90,000 Canadian air travelers not quarantined, government refuses to say why

One-third of all air passengers arriving in Canada are exempt from mandatory quarantine in government-established quarantine hotels, according to the National Post. And experts believe this controversial exemption rule from COVID-19 control measures could undermine Canada-wide efforts to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

About 88,000 arriving international air travellers have been exempted from the quarantine requirement, according to the latest figures from Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). But the agency said it would not provide reasons for those exemptions.

PHAC’s data show that at least 30 percent of international air travelers enter directly without showing a reservation order for a segregated hotel. And according to the organization, the COVID-19 positivity rate for air travellers arriving in Canada is 1.9 per cent, or almost 2 out of every 100 travellers. The likelihood of infection is even higher if these travellers are high-frequency travellers or come from countries where the variant virus is widespread.

In addition, many travelers refuse mandatory quarantine altogether. According to the latest data, at least 798 people have been ticketed in Ontario and BC. Numerous people are flying to the United States and entering Canada by land, thus circumventing the quarantine regulations. According to PHAC, the positive rate of people crossing the land border from the United States is 0.3 per cent.

Gerald Evans, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University and medical director of infection prevention and control at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, said the rate of exemptions for quarantine hotels is “very high,” Evans said. At this point, it is likely that the mutated virus will enter Canada through international travel. In contrast, the transmission rate of the virus in Canada is low. It is important to note that new mutant viruses may directly contribute to higher transmission rates. Exempt travellers, flight crew, essential service workers, people who regularly work across borders, people receiving medical care, and government officials may actually have higher rates of COVID-19 positivity. In contrast, people who receive 2 doses of vaccine are temporarily ineligible for the exemption under current law.

Jeff Kwong, interim director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Vaccine Disease Prevention and professor of family medicine and public health, said the data suggest that international flights remain a risk.

A 1 to 2 percent positive rate doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a flight of 100 people, 1 or 2 infections at a time is serious,” Kwong said. There’s a question of how much of the virus is being spread at airports. What are the chances of the government finding him? What are the chances of catching him? How many people are infected when they take a bus to the airport, wait in line, and then take the plane. It’s not just the travelers who have been infected, but other travelers who may be infected by them and then go back to their communities.”

The rate of inbound exemptions has reportedly increased in recent months. According to March data, about 26,000 travellers entering Canada by air were exempt from mandatory quarantine as of the end of February, representing 23 percent of all air travellers during that period, compared to nearly a third now.

Moreover, the segregated hotel provision has even been challenged and rejected by travellers. Nine people have already challenged the rules in court, claiming that the mandatory segregation provisions violate constitutional rights. A federal court trial is scheduled for these appeals.