who were taken out of this arrival from Istanbul were me and another guy from Nigeria. Honestly, the racist aspect is huge. “

During question period, Cabinet ministers answered questions about the new rules. Both inside and outside the House of Commons, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino championed the rules as “a necessary and fair compromise to ensure that we deal with this news appropriately. variant of concern “.

“We have measures in place to protect Canadians,” Mendicino told reporters. “One would expect that when travelers isolate themselves… where they come from one of the countries of concern, they would have access to appropriate food and accommodation. “

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said government policies are not justifiable from a public health perspective because the inconsistency “sticks like a sore thumb.” But he said the government was also developing policy based on economic and political considerations. For example, the importance of trade with the United States makes it difficult to impose severe travel restrictions on Americans.

He urged people not to travel and said he supported the restrictions amid concerns about new and possibly more serious variants. “We have to put in whatever we can,” said Professor Furness, adding that it means making travel more difficult and expensive, and less attractive. Yet he said the inequalities that the poorest countries face are “extremely problematic”.

He said he agreed with criticism that “we refuse vaccines in the south of the world and then turn them into outcasts”, but added: “I’m not sure that’s a good reason. to open up the borders and accelerate the spread of Omicron here. “

The NDP called on the government to set clear expectations for the care Canadians should expect, and the Conservatives called the circumstances “inexcusable.”

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