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Returning to Canada under new quarantine rules brings new challenges

Last Updated Feb 22, 2021 at 1:46 pm EST


Mandatory hotel quarantine for returning travellers goes into effect Monday

Initially, federal government said cost would be around $2,000 but now it looks to be far less

Returning travellers attempting to book hotels face hours long wait times on phone

The cost of the mandatory hotel quarantine won’t be quite as expensive as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had warned.

Starting Monday, non-essential travellers flying back to Canada will have to pay to quarantine at a hotel for as many as three nights while they await COVID-19 test results. Initially, the federal government said it could run up to $2,000 per person but now it looks like it will be far less.

Nightly rates at the Alt Hotel Toronto Airport and the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at Toronto Pearson International Airport, two of the hotels currently participating in the government quarantine program, start at $339 and $319, respectively, for a single person, employees at those hotels say.

Those rates include all costs associated with the quarantine, including food and security, the employees say.

The federal government released a list of 11 approved hotels in the four cities where international flights are permitted to land.

Some Canadians abroad say the true cost of the government’s new travel rules lacks compassion.

Toronto-area resident Rohan Jumani flew to India at the beginning of the month to be with his dying father. He hopes to return to Canada in early March with his mother, who he says is financially and emotionally dependent on him. And when he lands, his pregnant wife could give birth at any time.

While the bill will be less than the $2,000 Trudeau touted, Jumani says it’s still a cost people saying goodbye to a loved one shouldn’t have to bear.

“It would be absolutely cruel for the government to slap me with a bill for returning back to Canada,” Jumani tells CityNews. “It has been very stressful for us, to be honest, because we did not budget for this.

Jumani says this is not about avoiding quarantine, adding he would be happy to do so at home for 14 days.

“Any added dollar towards quarantine is a financial burden.”

Toronto native Adam Gabay is currently in England studying physiotherapy. He says he flew back to Canada during the first wave when everyone was told to come home and while he did all he could remotely, he needed to return to England in order to get the hands-on experience necessary to complete his studies. Now, with his program ending in less than a week and his student visa set to expire, he’s also expressing frustration at the additional cost to quarantine – money on top of his current student loans.

“I’m travelling for essential reasons,” explains Gabay. “I came here for my education the same way that a lot of foreign students are allowed to come to Canada.”

At the Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, some travellers arriving on a flight from Brussels spoke of disconnected calls and hours or even days waiting in the line to make a reservation.

Loveline Akonbeng, travelling originally from Cameroon, said it took her sister three days waiting on the phone for multiple hours to finally get through. “Three hours of waiting and sometimes the line would cut off by itself,” said Akonbeng, who described feeling “panicked” as her trip neared its end.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the tighter border controls are meant to keep everyone safe, not punish travellers. At a press conference on Friday, Trudeau acknowledged there had been issues with the phone lines but said the problems would be cleared up shortly.

“Our officials are working very hard to ensure that quarantine system is in place by Monday, and we will be able to communicate with Canadians with regard to instructions on how to comply with those measures,” Trudeau said at the time.

Most incoming air travellers will need to get tested for the virus upon arrival and again toward the end of their mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Travellers arriving at land borders will be given self-swab kits, and testing will be provided on-site at five, high-volume border crossings. The new rules are in addition to previous orders that require a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival. Travellers will need to complete a second test on Day 10 of their self-isolation period.

While there is a list of exemptions for non-essential travel, Gabay’s situation is not one of them while Jumani says he hasn’t heard back from officials on his plea for an exemption on compassionate grounds.

While some people who are driving back across the border may consider extending their stay outside Canada until the restriction is lifted, the president of a travel insurance agency says that also comes with some unexpected negatives.

Martin Firestone of Travel Secure Inc., warns that staying too many days outside of the country can affect your government health insurance while any extended stays in the United States could lead to someone having to file U.S. taxes.

Even those travellers trying to abide by the new rules have run into challenges, such as booking a hotel room in advance of their arrival. High call volumes have meant wait times on the phone of up to three hours for some.

Pritam Divecha said in a tweet he has tried calling on both government-provided hotline numbers for over 60 hours and has had no luck. His flight is scheduled to land on Monday.

CityNews reached out to Health Canada who said they are aware of the high volume of calls to book hotels, saying only those who are ready to reserve a room or have a flight booked should call.

Attempting to skirt the hotel quarantine rules could end up costing you a fine of $3,000. Additional fines of up to $750,000 and six months in jail await anyone who breaks quarantine or isolation and if that results in the death of another person, they could be fined up to $1 million.

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