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A person looks out of a window at a quarantine hotel near Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Feb. 24, 2021.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

A legal advocacy group is asking a court to shut down Canada’s hotel-quarantine policy, saying it is arbitrary because people could safely isolate at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in a filing on Monday to halt the federal quarantine policy immediately.

The group is joined in its legal action by five Canadians – threee from British Columbia, one from Ontario and one from Quebec – who either need to leave the country to be with ill or injured family members, or have just returned from doing so. For instance, a B.C. man with a cross-border marriage wishes to leave to help his wife, disabled by an injury, prepare for surgery.

Canada’s COVID-19 quarantine hotels are now mandatory for international air travellers. Here’s what you need to know

Coronavirus tracker: How many COVID-19 cases are there in Canada and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

Which COVID-19 ‘variants of concern’ are in Canada? Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Lambda explained

COVID-19 is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2, and as it spread around the world, it mutated into new forms that are more quickly and easily transmitted through small water droplets in the air. Canadian health officials are most worried about variants that can slip past human immune systems because of a different shape in the spiky protein that latches onto our cells. The bigger fear is that future mutations could be vaccine-resistant, which would make it necessary to tweak existing drugs or develop a new “multivalent” vaccine that works against many types, which could take months or years.

Not all variants are considered equal threats: Only those proven to be more contagious or resistant to physical-distancing measures are considered by the World Health Organization to be “variants of concern.” Five of these been found in Canada so far. The WHO refers to them by a sequence of letters and numbers known as Pango nomenclature, but in May of 2021, it also assigned them Greek letters that experts felt would be easier to remember.

ALPHA (B.1.1.7)

  • Country of origin: Britain
  • Traits: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are still mostly effective against it, studies suggest, but for full protection, the booster is essential: With only a first dose, the effectiveness is only about 66 per cent.
  • Spread in Canada: First detected in Ontario’s Durham Region in December. It is now Canada’s most common variant type. Every province has had at least one case; Ontario, Quebec and the western provinces have had thousands.

BETA (B.1.351)

  • Country of origin: South Africa
  • Traits: Some vaccines (including Pfizer’s and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s) appear to be less effective but researchers are still trying to learn more and make sure future versions of their drugs can be modified to fight it.
  • Spread in Canada: First case recorded in Mississauga in February. All but a few provinces have had at least one case, but nowhere near as many as B.1.1.7.

GAMMA (P.1)

  • Country of origin: Brazil
  • Traits: Potentially able to reinfect people who’ve recovered from COVID-19.
  • Spread in Canada: B.C. has had hundreds of cases, the largest known concentration of P.1 outside Brazil. More outbreaks have been detected in Ontario and the Prairies.

DELTA (B.1.617 AND B.1.617.2)

  • Country of origin: India
  • Traits: Spreads more easily. Single-dosed people are less protected against it than those with both vaccine doses.
  • Spread in Canada: All but a few provinces have recorded cases, but B.C.’s total has been the largest so far.

LAMBDA (C.37)

  • Country of origin: Peru
  • Traits: Spreads more easily. Health officials had been monitoring it since last August, but the WHO only designated it a variant of concern in June of 2021.
  • Spread in Canada: A handful of travel-related cases were first detected in early July.

If I’m sick, how do I know whether I have a variant?

Health officials need to genetically sequence test samples to see whether it’s the regular virus or a variant, and not everyone’s sample will get screened. It’s safe to assume that, whatever the official variant tallies are in your province, the real numbers are higher. But for your purposes, it doesn’t matter whether you contract a variant or not: Act as though you’re highly contagious, and that you have been since before your symptoms appeared (remember, COVID-19 can be spread asymptomatically). Self-isolate for two weeks. If you have the COVID Alert app, use it to report your test result so others who may have been exposed to you will know to take precautions.

Need more answers? Email audience@globeandmail.com

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic

No date has been scheduled yet for a hearing.

A little more than two weeks ago, Ottawa began requiring every person who enters the country by air to show proof of prepaid accommodation for three days at a government-approved location before boarding their flight. Once at their hotel, they need to test negative for the coronavirus before leaving, and then to complete their 14-day quarantine at home. The three-day stay can cost upwards of $2,000, the foundation says, describing that amount as punitively high for single-earner families such as that of the B.C. man who hopes to be with his wife in the United States.

“It’s bizarre to me, and cruel, that the government would not show compassion to these individuals who are required to travel to help their ailing loved ones,” Christine Van Geyn, the foundation’s litigation director, said in an interview.

And yet, she said, the government quarantine rules allow entry for compassionate reasons in the reverse situation (where the ill person is in Canada), without the three-day hotel stay.

The foundation is seeking $10,000 in damages for the rights violations, which would pay the $2,000 cost for each of the five travellers.

A Health Canada spokesman said the government intends to respond to the court action, and has no further comment. Health Canada’s website said travellers are not permitted to quarantine at home to limit the possible exposure of others to COVID-19. The website warns against non-essential travel outside Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the tighter border controls are intended to keep everyone safe, not punish travellers. Anyone who violates the quarantine order is subject to fines of up to $3,000 a day. They could also be charged with violating instructions on entering Canada, and subject to a maximum of six months in jail and $750,000 in fines.

The foundation is claiming a violation of several Charter rights: Section 6, which protects Canadians’ right to enter and leave Canada; Section 7, the right to liberty; Section 9, the right not to be arbitrarily detained; and Section 12, the right to be free from cruel and unusual treatment.

It says it will present evidence from a traveller that there was a 23-hour wait for food.

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