Canada’s sudden imposition of mandatory hotel quarantine for incoming air travellers has spawned no end of controversy. But there’s also very good reason to believe that the policy is failing catastrophically at its singular mission of preventing the spread of COVID-19 into Canada.
Watch the latest Everything Should Be Better video or read the transcript below for why the federal government may be inconveniencing thousands of incoming travellers for no good public health reasons.
New Zealand has absolutely kicked butt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How? Through the use of “Mandatory Isolation and Quarantine.” Basically, absolutely everyone entering New Zealand has to spend two weeks in a government-supervised hotel. It doesn’t matter if you’re Peter Jackson, Russell Crowe or some other New Zealand celebrity who isn’t coming to mind right now … if you leave the country you don’t get back in unless you’re ready to spend a fortnight eating crisps and watching Flight of the Conchords.
Then there is Canada. A country that tried to copy New Zealand’s mandatory quarantine policy, but did it with such staggering ineptitude that it’s virtually guaranteed to have zero effect on limiting the spread of COVID-19 into the country.
The policy is: If you fly into Canada, you have to stay in a hotel at your own expense until your COVID test comes back negative.
For starters, it’s pretty late to start getting tough on the border: Hard lockdowns on the border would have done wonders to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Canada if done in February 2020. But 12 months later, we’ve got a pretty robust amount of this disease already running wild within our borders, and it’s not at all clear how many new infections are coming because of arriving travellers violating our prior policy of mandatory self-isolation.
Secondly, this policy is applied very arbitrarily: It only applies to incoming air travellers. Anybody entering the country from one of our dozens of land borders will usually be waved in without so much as the need to self-isolate. Despite our ostensible requirement for mandatory two week isolation, 75 per cent of people entering the country are given an exemption. Which again, is very different than New Zealand, which doesn’t let ANYONE enter the country without a two week hotel stay. Not 25 per cent of people; all of the people.
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Thirdly, it’s difficult to think of a law that’s better designed to be ignored. For one, it’s crazy expensive. At first, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was predicting these three-day hotel stays would cost $2,000. That may only be as high as $1,500, but that’s a pretty tall order for such an easily circumvented government requirement. For context, New Zealand will charge you only about $2,500 for two weeks of room and board. So again, it’s pretty easy to get around this requirement; even if you’re flying in from Europe you just fly into a U.S. airport and then drive over the border. By making it unbelievably expensive it’s almost like the government is begging you to do just that.
Oh, and one more thing, there’s, like, no consequence for just refusing to be quarantined. As the National Post confirmed, a lot of incoming travellers are just not going to the hotels, and the police are refusing to chase them.
And fourth, with this policy we are disproportionately targeting a group of Canadians that probably pose one of the lowest risks to us in terms of COVID-19.
If you haven’t noticed, the Americans have been way better at vaccinating people than we are. And here’s a secret: A lot of those people have been Canadian snowbirds. Florida, Arizona and a lot of other snowbird hotspots have been vaccinating priority groups without any consideration as to their citizenship. Since most snowbirds are in the priority over-65 category for getting the shot, a surprising number of them have gotten it.
So for hundreds if not thousands of Canadian snowbirds who are already vaccinated against COVID-19, their government essentially just told them: Screw your vaccinated status; come stay in this crazy expensive hotel for no reason. Oh, and if you drive back home instead of flying don’t worry about it.
Now, I get it: We all hate snowbirds. We’re shovelling our driveways while they’re enjoying American Netflix and cheap beer. But unless the purpose of hotel quarantine was to piss off snowbirds and any other folks with the temerity to legally leave the country, this doesn’t really seem to do anything in a public health sense. Unless you’re a hotelier in need of some business during the COVID slump, of course.
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