TORONTO -- Most people are likely familiar by now with the quarantine rules around travel: if they come into Canada, by law they must quarantine for 14 days. But are travellers required to stay for the full 14 days or can they leave the country early?

The short answer is yes, they can leave early, but they must stay in quarantine for the entire duration of their stay.

According to the federal government regulation around mandatory isolation, “a person who must quarantine themselves ... may leave Canada before the expiry of the 14-day quarantine period if they quarantine themselves until they depart from Canada.”

When asked for more clarity around leaving early, a spokesperson for Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told in an email that: “All travellers to Canada must have a quarantine plan that shows how they’ll quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in Canada. This plan is mandatory, even if they have no symptoms.”

“If they don’t have a plan nor the intention to stay for 14 days, they should not travel to Canada as they may not be allowed to enter the country.”

But border restrictions do not apply to Canadian citizens, permanent residents and persons registered under the Indian Act. The PHAC website states these travellers “may enter Canada by right and don’t need an exemption to border restrictions.” The mandatory quarantine or isolation period still applies, however. Immediate or extended family members of citizens, permanent resident or person registered under Canada’s Indian Act who wish to stay for less than 15 days in Canada must be travelling to Canada for a non-discretionary reason.

The government has a detailed list of foreign nationals who are allowed to enter Canada; these include students who regularly travel between Canada and the U.S. for school, dependent children who have cross-border custody arrangements, and those coming into Canada for compassionate reasons, for example.

Even if a traveller is qualified to travel to Canada, they may not enter if they have COVID-19 or exhibit signs and symptoms of the coronavirus.

The federal government also provides exceptions for when a traveller may be granted a limited release from quarantine – such as attending a funeral or a loved one’s final moments. Each individual traveller must receive advanced approval for both the border restrictions and limited release from quarantine prior to travelling.

A foreign national would be barred from entering if, for example, the province or territory gave written notice to the minister of health objecting to an early release, the PHAC spokesperson noted.

If a traveller plans to leave before their 14 days are up, but exhibit COVID-19 symptoms on their departure and are denied permission to fly, they must wait until 14 days have passed and they no longer have symptoms, or show a medical certificate that confirms the symptoms are unrelated to the coronavirus.

There are also some important reminders on what quarantine means, even if the traveller’s stay is shortened, as well as some caveats to keep in mind.

Travellers violating quarantine rules could mean six months in prison and/or a hefty fine of $750,000.

PHAC says quarantine or self-isolation means having a place where they have access to the “necessities of life” without leaving. This means no trips to the grocery store or a quick take-out run, and not using shared common spaces like the gym, lobby or courtyard of a condominium, for example. Exceptions for leaving a quarantine location would be if they had a medical emergency, they required an essential medical service or treatment, or it was pre-authorized.

Travellers should not be staying with high-risk individuals during this period or in communal settings like student dorms, a shared small apartment, or a household with many family members living together. And they should not be receiving any guests -- even if it is outside and two metres apart, PHAC states.

It also means having a separate bedroom and bathroom if it is shared with family and friends who were not travelling with the person in quarantine, and having limited interactions with these other household members. They need to keep their distance, wear a mask when distance is not possible, and thoroughly clean common areas after each use. If they plan on having close contact, not wear a mask and not practice physical distancing with these family and friends in the same household, the household members, too, must quarantine and isolate as well, PHAC says.