Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has sent the federal government a letter asking for quarantine measures at Canada’s airports to be extended to the land border with the United States, CBC News has learned.
“We are requesting the implementation of a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine in federally designated hotels at the highest traffic crossings including those in Niagara, Windsor, Sarnia, and Brockville,” Ontario Deputy Premier Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in the letter.
“Some of these crossings, including the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, are located in close proximity to other crossings. It is important that all travelers in these regions are met with the same quarantine requirement, to ensure that all points of entry are protected.”
On Feb. 22, the federal government implemented new quarantine measures at airports requiring all air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad to isolate in a federally mandated facility for up to 72 hours while they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test, commonly known as a PCR test, for COVID-19.
People arriving at land borders were required to take a COVID-19 test when they enter the country and then again after they have isolated themselves at home for 14 days.
Ford asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directly Thursday evening to implement quarantine at a federal facility at land borders during a call with all the premiers. The letter was sent right after the call ended.
After the call, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics Thursday that all of the premiers were behind Ford’s call to implement stronger quarantine restrictions at the land border.
Trudeau “certainly recognized that it is a reality and that they need to work on closing that or controlling that,” Higgs hold host Vassy Kapelos.
A senior federal government source told CBC News Thursday evening the prime minister agreed to continue to work with Ford and other premiers to address their concerns about the border.
Closing a loophole
The written request follows a separate letter sent earlier this week from Ontario asking Ottawa for increased testing at the land border in order to help stop the spread of variants of concern of the COVID-19 virus that are currently fuelling the third wave of the pandemic in Canada.
A three-day mandatory quarantine at a federally designated facility can cost as much as $2,000 per person. To avoid that cost, some people have returned to Canada by flying to a U.S. city close to the Canadian border and then taking a taxi to a port of entry and walking across the border where they can isolate themselves at home without cost.
“To protect the lives and well-being of our citizens, and to stop the spread of new variants into our province, we are requesting that the federal government take immediate action to close this loophole,” the letter to Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair and Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) keeps track of travellers who have tested positive for COVID-19.
From Feb. 22 to April 18, the agency told CBC News it received 50,905 test results from land travellers on the day they arrived in Canada. Of those, 128, or 0.25 per cent, tested positive for COVID-19.
During the same period for air travellers, the agency said it received 144,177 test results, of which 2,541 — or 1.76 per cent — were positive for COVID-19.
In February Blair said imposing the same quarantine requirements at land borders poses a difficult challenge.
“At land borders, we have 117 different points of entry, and many of those points of entry are located in remote, rural areas,” not near hotels or other amenities, he said.