Canadian experts advise against hotel quarantines, but there’s no sign they are going away soon

While the Canadian government’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel released a report Thursday advising Ottawa to end its mandatory hotel quarantine policy for international air travellers, don’t expect it to happen immediately.

The panel didn’t actually call upon the government to end the hotel quarantine policy immediately as it recommended that “changes to border measures should be implemented in a phased approach” adding that “future changes to border measures (for example, easing of measures as vaccination becomes widespread) should be similarly phased.”

That’s in line with the federal government’s announcement this week that it has extended the policy until June 21 that requires people arriving in the country by airplane to quarantine in a government-approved hotel at their own expense for up to three days as a way to control the importation of COVID variants.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra hasn’t given a timeline as to when the policy could end or when Canada would re-open to international travel, but said plans are in the works.

“Stay tuned … we’re going to have new announcements, new measures,” he said.

The panel also recommended against country-specific travel restrictions like the one currently in force against travellers from India which it says is “of limited value”  because travellers are able to circumvent such restrictions and that the targetted relevant variant will likely have already spread to other countries.

Instead, it recommends “increased monitoring of quarantine compliance should be considered for travellers arriving from countries with new variants of concern.”

WestJet immediately issued a release applauding the report’s recommendations.

“These findings are evidence-based recommendations that are proportionate and reduce risks,” said WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims in a release. ” We ask that the government immediately prepare a safe restart plan based on this report and current global policies. With vaccinations ramping up, Canadians need to know they can travel once again.”

One Toronto Sun columnist wondered why the government was still bothering with the hotel quarantine policy, saying that it has “achieved absolutely nothing to prevent the import of variants in Canada. People found ways to circumvent the stopovers that seemed utterly unnecessary and draconian and created big holes in travellers’ pockets, not to mention the huge inconvenience.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hinted that the restrictions will likely remain until at least 75 per cent of the population has their first vaccine dose and that community transmission is under control.

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