Some Canadians who return from abroad showing symptoms of the new coronavirus could be taken to a federal quarantine site for two weeks, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer said Thursday, as all levels of government looked to ramp up enforcement.
At an Ottawa briefing on Thursday, Dr. Theresa Tam explained how the federal government plans to use powers afforded to it under the Quarantine Act – legislation designed to protect health through measures to prevent the introduction and spread of disease – to force travellers to adhere to mandatory self-isolation.
Canadians who are symptomatic upon arrival will immediately receive an order to go into self-isolation, and if they cannot travel in a private vehicle, local public-health authorities will help to co-ordinate transportation, Dr. Tam said Thursday.
She said, however, that individuals could be placed in a federal quarantine site should they not be able to get home or if they live with someone who is elderly or has underlying medical conditions.
The federal government’s decision to turn to mandatory self-isolation measures in the legislation is occurring after some Canadians failed to comply with public-health recommendations following travel and while provinces and territories grapple with their own concerns about ensuring compliance, including through enforcement mechanisms.
Asymptomatic travellers, Dr. Tam said Thursday, will be told to move on as fast as possible to their homes and will also be given the order to self-isolate, which will explain specific penalties associated with a breach.
“We will do random checks on the asymptomatic people,” Dr. Tam said.
“That can be done in different ways, [including by] a telephone call. Of course, we collaborate with local public health as well, some of whom have also got mandatory orders to self-isolate."
Leah West, a lecturer at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University who specializes in national-security law, said Thursday that the use of personal information for the purpose of follow-up by public-health officials would be in accordance with the law, adding no one wants to see law enforcement move to engage in surveillance of individuals in their communities.
It is in the interest of local public health to follow up on residents in their jurisdiction, Dr. Tam said.
She did warn, however, that the Quarantine Act carries “hefty penalties" but that Ottawa hopes their application will be infrequent.
Late Wednesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s office said maximum penalties for breaching the order include a fine of up to $750,000 and or imprisonment for a period of six months.
Police officers could be engaged if need be, Dr. Tam said, adding that the decision to use the Quarantine Act is designed to serve as a deterrent.
Barbara von Tigerstrom, a professor in public-health law at the University of Saskatchewan, said Thursday that she is not aware of any cases of individuals being prosecuted for violating a Quarantine Act order.
The government is ultimately issuing a reminder to Canadians in the minority who have not seriously taken the need to self-isolate when they return from international travel, Ms. Hajdu said.
The measures announced by Ottawa follow moves by other levels of government across Canada ramping up their own enforcement efforts.
On the East Coast, a 53-year-old woman is at the centre of what’s now among the first coronavirus-connected cases to reach Canada’s criminal courts.
The woman, who recently arrived to Newfoundland and Labrador from Nova Scotia, is not infected with COVID-19 but the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says she was twice found in public places in Corner Brook.
Now, she stands accused of flouting repeated police warnings for her to abide by provincial orders stating that new arrivals to the province have to quarantine themselves indoors.
“The woman was released,” Crown attorney Adam Sparkes said after a court hearing Thursday.
She still faces a charge of contravening special measures, but has agreed to release conditions stating that she will comply with public-health directives.
In Quebec, police in Gatineau investigated a noise complaint early Wednesday and fined a renter $1,000 for violating new social-distancing directives. Five people, some of them non-residents, were found inside the apartment.
The previous week in Quebec City, an infected woman was formally cautioned by police after she was found taking a walk outside.
In Ontario’s York Region, officials are looking at why a 72-year-old woman died of COVID-19 mere hours after she stepped off a plane that landed at nearby Pearson Airport. She was returning from a vacation. Subsequent testing revealed that she had contracted the coronavirus.
“We don’t know where she would have acquired the infection from but apparently she was received at the airport by her son and daughter-in-law,” said Dr. Karim Kurji, the municipality’s medical officer of health.
“Upon arrival at her son’s place, she seems to have collapsed after a period of acute illness."
Some governments are already calling in reinforcements, as they anticipate crackdowns to come as the disease spreads.
For example, on Thursday, the B.C. government announced that it will bolster its public-health measures by “enabling municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the Provincial Health Officer’s orders for business closures and gatherings.”
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