The federal government will force travellers returning to Canada, with the exception of so-called essential workers coming from the United States, to quarantine for 14 days to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The measure was announced by Health Minister Patty Hajdu in the Senate Wednesday.
“Effective at midnight tonight, travellers returning to Canada, with the exception of essential workers, will be subject to a mandatory 14-day isolation under the Quarantine Act,” Hajdu said, referring to the legislation that gives the federal health minister powers to, among other things, fine or jail travellers who disobey orders.
An official later confirmed the new measures already came into force at midnight on Wednesday.
“This new measure will provide the clarity for those re-entering the country about the essential need to self-isolate,” Hajdu said.
Maximum penalties for failing to comply with the Quarantine Act include a fine of up to $750,000 and six months in jail, but those found to have caused a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person could face fines of up to $1 million and imprisonment for up to three years.
Travellers who exhibit symptoms upon arrival in Canada will be forbidden from using public transit to get to their destination of self-isolation, she added.
Hajdu later reiterated to reporters that COVID-19 is particularly difficult to detect sometimes because symptoms can appear mild. She urged people to take this unique public health challenge seriously.
“You have to pretend that you are actually holding the virus and that you may very well transmit it to the person that is closer to you than six feet away,” she said.
Hajdu had warned for days that the federal government was prepared to take stricter measures to ensure Canadians comply with calls for self-isolation and social distancing. She said last week that Canadians refusing to self-isolate were putting “our civil liberties in jeopardy.”
At a later press conference in Ottawa, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said officials will gather travellers’ contact information and then will follow-up with them directly to ensure they are remaining in their homes, regardless of their symptoms.
“[This] is a serious further step… it should make Canadians feel much safer,” Freeland said.
The deputy PM stressed, however, that travellers should have already been self-isolating, not only to protect public health but “ensure our economy rebounds” quicker.
“If we can flatten the curve then we can go back to normal life more quickly,” she said, referencing the efforts to slow the number of new cases each day.
A senior Liberal not authorized to speak about the matter publicly told HuffPost Canada it will be up to the Canada Border Services Agency to “randomly select folks that are coming in,” and ask them to provide their phone number and address. Police may then call or visit to ensure the quarantine is being respected.
The new mandatory measures for people returning to Canada follow tighter international travel rules introduced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among these measures include the redirection of all international flights to four airports: Toronto Pearson International Airport, Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, and the Calgary and Vancouver International Airports. This new directive does not affect flights between the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico, and St. Pierre-et-Miquelon.
The Canada-U.S. border was partially closed last week to all non-essential travel in effort to reduce the risk of travel-related virus transmission.
COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Symptoms of the disease include coughing, fever, and mild to life-threatening pneumonia in both lungs.
The disease is spread by respiratory droplets from an infected person. But people infected with COVID-19 may also be asymptomatic, which increases the risk of transmission through social contact.
The federal government announced Wednesday there are at least 3,197 confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19. There have been 27 deaths. Most of the new cases are the result of community spread, said Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer.
With files from Althia Raj, The Canadian Press