POLITICS
03/26/2020 18:01 EDT

Use Public Health As Hotlines To Report Quarantine Rule Breakers, Suggests Tam

There are now stricter penalties to keep travellers home for 14 days.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on March 26, 2020.

OTTAWA — Canadians concerned their friends and neighbours aren’t respecting mandatory quarantine orders should warn local public health agencies, the country’s top doctor suggested.

Some provinces, including Alberta and New Brunswick, announced this week that new hotlines will allow people to report potential violations of provincial emergency declaration orders. Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said Thursday that the federal agency is working with local public health officials to review potential violations.

“Some of the easiest contacts, of course, people can have is with local public health authorities,” Tam said. “But we work very closely with them to investigate anyone who may be violating the order.”

Watch: Community spread of COVID-19 in Canada growing. Story continues below video.

 

An emergency order under the Quarantine Act came into force Wednesday at midnight, making a 14-day quarantine mandatory for all travellers entering Canada, whether they show symptoms of COVID-19 or not.

“Anyone unconvinced about the seriousness of COVID-19 and the absolute need for physical distancing should look to countries like Italy and the severe impacts of a health system overwhelmed,” Tam said.

New penalties have been introduced to motivate travellers to stay inside for the full duration of the quarantine period upon arrival in Canada. Those who fail to comply face a fine of up to $750,000 or six months in jail.

If travellers “wilfully or recklessly” violate the Act or its regulations and cause a “risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm,” they could face a $1,000,000 fine or up to three years in prison. 

There are some people who are exempt from the new rules, including flight crews, Canadian Forces members, essential service workers, and people who enter Canada for medical care-related purposes.

David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, told HuffPost Canada Thursday that he did not watch Tam’s press conference, saying more discussions are required.

Frank Gunn/CP
Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa (left) listens as Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams speaks at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 25, 2020.

“I’m not sure we are out there to spy on everybody but if there is something that helps us to maintain things, we’ll have to look at that. I haven’t put out any edict yet to tell people to call local public health, because... right at the moment they’re busy dealing with cases of contact management.”

There are at least 3,555 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada as of Thursday afternoon. Thirty-five deaths have been linked to the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Welcome to Canada, here’s your warning

Symptomatic travellers who arrive in Canada by land, air, or marine ports of entry will be immediately given an order to isolate. They will not be allowed to ride public transit. 

If symptomatic travellers are not able to drive directly home, public health officials confirmed that safe medical transports have been contracted to get people to their door if they live nearby or to a federal quarantine facility. 

Officials said if travellers are returning to Canada to a home with an older person or someone with underlying medical conditions, they are encouraged to err on the side of caution and go to a federal quarantine facility for 14 days. 

Jesse Winter / Reuters
A woman wearing a protective face mask and goggles walks through Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. on March 16, 2020.

These facilities are located near the four Canadian airports accepting all international flights during the COVID-19 pandemic: Toronto Pearson International Airport, Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, and the Calgary and Vancouver International Airports.

Tam told reporters there are currently “very few” people in these federal facilities, including a traveller who entered Canada through a land border in Quebec. She said the traveller lived with an immunocompromised person and was put into isolation as a precaution.

For travellers who don’t display symptoms upon arrival in Canada, they will face random checks by Canada Border Services Agency officers. This feels like the “most reasonable” approach for the current situation, Tam said. 

Those randomly selected will be asked to provide their contact information, including address, for police to subsequently call or visit to check if the quarantine is being respected.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated a message he has been saying all week, urging travellers returning to Canada to take the 14-day order to stay at home seriously. 

“Some people have not been taking this seriously,” he said Thursday. “They’re stopping by the grocery store on their way home from the airport. They’re getting together with friends after being away for March break.”

He called those kinds of actions “not just disappointing, it’s dangerous.”

With files from Althia Raj

HuffPost Canada