Canadian travellers at quarantine facilities report poor conditions, long waits
TORONTO -- As Canada strengthens its travel restrictions amid the rise of the Omicron variant, frustration and confusion is ensuing for travellers stuck at quarantine facilities.
Last week, Canada announced travel bans affecting 10 African countries. Canadian citizens and permanent residents who had been in any of the 10 countries are required to stay at a quarantine facility upon returning to Canada, regardless of vaccination status, as they wait for the results of an arrival COVID-19 test. Canadians or permanent residents returning from these 10 countries are also required to present a PCR test result taken from a third country.
For people waiting for their test results in quarantine facilities, some say it goes beyond patience.
Tiffany Gaura and her five- and eight-year-old daughters arrived at a facility with hallways covered entirely in plastic after flying back to Calgary from Egypt, one of the countries covered under the Canadian government's travel restrictions.
"We get very unhealthy meals dropped at our door, three times a day. There's a security guard outside the rooms. I mean, you can't go outside. There's no fresh air," she told CTV News.
"I was not at all mentally prepared for that sort of a welcome"
It was a similar experience for Jessica Sirois, who had to stay at a quarantine facility in Toronto after returning from Egypt.
"I spent all night last night trying to call the front desk to get water to my room and some fruit or something healthy because they give you basically carbs," Sirois told CTV News.
For Sarah Mossad, who also flew back to Toronto from Egypt, her room didn't even have heating and the only water that was available was from the rusty bathroom faucets. She told CTV News that she had to wait until 4 p.m. the next day for a room change.
"I just had to wear a lot of sweaters that day, which I didn't have a lot of, coming back from Cairo's 30-degree weather," she said.
"You're in this room with poor ventilation, not knowing when if you're going to get basic needs like water and things like that."
Travellers are also reporting that they're being left in the dark by quarantine officers after they receive their test results.
Sirois had already received her negative results for her arrival test. But as of Monday afternoon, she had not received any word from quarantine officers on when she could go back home.
"I just actually got an email saying that my PCR tests came back negative again. No one has contacted me in terms of when I can go home. Like, I have no idea." she said. "I don't have COVID but they're treating me like a criminal."
Sirois isn't the only one who has had to deal with a lack of communication. Mossad had to wait 36 hours to hear from an officer after she got her negative test result.
"I was up all night, waiting for my negative test. As soon as I got it, I called and told them that I had a negative test. No calls were returned, no information," she told CTV News.
Things got so bad for Mossad, she ended up calling 911 out of panic and frustration after there was no answer from any of the phone numbers that she was provided.
"It was like really mentally tough. You know, I just wasn't sure if we were going to spend two more days there. I wasn't sure if we were going to ever leave," she said.
Public Safety Minister defended the federal quarantine facilities when asked about the conditions on Monday.
"We're not going to spare any expense or resources when it comes to protecting Canadians, including at the border. We're going to continue to provide clear travel guidance to all Canadians and others who are travelling to Canada," he told reporters.
Mark Johnson, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, told CTV National News in an email statement that the agency is working to boost its capacity to let people go home closer to the time they receive their negative test results.
“Every traveller staying at a designated quarantine facility has access to 24-hour support and ongoing medical monitoring,” Johnson said.
There's no timeline on how long these measures for those coming from the 10 designated countries will remain in place. For travellers who are cleared to leave the quarantine facilities, they'll have to continue to quarantine at home until it's been 14 days and get another COVID-19 test on day eight of their quarantine.