Feds to consult with provinces before adopting recommendation to end hotel quarantine: Hajdu
OTTAWA -- Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government won’t make an immediate decision to adopt a recommendation by a federal advisory panel to end the mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers before speaking with its provincial and territorial counterparts.
Hajdu said on Friday she welcomes the findings and they will provide a helpful “roadmap” for an eventual border reopening strategy, but implementing next steps depends entirely on the prevalence of COVD-19 spread and the rate of vaccinations domestically.
“It’s very important that I feel I understand the perspective of health ministers before we adjust measures and so I think, you know, we can anticipate that measures will be adjusted, the date is the piece that I do need some more time to come back to you with,” Hajdu told reporters, adding that she presumes it will be a top issue at the next bi-weekly meeting.
On Thursday evening the COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel, comprised of doctors and top health officials, issued its third report since January, which underlines several issues at play with the hotel quarantine program.
The panel says it’s problematic that some travellers are choosing to pay the fine of up to $3,000 without presenting a legitimate quarantine alternative and that the administrative burden associated with managing hotel quarantines is costly and resource-intensive. They also highlight the inconsistencies between the land- and air-border measures, prompting some travellers to land at U.S. airports and cross into Canada by car to avoid the hotel stay.
The hotel quarantine rules came into effect in February as a means to discourage international, non-essential travel. The announcement received criticism when the government noted that travellers would have to foot the bill for their hotel stay of up to 72 hours while they wait for the results of their PCR test.
The panel also views this as problematic.
“Travellers face an added cost (up to $2,000 CAD per person), time commitment and a burden to book government-authorized accommodation,” the report reads.
It adds that the required 72-hour stay “is inconsistent with the incubation period of SARS-CoV-2.”
Hajdu said the initial decision to implement the hotel quarantine was done based on assessing the risk of community transmission while travellers await a mandatory PCR arrival test.
“I will say at the beginning it was a reflection of the fact that PCR tests take some time to come back and when people were flying into international airports and onward travel to smaller jurisdictions, we wanted to be able to have the results of those PCR tests before they continued on in another airplane,” she said.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that she will also consult with her counterparts across the country on the report findings but cautioned against lifting restrictions prematurely while vaccinations in some countries haven’t even begun.
“Global vaccination coverage is not very high at the moment but many countries are making significant progress. So we will certainly be looking at different indicators and some of that includes how Canada itself is doing” she said.
She said each border control measure currently in place provides layers of protection.
As it stands today, to enter into Canada, passengers must also show a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours before their departure flight to Canada. After their hotel stay, they are required to carry out the remainder of their quarantine at home and take an additional test eight days later.
“Each layer is imperfect but added together I do think pre-boarding tests and the vaccination for example affords a great deal of risk reduction and we should take their recommendations into account as we move forward,” said Tam.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has repeatedly implored the federal government to implement stricter land border measures citing variant spread in the province, had blunt words for Ottawa on Friday.
“Canada’s borders have failed Canadians, the rules are inconsistent, they are full of loopholes. The federal government has been put on notice by its own experts and last night I raised this issue once again directly with the prime minister. I’ve been demanding a federal strategy to protect our borders for months now, so far we’ve seen zero,” he said.
On land border loopholes, Hajdu said the risk profile of land travel is different than air travel and beyond that, provinces have the power to set their own rules.
“We rely on our provincial partners to enforce the quarantine act with us and certainly they have within their power the jurisdiction to be able to apply fines in cases of anybody violating quarantine and we would encourage all of the provinces to make sure that they have the provisions in place to do that,” she said.