10/27/2014 01:05 EDT | Updated 12/27/2014 05:59 EST

Ontario health minister disagrees with mandatory Ebola quarantines

TORONTO - Putting asymptomatic health-care workers into quarantine upon their return from Ebola-affected countries is not "good science," Ontario's health minister said Monday.

Eric Hoskins, who is a medical doctor with infectious disease experience in Africa and a PhD in public health, said he doesn't agree with measures that are being taken in New York and New Jersey.

"I disagree with the premise that quarantine of health workers who are asymptomatic upon return — I don't believe that that's good science and I think it actually discourages health-care workers from going to West Africa, which is how we're going to solve this epidemic," he said after question period Monday.

"This is a disincentive to them."

The governors of New York and New Jersey have been at odds with scientists over Ebola in ordering mandatory 21-day quarantines for medical workers returning from West Africa, even if they show no signs of the deadly disease.

A New Jersey nurse, who was the first person forced into a mandatory quarantine in the state, had protested being kept in a tent for two days and was talking about suing. Kaci Hickox was released Monday and allowed to go home to Maine.

The state-imposed quarantines were announced after Dr. Craig Spencer returned to his New York City apartment after treating Ebola victims in Guinea. Before he was hospitalized with a fever, he rode the subway, went bowling and ate at a restaurant.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, issued an updated guidance on Monday, recommending only voluntary, at-home quarantine for travellers from West Africa who are at highest risk for coming down with Ebola, and symptom monitoring for those at lower risk.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath spoke in favour of the quarantines, stressing the need to be "proactive."

"From my perspective, better safe than sorry," she said.

"If we can find the ways to make sure that anybody who has the potential of having had exposure, because there's the time frame, the incubation time frame, I think we need to be really serious about that. If being overcautious saves somebody from Canada, from Ontario, from contracting this virus, then I say let's be overcautious."

The union representing Toronto paramedics said that their members have not received adequate training or equipment.

Hoskins said he has set up a minister's advisory group of front-line health workers, including paramedics, and their first meeting was last week. A directive will be issued "shortly," he said later.

The ministry issued its directive to hospitals and other acute-care settings more than one week ago. Hoskins said the risk to paramedics and other first-responders is lower, which is why is was "imperative" to start with the hospital directive.

Mike Merriman, EMH unit chair for CUPE Local 416, said he's worried there will be a case here before his members are equipped to deal with it.

"The clock's ticking," he said. "It could happen, and what's the point of making sure the hospital is fully protected if EMS isn't?"

Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott said front-line workers have raised concerns about how to properly put on and take off protective clothing. Ontario needs to ensure it has a comprehensive Ebola preparedness plan, she said.

"I know that the minister has given us an outline of what they intend to do provincially, but I am concerned with the comments that have been made by a number of health-care workers that we're simply not prepared for it," she said.

— with files from The Associated Press