The minister responsible for the federal government’s quarantine hotels says the conditions reported in some of the sites are “totally unacceptable.”
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos also said Tuesday he told the Public Health Agency of Canada that they must ensure service standards are met.
On Monday, The Globe and Mail reported that travellers who are required to stay at the quarantine facilities pending a negative test result were met with unsanitary conditions and not released until days after getting a negative result. The travellers were caught up in new rules unveiled by the government in the past two weeks to try and slow the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The conditions at quarantine facilities are the latest in a growing number of critiques of the federal government’s new travel rules. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been widely criticized domestically and internationally for singling out 10 African countries for tougher restrictions, and for creating confusion for airports and travellers because of a lack of clarity on the rules and when they take effect.
Fully vaccinated travellers from Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe are now required to quarantine in the designated facilities while they await a negative on-arrival test result.
Travellers in Toronto and Vancouver told The Globe they were not provided clean clothing, weren’t always allowed to get their luggage before going to the facility, were fed sub-par and rotten food, and not given proper diapers for their babies. The people said family and friends also weren’t allowed to drop off necessities at the facilities.
When The Globe asked the government for comment about the concerns on Monday, the public-health agency said it is “working to boost its capacity to release travellers as close to their test result as possible.” But it did not address conditions within the hotels.
On Tuesday, Mr. Duclos did comment, saying he expected better.
“I asked public health to do the job it needs to do, which is to make sure that the standards are met by the service providers,” he told reporters outside of the House of Commons.
“They are suppliers to whom the responsibility of taking care of people has been delegated. We know that it is very difficult for everyone. We are in a period of great uncertainty, but we still have to take proper care of the people who are staying in the quarantine facilities,” he said.
In Question Period, federal ministers faced a barrage of questions about the conditions in the quarantine facilities. Conservative MP Raquel Dancho called them a “horror show.”
“At least in jail people get hot meals, fresh air and care packages from home,” she said.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra responded, saying the government made a “commitment to Canadians to do everything we can to protect their health and safety.”
“We need to be vigilant at the border to ensure that we mitigate the arrival of Omicron,” he said.
A separate travel rule that the government unveiled on Nov. 30 that affects all fully vaccinated air travellers coming from countries other than the United States has no clear timeline for implementation. The rule requires air travellers to take an on-arrival test and isolate at home until they get a negative result.
Until Tuesday, the federal government’s travel website had not been updated to reflect the new rule. It now says the rule for a mandatory arrival test and isolation for all air travellers outside the U.S. is “coming soon.”
Mr. Duclos was not able to say Tuesday when it would be fully implemented. Public Health Agency of Canada spokesperson André Gagnon said the agency is steadily increasing testing and travellers who are randomly tested “must quarantine until receipt of the results of their on arrival test or for 14 days, whichever comes first.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said telling travellers a rule is “coming soon” is “not at all appropriate.”
“Right now Canadian travellers are still uncertain about what they can do and how they can return to Canada. It’s been very unclear and that’s meant an ineffective response to a very serious crisis that we’re in,” Mr. Singh said.
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