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Government Hotel Quarantine or Money Grab?

By: Ryley Lopushinsky

Covid-19 has disrupted the lives of every single human being on this earth. For just over a year now, lockdowns have been in place in most countries. The restrictions of these lockdowns have changed over time, but most aspects have stayed the same; only visit with people in your bubble, no large gatherings inside or outside, wear a mask in public places, and of course, social distance as much as possible. These restrictions are in place to ensure the safety of everyone, although these restrictions have been widely disputed, that is their purpose.

One relatively new restriction some countries have been putting in place is a hotel quarantine. Upon return from out of the country, people must quarantine in a hotel for x-number of days. New Zealand has been running this for quite some time and their model has been quite successful. They have seen their country return to almost completely normal with very minimal restrictions. However, not everywhere conducting this restriction is finding smooth sailing. Canada has been facing extreme backlash over their hotel-quarantine restrictions.

When arriving from overseas to New Zealand, everyone must complete a 14-day stay at one of their hotel facilities. They provide three meals a day, do continuous checks for mental and physical health, they test you twice for Covid-19 and more. New Zealand has created a 40-page document that provides all the information necessary regarding these stays. The one most important question however is, how much does it cost? The price is dependent on whether you are considered an exempt person. If you are not exempt, the whole 14-days including meals, costs $3100 for one adult, an additional adult costs $950 to be added to the room and $475 for any child (3-17) added to the room.

New Zealand’s rules for who is exempt from paying for the hotel stay is quite practical. If you were out of the country prior to the beginning of the new restriction (which started in August of 2020), you were exempt from paying as long as you were returning for more than 90-days. Anyone travelling with an exempt person is also exempt from paying. This ensures those who left the country prior to the restriction’s enforcement are not punished. Having this kind of exemption saved many students from paying the high fees, unlike in Canada.

Canada put in place a mandatory 3-night hotel quarantine stay as of February 21, 2021. Upon arrival into Canada, every traveller receives a Covid-19 PCR test at the airport. Immediately after taking the test, travellers must make their way to their hotel using their private transportation or transportation provided to them. Once they receive their Covid-19 results back, if negative, they can continue to their planned place of quarantine for the full 14-days. If positive, the government will contact you with further information.

When the hotel quarantine was first announced, there was extreme confusion for many travellers, as the government did not provide ample details regarding the mandatory stays. Within the first few days of being in place, there was an extreme backlash against the Canadian government for their poor planning and execution of this new restriction meant to curve the spread of Covid-19. The main concern came when people tried to book their stay.

The phone number provided for travellers to call to book their stay was overused with Canadians wanting information about the stay. At one point, some travellers waited on hold for over 12 hours and were not able to get through. Over the first week of the mandatory hotel stay being in place, the message you received if you called changed three times. First said to hold for the next available agent, which took over three hours. The next change said only to call if you were planning on arriving in Canada within the next 48-hours, and the third change gave multiple options, one if you were not travelling within 48-hours and one if you were travelling within 48-hours. Why was this such an unorganized mess? The government of Canada should have prepared all of the aspects prior to the release and enforcement of this mandatory stay.

Another major area of concern for a lot of Canadians is the price of these hotels. The prices range depending on the province and the hotel. Some hotels cost $300 per person, per night, others cost less. One hotel in Calgary cost $1200 a person for the three nights, whereas another in Calgary cost $650 per person for the three nights. The biggest hit to people being forced into these mandatory stays is, no possible refund. The government has informed/insisted that even if someone receives their negative test on the first day of the hotel stay, there is no refund for the other two days. However, you are permitted to leave the quarantine at any time after receiving a negative result.

Across Canada, there are only four airports taking in international flights. Those four are, Vancouver International Airport, in British Columbia, Calgary International Airport, in Alberta, Montreal-Trudeau Airport, in Quebec, and Toronto Pearson Airport, in Ontario. There have been many issues for travellers arriving at the Toronto Pearson Airport, including being unable to book a quarantine hotel. Upon arrival, travellers were informed all the hotels were booked and to simply quarantine at home. How is that fair to all the other passengers having to pay thousands of dollars?

There are many groups of lawyers across Canada bringing judicial review cases against the Federal government insisting this is a breach of Canadian citizens human rights. One group in Toronto is launching litigation on behalf of five clients. These are all clients who are not leaving the country for vacation purposes but for compassionate reasons. They are being punished for needing to leave the country for essential reasons, and the government does not seem to care. Anything to make back some money seems to be the goal here.

I myself had the unfortunate experience of having to pay and stay in one of these hotels. I am a Canadian citizen who has been studying abroad. I left Canada in September 2020 to go to school in Northern Ireland. I chose to come back to Canada due to continuing lockdowns and a lack of support I had in Northern Ireland. If Canada followed New Zealand’s successful model, I would have been exempt from having to pay for this hotel stay, which is a pretty significant hit on a student who has not been able to find any part-time work through this pandemic.

In my case, since Canada has not followed suit from New Zealand, and I was forced to pay. I was in my hotel quarantine for less than 24 hours and received my negative test result (my third negative test in four days to be exact). I requested a refund for the other two days of my stay since I clearly did not need to remain at the hotel. I was informed by staff the government is not allowing refunds, but I was allowed to leave if I wished. Why was I paying for two full days of food and stay that I did not need?

Something we were all told was the cost covers food, stay, cleaning and security. When I arrived at my location I did not see or interact with a single security guard. In fact, when I was leaving the hotel, I saw a vehicle that had two of its windows smashed out. Does this seem like there was security around? We were given a menu to order from and the food was large portions, but extremely average. Most dishes were carb-loaded and did not seem to have any real nutritional value. As for the stay, there was no fridge or microwave in the room. So, any left-over food we could not keep/reheat. The staff at the hotel were extremely friendly and helpful, however, which was a positive aspect to this whole thing.

After being informed of no possible refund, I chose to stay in the hotel for two of the three nights to get some monies worth. The next step is going to your chosen place of quarantine for the rest of the 14-days. On day 10 of that, I was required to leave quarantine, go to a pharmacy and receive another Covid-19 test. This was my fourth test of this whole journey home. They said it could take a day or two for results, but even if it is negative, I cannot leave quarantine until finished the 14 days. I am unsure why they would not test on day 14 and then once that test came back, you could leave quarantine.

Unfortunately, Canada choosing to not recognise students travelling home as essential travellers has made life extremely difficult for tons of students. Us students who already are in significant debt, are now being subjected to unfair financial attacks by our own government. Not only us, but people who are abroad on work visas are not covered either. The Canadian Government is leaving citizens who left the country for essential purposes out to dry. So far, this whole thing seems to be a way for the Canadian government to make some money back and not a means to keep people safe. I was forced to interact with more people than if I was just to spend the whole 14 days at home.

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