A new Canadian health order requiring a three-day hotel quarantine for air travellers got off to a rocky start on Monday, as some passengers complained of long waits to access the hotel-booking system.
Across Canada and abroad, travellers spoke of disconnected calls and hours or even days waiting on the line to make a reservation, forcing some to cancel their flights altogether.
Markham, Ont., resident Anuja Sharma, who flew to India roughly two weeks ago with her mother and her sister to resolve a legal issue with a family property, said Monday her family had yet to secure a spot, despite having spent hours on hold with the booking line.
“Collectively, between my husband and me, we’ve spent 14 hours on the phone,” Sharma said from India, adding that neither she nor her husband got through.
At the Montreal airport on Monday, Loveline Akonbeng, who landed on a flight from Brussels, said it took her sister three days waiting on the phone for multiple hours to finally get through. “Three hours of waiting and sometimes the line would cut off by itself,” said Akonbeng, who described feeling “panicked” as her travel date approached.
Tarek Mahmud Sonon and his wife Rushda Raman, who are moving to Regina from Bangladesh, were forced to cancel their flight and delay the beginning of their new life in Canada after being unable to book a hotel.
The couple and their relatives in North America unsuccessfully tried calling the reservation line, Sonon said in an email, estimating they spent five to six hours on hold for each attempt. The pair, who are moving to Canada on work and student visas, were supposed to arrive on Monday. They underwent a pre-departure COVID-19 test before being faced with the hotel hurdle, he said.
“We are now in great depression thinking about our future and next course of action,” Sonon said.
Toronto resident Deb Robinson said she turned to social media over the weekend to voice her concerns about the system after being unable to book a hotel despite multiple tries, only to be met with a barrage of angry messages from users upset that she travelled in the first place.
Robinson is visiting her sick 88-year-old mother at an assisted living facility in Florida, knowing that this may be her last chance to see the elderly woman.
“They told us what we were going to have to do if we came back after this date,” Robinson, who is scheduled to return Thursday, said in an interview. “But now they’re not keeping up their end of the bargain. I feel very frustrated.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the tighter border controls are meant to keep everyone safe, not punish travellers. At a press conference on Friday, Trudeau acknowledged there had been issues with the phone lines but said the problems would be cleared up shortly.
A group that advocates for Canadian family reunification filed a challenge to the hotel quarantine health order on Friday in Quebec Superior Court, arguing the measure violates passengers’ rights and is too expensive for low-income families. The group is also asking the government to make an exception to the quarantine rules for compassionate reasons and family reunifications.
The hotel stays, which must be paid for by the travellers, are just one of a series of measures that came into effect on Monday to limit the spread of COVID-19 and the introduction of variants considered more transmissible than the dominant virus strain circulating in the country.
Most incoming air travellers will need to get tested for the virus upon arrival and again toward the end of their mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Travellers arriving at land borders will be given self-swab kits, and testing will be provided on-site at five high-volume border crossings. The new rules are in addition to previous orders that require a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival. Travellers will need to complete a second test on Day 10 of their self-isolation period.
The number of COVID-19 cases has continued to decline steadily across much of the country, according to Canada’s chief public health officer.
Ontario reported 1,058 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths linked to the virus on Monday, as the York region returned to the province’s colour-coded system of pandemic restrictions on Monday. A stay-at-home order remained in effect for three other areas, including Toronto.
Quebec’s government-mandated public health institute said 86 more suspected cases of coronavirus variants had been detected in the province, for a total of 415 suspected cases. Quebec has confirmed 23 cases.
At least 10 schools across the province have been fully or partially closed because of suspected cases of variants, prompting the president of a union representing teachers at Quebec’s English-language schools to call for stronger health measures to protect teachers and students, including smaller class sizes and a greater use of rapid tests.
In British Columbia, six schools in Surrey and another in Delta — just outside Vancouver — have had cases involving variants.
Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, chief medical health officer of the Fraser Health authority, said cases tested so far have been linked to the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, but she declined to say how many cases have been detected at the schools.
Alberta reported 11 new cases of variants across the province, bringing that total to 289.
New Brunswick, meanwhile, reported a seventh COVID-19-related death at an Edmundston long-term care home, leading the Opposition Liberals to call for a review into the Belle Vue facility, which has had more than 90 cases of COVID-19.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021.
— With files from Paola Loriggio, Julien Arsenault, Kevin Bissett, Jacob Serebrin and Camille Bains.
Canada Post urging Canadians to reach out to loved ones – TheChronicleHerald.ca
SYDNEY, N.S. —
Canada Post is urging Canadians to reach out to loved ones with a free, postage-paid postcard that will soon be arriving in mailboxes across the country.
Some 13.5 million postcards are expected to start arriving March 1, which can be used to send a special message to anyone, anywhere in Canada.
Every household across the country will receive one of six specially designed postcards that can be used.
“Meaningful connection is vital for our emotional health, sense of community and overall well-being,” said Doug Ettinger, president and CEO of Canada Post, in a news release.
“Canada Post wants everyone to stay safe, but also stay in touch with the people who matter to them.”
The postcards are part of the “Write Here Write Now” program that was launched in September 2020 to encourage Canadians to use letter writing to connect in a heartfelt way.
Messages on the cards include “I miss you,” “I’ve been meaning to write,” Wishing I were there,” and “Sending hugs.”
Those who send the cards are encouraged to share photos and video of sending and receiving their postcards using #WriteHereWriteNow.
For more details on the program visit: canadapost.ca/writenow.
The campaign is similar to one announced by Engage Nova Scotia, “From Me to You.” That campaign urges provincial residents to send a cheery note to strangers and friends alike.
It is hoped the notes will be used by multiple sectors from businesses to individuals as a way to reach out to others in a time of a global pandemic. Public health restrictions across the country have now been in place for nearly a year in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Such restrictions include limitations on the number of people gathering both indoors and outdoors and have also curtailed travelling between provinces with the exception of essential workers.
Both programs are hoped to provide a measure of comfort for those having reduced contact with family and friends.
To learn more, visit https://engagenovascotia.ca/from-me-to-you.
Some travellers at Toronto airport fined for violating Ontario rules – CBC.ca
Several international travellers arriving at Toronto’s Pearson airport have refused to comply with Ontario’s rules aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, local police said Wednesday.
Peel Region police said that while most cases were resolved after conversations with officers, some people refused to follow the rules and were fined $880 under Ontario regulations.
There have been 49 fines handed out since the start of February, a police spokesperson told CBC News. Those fines relate to things like skipping COVID-19 tests or other infractions.
However, police said they will not detain anyone for breaking a new hotel quarantine rule, which came into effect this week, unless there are aggravating circumstances involved, such as a criminal offence.
They said the Public Health Agency of Canada would be responsible for issuing any potential fines under the Quarantine Act.
The federal government this week implemented new rules that require anyone arriving in Canada to fly through Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver or Montreal and stay in isolation at one of several quarantine hotels for up to three nights. Travellers may only leave after a negative COVID-19 test but are expected to self-isolate for a total of 14 days.
Federal public health agency ‘aware of the situation’
The Public Health Agency of Canada said Wednesday that it was “aware of the situation” and looking into allegations of people skipping hotel quarantine.
“Travellers are legally obligated to follow the instructions of a screening officer or quarantine officer through the 14-day period, whether in regards to testing, transit to locations, their mandatory hotel stopover or during quarantine at home or other suitable location,” it said.
“If they do not follow the instructions, there are penalties, including a maximum fine of up to $750,000 or imprisonment for six months.”
Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s medical officer of health, said Wednesday that the quarantine measures are in place to protect the public.
“It’s unfortunate … that this might be occurring,” said Loh. “Please remember that it’s a disease that spreads from person to person, and it takes all of us to do our part.”
RCMP in Vancouver has no reports of people not complying
Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, Ont., just north of Pearson airport, said that people who choose to ignore the regulations are being selfish.
“By not being mindful that you can bring dangerous variants into the country, you’re being selfish to your neighbours, to your city,” said Brown. “I hope that people do abide by the new stricter guidelines.”
Meanwhile, RCMP in Vancouver said they had no reports of people failing to comply with the new rules.
Federal officials have said that the costs associated with keeping travellers in isolation at one of the government-approved hotels could be up to $2,000 for a three-night stay. Travellers are expected to cover those costs, which the government has said include the testing, transportation, food, hotel security and cleaning.
Series of measures came into effect Monday
The hotel stays are among a series of measures that came into effect on Monday to limit the spread of COVID-19 and more contagious variants of the virus.
Most in-coming air travellers will need to get tested for the virus upon arrival and again toward the end of their mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Travellers arriving at land borders will be given self-swab kits, and testing will be provided on site at five high-volume border crossings.
The new rules are in addition to previous orders that require a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival. Travellers will need to complete a second test on Day 10 of their self-isolation period.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the tighter border controls are meant to keep everyone safe.
Canada's new top military commander steps aside following sexual misconduct claim – CBC.ca
Admiral Art McDonald abruptly stepped aside late Wednesday night as Canada’s top military commander after questions were posed to the Department of National Defence about a sexual misconduct investigation into allegations against him.
Those allegations, CBC News has learned, involve a female crew member and an incident a decade ago aboard a warship that was participating in a northern exercise.
Several media outlets were tipped off that an investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service was underway and had been for some time.
CBC News asked for comment late Wednesday and received no response until 11 p.m., when Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan released a statement announcing that McDonald — who took over the chief of the defence staff post just a month ago — had stepped aside voluntarily while the investigation is ongoing.
The minister did not reveal the nature of the allegations against McDonald and said he will not comment further because the investigation is ongoing.
Allegation dates back to 2010
However, sources with knowledge of the investigation spoke to CBC News and say the allegation of misconduct dates back to 2010 and involves an incident aboard HMCS Montreal, which at the time was involved in the military’s annual Arctic exercise known as Operation Nanook.
The allegation against McDonald, who was a naval captain at the time, involves a female junior officer and took place during a party that involved alcohol.
The investigation comes on the heels of another, separate case involving the man McDonald replaced.
Military police are investigating allegations that the former chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, had a long-standing inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate and separately sent a racy email to another woman, also of lower rank.
The allegations against Vance led to a parliamentary inquiry into when the Liberal government became aware of the claims and what sort of action it took to verify them.
Investigation began a month ago
In his speech during his swearing-in ceremony, McDonald apologized to victims of racism and misconduct in the military.
He later told reporters that he felt it was necessary to make the apology because he was certain that he had unintentionally been part of some of the problems that the military is now trying to address.
He did not cite a specific incident in his past in those remarks on Jan. 14, but suggested that “when challenged by some of the circumstances, I thought maybe I didn’t hear a voice.”
Sources tell CBC News the investigation into the 2010 incident involving McDonald began a month ago, around the time the new chief was sworn in.
Several witnesses and the alleged victim have been interviewed, the source said.
Both the defence department and Sajjan’s office have refused all further comment.
Sajjan has appointed Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre as acting chief of the defence staff. Eyre currently is the commander of the army.
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