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Inside an isolation hotel: What to expect in quarantine – CBC.ca

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Not far from the country’s largest airport near Toronto, a Peel Region hotel has been converted into an isolation centre for anyone exposed to COVID-19, including those confirmed to be infected.

Almost anyone is eligible to stay — free of charge — with one big exception. This quarantine facility isn’t for returning travellers.

“We’re hoping to fill the place,” said Leslie Moreau, who runs three other hotel sites in Brampton and Mississauga, now giving the region a total isolation capacity of 373 rooms.

While the federal government ramps up a requirement for inbound travellers to stay at least three days in a hotel, at their own expense, Peel Region has been scaling up its own local isolation operation, opening three hotel sites in just over a month. The fourth started accepting people on Monday.

The area has consistently had one of the country’s highest rates of COVID-19 infections. Public health authorities point to a concentration of health and long-term care workers, as well as communal work settings like e-retailing warehouses and manufacturing, as contributors to the spread of the virus in the community.

Peel also has a significant number of large multigenerational households, where elderly grandparents may live alongside working parents and school-age grandchildren.

“It’s very hard to safely isolate,” said Moreau of Peel’s multigenerational homes, “so if they’re here [at the hotel] in their own room, then it’s safer and we’re going to be able to control the spread.”

Persuading the skeptical to leave home to isolate

Though the region has requested that the exact location of the hotels not be revealed publicly, the four sites are located in East Brampton, South Brampton, North Mississauga and now, South Mississauga.

The cost to rent and staff the hotels is paid for entirely with emergency money from the federal and provincial governments. As a result, guests requiring isolation pay nothing for their stay.

Rebekah Brant Garcia, with the Salvation Army, lays out a meal package on Feb. 1 ahead of the arrival of guests at a hotel converted into a voluntary COVID-19 isolation facility near Pearson Airport. Peel Region started the initiative to help reduce community spread of the coronavirus, particularly in multigenerational homes that are common in the area. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

With transportation to the facility available in a specially sealed mini-bus, 24-hour on-site nursing staff, temperature checks, security, and meals delivered right to the door, Peel Region is trying to remove any inconvenience, fear or stigma from the isolation process.

“Racialized Canadians are most impacted by COVID-19. It requires a nuanced approach,” notes nurse Ameek Singh.

“To hear a common language … their anxiety goes way down. It starts not only with us as the health care providers here, but the food that’s offered, the facilities that are offered, and the cultural norms that are understood.”

Nurse Ameek Singh, part of a group of health care and hospitality workers, prepares a room for the arrival of a guest at a hotel converted into a voluntary COVID-19 isolation facility in Peel Region on Feb. 1. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Families are, for instance, able to drop off food or other supplies should a guest ask for anything. Menu options offer everything from hamburgers to vegetarian biryani, and mild jerk chicken to fish tandoori.

The catch, of course, is the isolation. By checking in, a guest is agreeing to stay inside their room with rare opportunities to go outside, and they can’t mingle with others or see anyone other than staff. Guests are forbidden. Even for those who remain asymptomatic, cable TV and wifi only stave off boredom to a certain degree.

Others who come to an isolation hotel will also be COVID-positive, and could become very ill during their time there. Those who test positive are kept on a separate floor, and nursing staff conduct regular health checks to ensure wellbeing. Anyone needing hospitalization is offered transfer by ambulance.

The keys to the success of the program are twofold — persuading people of the benefits of isolation outside their homes, and timing.

Health authorities want those potentially exposed to COVID-19 to come here immediately, rather than returning home or to a workplace where the risk of transmission jumps.

Guests at Peel Region’s isolation hotel are offered menu options ranging from hamburgers to vegetarian biryani. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Having restricted who could access an isolation hotel earlier in the pandemic, the criteria has recently been loosened in the hopes more will use the service. Anyone who learns of a potential exposure through public health, or contacts them directly, is now told of the isolation hotel if they report not having a suitable place to quarantine apart from others.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the past week … getting out to assessment centres,” said Moreau, Peel’s manager of Human Services.

“What we really want is people to come here when they’re looking to book a COVID test, not once they’re already positive. So we would like to get them here sooner rather than later.”

Isolation hotels similar to what incoming travellers will soon face

While guests are strongly encouraged to stay for their entire 14-day quarantine period, this is not an obligation at the Peel Region facility and the other three isolation hotels in the area.

That is not the case at another hotel in Mississauga operated by the Public Health Agency of Canada, which may serve as the model for the mandated isolation period that returning or arriving international travellers could soon face.

On Jan. 28, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that mandatory testing for the coronavirus would soon be required for people returning to Canada, on top ofpre-departure test requirements implemented earlier this year. Travellers will then have to wait up to three days at a government-approved hotel for their results, which Trudeau said must be paid by the traveller and could cost upwards of $2,000.

Ottawa isn’t banning non-essential travel; it’s making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible. Now, in addition to existing requirements, returning travellers will need to quarantine in a hotel for three days at their own expense, at a likely cost of at least $2,000. 2:33

“It’s not an experience that I would pay to have,” Hyunseo Cho said.

Cho and her husband, JT Stubbs, returned from South Korea in the early months of the pandemic. At the time, they were sharing a home with a pregnant relative and, unable to afford temporary accommodations, asked border officials if there was an alternative. They were transported to a hotel room where they spent 23 hours a day.

Unlike the regional isolation hotel, the young couple was not permitted to leave the hotel unless seeking urgent medical treatment. They were required to remain in their room for 14 days after arrival, with the exception of one hour of walking time each day in the fenced-off parking lot.

“Boredom was my big issue,” Cho recalled.

The couple is now strongly opposed to any international travel, except for emergency reasons.

Their experience — confined by security guards, seeing only cleaning staff passing through the peep-hole in the hotel door — may be indicative of what Canadians returning from abroad will now experience.

Saving lives in hotel isolation

While federal authorities are sending a message of discouragement through their new hotel quarantine urging Canadians to stop travelling abroad, regional officials are sending a very different message.

Peel Region is encouraging those who’ve been exposed to isolate safely with them. And besides the desire to protect their families and community, the care and monitoring people receive at Peel’s isolation hotel may help attract those who have been exposed or infected.

At the regional facility for local residents, nurse Rasheen Oliver is a veteran of isolation hotels. Just before Christmas in one of the hotels, she was caring for a woman whose health was rapidly deteriorating, but the woman’s anxiety about going to hospital was also high.

Nurse Rasheen Oliver says the work at isolation hotels is stressful, but also rewarding. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Oliver called an ambulance and coaxed the woman to leave the hotel. The patient ended up hospitalized for 21 days.

“If she would have stayed in the hotel room … she probably would have died. So she was very grateful. She sent me flowers and a beautiful card saying she would pray for me for the rest of her life.”

Oliver is now working at the newest of the four hotels, part of a team going door-to-door in full personal protective equipment (PPE) to regularly check on residents and respond to their concerns. As she does so, she remembers that one woman.

“It reminds me of why I’m here. The work in itself sometimes can be a little stressful, but it’s rewarding when you have moments like that.”


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Muslim family truck attack given farewell with coffins draped in Canadian flags

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Several hundred mourners joined a public funeral service on Saturday to bid farewell to a Canadian Muslim family run over and killed by a man in a pick-up truck last Sunday in an attack the police said was driven by hate.

The hour-long ceremony started after the four coffins draped in Canadian flags rolled into the compound of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, and ended with prayers and condolences offered by religious and community leaders.

The four victims, spanning three generations, were killed when Nathaniel Veltman, 20, ran into them while they were out for an evening walk near their home in London, Ontario. A fifth family member, a 9-year-old boy, is recovering from his injuries in the hospital.

Police have said the attack was premeditated and allege the family was targeted because of their Islamic faith.

The funeral procession later proceeded for a private burial.

“And the very fact their coffins are draped in the beautiful Canadian flag is an apt testimony of the fact that the entire Canadian nation stands with them,” Raza Bashir Tarar High Commissioner for Pakistan to Canada told the gathering.

The family moved to Canada from Pakistan some 14 years ago.

The attack sparked outrage across Canada, with politicians from all sides condemning the crime, spurring growing calls to take action to curb hate crime and Islamophobia. The city of London, 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Toronto, has seen an outpouring of support in the aftermath of the attack.

That has given some hope to the grieving community to look beyond the tragedy.

“Irrespective of colour and creed, the expressions of raw emotion, the prayers, the quiet tears, the messages of comfort from people we know and from people that are complete strangers, it has been the first step towards finding a way to heal,” Ali Islam, maternal uncle of Madiha Salman, one of the victims, told the gathering.

Veltman, who returns to court on Monday, faces four charges of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the killings a “terrorist attack” and vowed to clamp down on far-right groups and online hate.

“I think we’re emotionally exhausted,” Imam Aarij Anwer told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp before the ceremony. “We’re looking forward to having some closure on Saturday.”

 

(Reporting by Carlos Osorio in London; Writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Aurora Ellis)

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G7 demand action from Russia on cybercrimes and chemical weapon use

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The Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations on Sunday demanded Russia take action against those conducting cyber attacks and using ransomware from within its borders.

The rebuke came in a communique issued after a three-day summit of G7 leaders in Britain that also called on Moscow to “stop its destabilising behaviour and malign activities” and conduct an investigation into the use of chemical weapons on Russian soil.

The communique said Russia must “hold to account those within its borders who conduct ransomware attacks, abuse virtual currency to launder ransoms, and other cybercrimes”.

The issue is in the spotlight after a cyber attack on Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States, and another that disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

Britain has previously said Russia is a leading proponent of cyber attacks.

The G7 statement called for wider action against ransomware attacks, describing the practice of encrypting victims’ data and demanding payment for its return as an “escalating shared threat”.

“We call on all states to urgently identify and disrupt ransomware criminal networks operating from within their borders, and hold those networks accountable for their actions,” it said.

The call for an investigation into chemical weapon use comes after Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was treated in Germany for what German doctors said was poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent. He accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin denies.

“We call on Russia to urgently investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil,” the G7 document said.

 

(Reporting by William James; editing by Michael Holden)

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G7 chides China on rights, demands COVID origins investigation

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Group of Seven leaders on Sunday scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

After discussing how to come up with a unified position on China, leaders issued a highly critical final communique that delved into what are for China some of the most sensitive issues, including also Taiwan.

The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.

China’s rise has also unnerved the United States: President Joe Biden casts China as the main strategic competitor and has vowed to confront China’s “economic abuses” and push back against human rights violations.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said.

The G7 also called for a transparent, expert-led Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including in China, to be convened by the World Health Organization (WHO). Reuters earlier reported the finalised version of the draft communique.

“We haven’t had access to the laboratories,” Biden told reporters.

Biden said it was not yet certain whether or not “a bat interfacing with animals and the environment… caused this COVID-19, or whether it was an experiment gone awry in a laboratory”.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China pointedly cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” they said.

FORCED LABOUR

Biden said democracies were in a global contest with “autocratic governments”, and that the G7 had to deliver viable alternatives.

“We’re in a contest, not with China per se, … with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden told reporters.

“As I’ve told (Chinese President) Xi Jinping myself, I’m not looking for conflict. Where we cooperate, we’ll cooperate; where we disagree I’m going to state this frankly, and we are going to respond to actions that are inconsistent.”

The G7 – comprising the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada – said it was concerned about forced labour in global supply chains including in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors.

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China. It says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

U.N. experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang in northwest China.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, William James, Michel Rose and Michael Holden; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

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