Expert panel recommends Liberal government end COVID-19 quarantine hotel stay

·4 min read

OTTAWA — Canada's requirement for air travellers to quarantine for up to three days at a hotel is an expensive, inconsistent policy that contains loopholes and should be ditched, says a new report from a government advisory panel.

The experts, mainly doctors, are tasked with providing guidance to Health Minister Patty Hajdu on testing and screening measures for COVID-19.

Its latest report focuses on Canada's land and border measures, as well as what rules should be in place for vaccinated travellers, including that those who are fully immunized shouldn't have to quarantine at all.

While it says Canada should continue screening positive cases from international travellers for more transmissible variants, it should discontinue its policy of making air travellers stay in "government-authorized accommodations."

It recommends any changes to border measures happen in phases and factor in how the country is fighting a third and, in some ways, the most serious wave of the pandemic.

When it comes to the policy itself, it notes making those arriving by air stay at a hotel for up to the first three days of their 14-day quarantine has likely improved compliance. But it details several issues with the policy.

First, it says, some travellers are choosing to pay the fine of up to $3,000 for skipping out on their mandatory hotel stay and possibly not quarantining at all.

Besides the burden of forcing travellers to book and pay for a three-night stay at a government-approved hotel, the report says "there are significant administrative costs and resources devoted to managing hotel quarantine," which could be used elsewhere to respond to the pandemic.

The experts say because only people flying into Canada have to quarantine at a hotel, some people are detouring to a United States airport and entering into the country through a land border where no such rule exists.

And finally, the panel said the three-day requirement doesn't match up with the science around the incubation period of COVID-19.

"Recent research also indicates that specific supports related to financial support, temporary accommodation if necessary, clear communication, effective contact tracing and routine monitoring would help to increase compliance (as opposed to enforcing a specific quarantine location)," the report said.

The panel experts say the government should still see that travellers needing to quarantine who don't have a plan be required to stay in designated quarantine facilities.

The panel's criticisms have been the same questions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers have faced for months since the rule was brought into effect earlier this year.

They have repeatedly defended the country's border measures as effective and necessary to fight the spread of the virus.

Asked earlier in the day about the hotel quarantine policy, Trudeau didn't say when it may end, given that more Canadians and other travellers are getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The Government of Canada will continue to monitor and review all available data and scientific evidence to inform future border and travel measures, and will be prudent in its approach, keeping the health and safety of Canadians top of mind," reads a joint statement by Hajdu and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, following the report's release.

"The Government of Canada will also consider the panel's recommendations to determine how testing and quarantine strategies should evolve to address vaccination status."

The report says travellers who have received one of their two shots should have to provide proof, get tested for COVID-19 72 hours before their arrival and then upon entering Canada. They should then quarantine at home until they receive their negative test.

The experts say fully vaccinated travellers should also show proof, but not be tested before their departure and should only undergo one upon arrival "for surveillance purposes."

"Self-monitoring for symptoms and no quarantine required unless the on-arrival PCR test confirms a positive result," they say.

Their report says unvaccinated travellers who are not deemed to be essential workers should take a test before their departure and on arrival. They should then take another test seven days into their quarantine and "then leave upon receipt of a negative test."

If people who haven't been vaccinated don't take the test midway through their quarantine, they should be forced to stay in it for the full 14-days.

"The panel also acknowledges that there will be a number of considerations regarding vaccine 'certification,'" the report says.

"A system to validate proof of vaccination for arriving travellers should be made available as soon as possible."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press