Amidst all the hiccups with securing hotel reservations for the mandatory 3-day quarantine, came media reports on Wednesday of some international travellers arriving at Pearson ignoring it and police letting them walk away.
No, this is not a rumour or fake news!!!
Akhil Mooken, a spokesperson for Peel Regional Police, is said to have confirmed to the media that it was true officers are not arresting people who refused to follow the measures that came into effect this Monday. There was also little clarity about whether these passengers were fined at all or if penalties would kick in later with Mooken saying it doesn’t mean that they won’t be fined later on.
The enforcement of the Quarantine Act is handled both by Peel police and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Although police can charge travellers at the airport, news reports alleged that a lack of resources had prevented them from doing so. Simply put they weren’t going to run after those that are dodging hotel quarantine because they do not have the manpower to do that. As a result police said that they would be letting PHAC follow up on the non-compliance, according to the same reports.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie seemed surprised at the turn of events when it was brought to her attention. Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said non-compliant travellers were being selfish.
But given the laxity in enforcement of quarantine prior to this, I wasn’t surprised by the news.
Anecdotal reports pointed to a complete lack of uniformity in enforcing quarantine for travellers right from the early days of the pandemic. While those returning from Wuhan were taken to government facilities, many others coming from infected cruise ships and other international hotspots were left unchecked. We all know what happened next.
Enforcement in June seemed to consist of two automated phone calls urging the individual to continue with the 14-day quarantine. If you thought this was weak, the follow up (or rather lack of it) seemed to become worse in the coming months. Some Canadians who returned in August and September told me that they didn’t even receive these ridiculous phone calls. Yet the federal government claimed that it had tightened border controls and had hired hundreds of officers to follow up with travellers. Contrast that with Australia which was sending quarantine enforcement officers on surprise in-person visits.
It seemed like we had got our act together in February, almost a year later, when a friend’s mother who returned from India in the first week was made to answer a series of questions during the follow-up automated calls.
But the latest news was upsetting to say the least. After all, the federal government took almost a month to implement the hotel quarantine measures.
Of course, my friend was thrilled to be spared the hotel expenses given that the new measures were announced a week prior to her mum’s return. The senior had travelled to India before the pandemic to attend a family wedding. Given India’s restrictions on international flights and the high cost of repatriation flights, she was only able to return after 15 months. Should Canadians like her be exempt from the mandatory hotel stay if they are able to safely quarantine at home? Or should they refrain from coming home? It’s a difficult question to answer.
But the more important question is whether Canada has dropped the quarantine ball once again. What’s the point in making rules if they can’t be enforced?
Media reports on Thursday seemed to say the problem was only in Toronto and not Vancouver. Peel police also further clarified people who refused to follow the rules were fined $800. They said most cases were resolved through conversations. However police did reiterate that they will not detain anyone for breaking the hotel quarantine rule unless there are aggravating circumstances involved, such as a criminal offence and that PHAC is responsible for further fines. The health agency says it is looking into it.
Meanwhile the list of questions about the problematic implementation and enforcement of hotel quarantine grows. Why is there no online booking option in an age and time when almost every service has gone digital? Why are agents needed? If proof of hotel reservation is required before getting on a plane, how are travellers dodging hotel quarantine? Yup the latter puts the onus of checking hotel reservations on airline officials and other countries. But this may be the answer to Canada’s lack of enforcement machinery.