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Canadian traveller forced to stay in quarantine facility after negative COVID-19 test

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Lennard Skead says he felt like he’d been put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit when he returned to Canada from South Africa on Thursday.

Skead, who lives in Brandon, Man., said he wasn’t allowed to leave a Toronto quarantine hotel until the day after he received a negative result on the COVID-19 test he completed when he arrived in Canada.

“Our negative results came out on Saturday, but we are not allowed to leave until the quarantine officer calls us and tells us you can leave now. Nobody called us. Nobody called us until Sunday,” said Skead, who was travelling with his wife, Charlotte.

Skead, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, said in an interview Monday that by the time he was told he could leave, he had already cancelled a flight back to Manitoba, keeping him in the hotel for another day. It was Skead’s third negative COVID-19 test of the trip.

Canadians travelling from one of 10 African countries, including South Africa and Egypt, are required to obtain a COVID-19 test in the country they’re travelling from, obtain a second test while in transit and get a third after arrival in Canada. They are required to stay at a designated facility on arrival.

Health Canada said in an email Monday that the requirement for testing in transit “is in place so that the risk of the traveller being exposed to the virus and its variants between the time of testing and boarding the plane, which can take up to 72 hours, is reduced.”

Tiffany Gaura, who returned to Calgary from Cairo on Saturday, said she felt after landing in Canada that she was being punished for travelling to Africa.

“From the time you give them your passport, they call somebody immediately who then stays with you, takes you through to a separate secondary screening area where they question you extensively, read you your rights, tell you you have a right to a lawyer and you’re being transported by the federal government to an isolation facility,” she said in an interview Monday.

While the quarantine facility is in a hotel, she said, it doesn’t have any of the usual hotel services, like a restaurant, cleaning or room service.

Gaura, who was travelling with her two children, aged five and eight, said she doesn’t understand why she had to stay in a quarantine hotel instead of returning to her nearby home to isolate there.

“This is absurd for a family with a solid quarantine plan, who has no history of not following public health directives, who’s fully vaccinated, who’s following all the rules, who has done all the PCR tests,” she said.

Asked about reports of poor conditions in federal quarantine facilities, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Monday the requirement is “a necessary and fair trade-off.”

“We’re not going to spare any expense or resources when it comes to protecting Canadians, including at the border. We’re going to continue to provide clear travel guidance to all Canadians and others who are travelling to Canada,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

Gaura said she thinks Canada’s decision to place additional restrictions only on African nations at a time when the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is present in Europe and the United States is “opportunistic and xenophobic.”

She said she was lucky she was able to clear German customs and get a PCR test while transiting in Frankfurt, because while Canada has put restrictions on Egypt, Germany has not.

Epidemiologist Dr. Prabhat Jha of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto says Canada’s travel restrictions are counterproductive.

“They’re not fully informed by what we know about the science. We’ve known that it didn’t really help slow the introduction of Delta.”

Jha says testing before boarding a plane and on arrival is reasonable and should be done at a larger and more rapid scale.

He adds the only other way to prevent new variants from spreading across the world is to accelerate vaccines for everyone.

“We can’t keep playing Whac-A-Mole with different variants and travel restrictions. Vaccinating the world would fully protect us. ”

On Saturday, the federal government announced that travellers coming from South Africa and transiting through Frankfurt would be exempt from the in-transit testing requirement until Dec. 13.

Tasha-ann Bussell of Rossland, B.C., whose husband was in South Africa for his brother’s wedding, said he was able to use that new exemption to get on a flight home, due to land in Calgary Monday.

“He’s exhausted and stressed,” Bussell said in an interview Monday. “We have three small children and my youngest and the middle child have birthdays in December so he’ll miss that … at least he’s gonna be home for Christmas.”

She adds she’s not angry with the government for implementing the regulations because one of her children is immunocompromised.

“I really appreciate the fact that they are trying their best,” she said. “It’s just hard. That’s all it is.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2021.

— With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton.

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Economy

CFIB urges Ottawa to reverse trucker vaccine rule amid driver shortage, higher costs

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TORONTO — Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses is urging the federal government to reverse its policy banning unvaccinated truck drivers from entering Canada.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the vaccine mandate is creating supply shortages and driving up shipping costs.

CFIB president Dan Kelly says businesses were already facing a major supply chain crunch and price increases on everything from fuel to building materials.

He says Ottawa’s border policy threatens to exacerbate those issues at a time when small businesses can’t handle any additional costs or uncertainty.

The CFIB represents 95,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises in Canada, including roughly 500 in the trucking sector.

The business group says the transportation industry has been one of the hardest hit by labour shortages, with a recent survey finding 68 per cent of businesses in the sector are unable to hire enough staff.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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National

Ottawa police contact trucker convoy leaders

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Ottawa police say they have been in touch with leaders of a trucker convoy over weekend protest plans in the capital and are getting ready for several scenarios.

Chief Peter Sloly told the police services board Wednesday that he is working with the RCMP and intelligence bodies to prepare for the protests against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.

Sloly said the convoy organizers have been co-operative in telling police about their plans for the protest, which he predicts could last several days, but the situation is evolving rapidly.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell said police are “tracing parallel groups” that are preparing to join the truckers, as well as counter-protesters, and are monitoring social media.

Ottawa police estimate there could be up to 2,000 demonstrators, but this number is shifting quickly, and warn residents against travelling downtown during the event.

Sloly said while police support the right to peaceful protest, officers will be prepared to move protesters out of the demonstration zone should the situation become violent or threatening.

Some supporters of the convoy, including some Conservative MPs, have taken to social media to warn the vaccine mandate for truckers will leave store shelves empty. Some have gone so far as to predict Canadians will starve.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has assured Canadians there’s no reason to fear food shortages will result from a small minority of truck drivers refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate.

In an interview, Alghabra said the large grocery store chains and other retailers have assured him they have plenty of goods to provide their customers, despite some labour shortages and supply chain bottlenecks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, he said there’s been no “measurable impact” on the number of trucks crossing the border since the vaccine mandate went into effect on Jan. 15. Last week, he said almost 100,000 trucks crossed the border — about the same as usual for this time of year.

“I don’t want to minimize the fact that we have to remain vigilant and work together to address these issues (of supply chain disruptions),” Alghabra told The Canadian Press, adding he plans to hold a summit on the issue with retailers on Monday.

“But this notion that we’re going to starve is really unfortunate and does disservice to Canadians, to Canadian society and to the debate that we need to be having.”

Others with more extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. took to social media Tuesday to endorse the Canadian truck convoy’s fight against “tyranny” and to urge Americans to follow suit.

A group called Canada Unity is organizing the movement, which its members refer to as the “freedom convoy.”

A “memorandum of understanding,” posted on the Canada Unity website, says its coalition is opposed to restrictions and mandates related to COVID-19, rules it deems are “unconstitutional, discriminatory and segregating.”

The memorandum’s goal, it says, is to form a committee with the Senate and Governor General that would override all levels of Canadian government to stop the use of vaccine passports, waive fines linked to COVID-19 and reinstate employees who were fired for breaking COVID-19 rules.

If the Senate and Governor General refuse to join such a committee, the group says they should “resign their lawful positions of authority immediately.”

Carissima Mathen, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, said seeking to override all levels of government policy would not work, because the body who initially put the policy in place must be the one to reverse it. Alternatively, that policy could be undone by Parliament passing a law.

Mathen, who specializes in the Constitution, added the Governor General has very little involvement with the legal system in Canada.

Alghabra said he is “concerned about the small number of far-right, vocal opposition that is polluting much of our political debate.”

“It’s something that we all need to be aware of, we all need to call out,” he said.

“But at the same time, let’s not lose sight of this, that the vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, the vast majority of truckers are vaccinated. Truckers as you and I are speaking today are delivering goods for Canadians.”

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15 per cent of truckers — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It has strongly denounced any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges and has urged all truckers to get inoculated.

Alghabra said representatives of large grocery chains and other retailers have assured him the truckers’ vaccine mandate has had no measurable impact on their ability to stock their shelves.

“They are offended and hurt by this perception that people are trying to create that they are not able to deliver for their customers.”

Alghabra took particular aim at Conservative MPs, some of whom have offered full-throated support for the truck convoy. Some Conservatives have posted pictures of empty grocery store shelves, at least one of which turned out to be a stock photo of a British store.

“It’s irresponsible for anybody to spread fear … for political gains,” Alghabra said.

A day after refusing to say whether he supported the truck convoy heading to Ottawa, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole appeared in a Facebook live event Tuesday evening to say he understands why many truckers, especially independent ones, are upset.

“You can understand why there’s some frustration and why people are protesting,” O’Toole said.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business also urged the federal government to reverse its vaccination policy for truckers. The organization represents 95,000 small- and medium-sized businesses, including about 500 in the trucking sector.

Earlier, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce had urged the government to give truckers more time to get vaccinated while the Canadian Manufacturing Coalition has also called for the vaccine mandate to be scrapped entirely.

But Alghabra said it would accomplish nothing to postpone or scrap the requirement that truckers entering Canada be fully immunized, since the United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.

“It won’t really make a difference. The U.S. has a mandate,” he said.

The best way to end supply chain disruptions is to end the pandemic and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated, which is what the vaccine mandate is all about, he argued.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.

— With files from Stephanie Taylor and Erika Ibrahim

Marie Woolf and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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