During his 14-day mandatory stay at Calgary’s COVID-19 isolation hotel, Angelo Vanegas said he could not get food for up to 15 hours overnight, was locked in a small room, and had to “beg” for medical treatment an infection. He said he felt ignored, disrespected and abused.
Another traveler, Mitch Beaulieu, said it was like a science fiction thriller to him. Police and security officers escorted him from Calgary’s airport to a van with darkened windows and took him to a hotel with plastic-lined hallways. There he was greeted by people wearing hazmat suits, gloves and face masks.
The two men now at home are among the few willing to speak publicly about their mandatory stays at Calgary’s isolation hotel.
It is one of eleven locations in nine cities named by the Canadian Health Commissioner to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading through travel. They are designed to accommodate travelers returning to Canada who do not have a valid COVID-19 test result or a quarantine plan. The government has consistently advised against non-essential travel abroad, and detailed rules on what COVID-19 tests are accepted and how to meet mandatory isolation requirements are available online.
Inside the Calgary facility, one is “pretty isolated from anyone in the world. You just get here and that’s it,” said Vanegas, 30, an Air Canada flight attendant on leave.
“I feel like a prisoner here, you know.”
Vanegas is unhappy with the way he was treated at the Calgary site. He said he threatened to call 911 to get medical help for an infected toe. (Submitted by Angelo Vanegas)
While the Canadian Health Department won’t say how many people have stayed at the Calgary facility – or even where it’s provided to protect the privacy and safety of travelers – 5,030 people have been housed at the sites nationwide as of Jan. 24.
Vanegas said he tested negative for coronavirus prior to flying back to Calgary and expected to connect to Edmonton, where he would complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine period required for all returning non-essential travelers at the house, that he shares with his mother and sister. However, health officials rejected his quarantine plan because both women had underlying illnesses.
Vanegas says travelers quarantined at the Calgary site are required to stay in their rooms for 23 hours and 45 minutes every day. He provided photos of the floors and walls outside his hotel room on the fifth floor, some of which were covered and covered with plastic.
A security guard is stationed next to the elevator to make sure no one leaves – unless they venture outside into the hotel courtyard for 15 minutes a day.
Three meals are delivered daily, which he describes as “child-sized”. Meals are no longer available after 6 p.m. Room service is not available. Only unhealthy snacks can be bought. The delivery of food outside the company is prohibited, as is care packages from friends or family.
The worst, he says, was dealing with an ingrown toenail that became infected.
Photos of the food on the premises near the Calgary airport, which Vanegas says came in very small portions. (Submitted by Angelo Vanegas)
When he asked for medical help, he said he was offered Epsom salts to soak his foot. He says his complaint was not taken seriously until the condition worsened and he threatened to call an ambulance.
“I told them, listen, you’re going to take me to the hospital or I’ll have to call 911 because I’m in so much pain.”
Vanegas says he went to the hospital the next day and was given antibiotics. Two days later he was brought back to have his toenail removed.
“I should be able to get immediate access to medical treatment,” he said, “not begging for it.”
He also said he found the way staff spoke to him when he asked that soap and shampoo were “humiliating and degrading”.
“They say, ‘Oh, you got a bar of soap three days ago.’ ‘
The hallway outside Mitch Beaulieu’s hotel room at the federally designated quarantine location near Calgary Airport. Groceries and supplies are kept in bins outside the guest rooms. (Mitch Beaulieu)
When asked about his situation, the Canadian Health Department said it couldn’t comment on any information on individual travelers, citing privacy and security concerns.
Beaulieu, a Calgary business owner, was moved to the same facility after showing health officials the negative COVID-19 test result, which enabled him to board his flight home from the United States
Beaulieu says he paid $ 220 for the test, but it wasn’t one of the types required by Canadian health officials.
“The whole experience was easy, it was amazing. I literally felt like I was in a third world country,” he said from his hotel room.
He provided CBC News with a video of an exchange between him and two people at the hotel who he believed was a member of the Canadian Red Cross, where he repeatedly asked them where he is, how long he will be there, and when . I’ll get an approved test. They tell him they don’t know.
Mitch Beaulieu’s pre-flight COVID-19 test result has been found invalid at Calgary Airport. He spent three nights in the hotel and was allowed to complete his quarantine at home. (Submitted by Mitch Beaulieu)
Beaulieu said he felt like he was staying in the dark for several days. He ended up calling the Red Cross, but said that didn’t help.
“Your answer is, ‘Oh sir, someone will come over and talk to you,'” he said.
“Nobody knows anything about anything. And I’m just stuck here and waiting.”
His wife, who arrived at the airport to pick him up, returned home crying.
Beaulieu said he arrived at the hotel with no luggage and only had the clothes he was wearing and his phone.
He said the worst part was the lack of communication and clear instructions upon arrival, and that it would have been a lot smoother if someone had shown empathy and compassion.
“If only they’d be nice and tell you what’s going on and say, ‘Hey, you have to stay here two weeks. And that’s the case. Sorry, it sucks. But that’s exactly it,'” he said.
International travelers asked to complete their 14-day quarantine have been asked not to disclose their location. Outside deliveries and care packages from friends are prohibited. (Submitted by Mitch Beaulieu)
“I mean, that’s one thing, but just being left completely in the dark and thrown into a room and not communicating with anyone is unacceptable.”
“We’re here in Canada, it’s like losing my rights and my freedom,” he said.
When asked about Beaulieu’s case, the Canadian health department stated again that it did not comment on individual cases.
As of Monday, about 432 people in hospitals were being treated for COVID-19 in Alberta, 76 of them in intensive care, and 1,710 had died. There have been 6,196 active COVID-19 cases, the lowest in the province since November 2, when the total number of cases began to grow exponentially, before peaking at more than 21,000 on December 13. That was a day after the province imposed the toughest restrictions, but when infection rates and hospital stays rose dangerously.
The province eased some of those restrictions on Monday.
Trudeau Defends “Medically Based Isolations”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Tuesday how he had responded to the two travelers’ complaints.
“I think it is extremely important to make a clear distinction that it is not a question of incarceration, but rather medical isolation,” said Trudeau.
“We’re not arresting people. These are public health measures necessary to keep Canadians safe, especially given the arrival of new varieties in Canada and around the world.”
Beaulieu was finally allowed to go home after three nights in the hotel. He tested negative for COVID-19 on January 27 and was released the following night.
Vanegas was allowed to leave on January 30th after the full 14-day quarantine. He says he’s healthy and back home in Edmonton. He said he contacted an attorney to discuss a possible claim or lawsuit.
Trudeau said three days was the average time it would take to return the federally approved COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Because of this, a traveler is likely to have to stay in isolation at an approved airport hotel.
But if a PCR test goes negative faster, they can leave if they can self-isolate for the remainder of the mandatory 14 days as required at home, Trudeau said.
- See Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s full response to a question about the complaints and whether these types of reports feed into conspiracy theories about government detention centers in the video below:
Neither Beaulieu nor Vanegas were billed for their hotel stays.
However, the federal government announced in late January that it would soon be charging international air travelers up to $ 2,000 for mandatory testing and three-day self-isolation at a government-approved hotel. Details are expected to be announced in the coming days.
“We think if you want to make that choice [to travel]that they should bear the full cost and responsibility of all measures necessary to ensure the safety of Canadians, “said Public Security Minister Bill Blair.
The federal government also announced Tuesday that non-essential travelers entering Canada across the land border will soon be required to demonstrate a negative PCR test performed 72 hours prior to their arrival – just as air travelers have had to do for a month.
The penalties are harsh for anyone returning to Canada who violates instructions given under the Quarantine Act.
The maximum prison term is six months and / or fines of $ 750,000. If someone breaches their quarantine or isolation requirements and causes someone death or serious injury, they could face a prison sentence of up to three years, a fine of up to $ 1 million, or both.
Bryan Labby is a corporate reporter for CBC Calgary. If you have a good idea or tip for a story, you can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.
Employees at the federally designated quarantine location near Calgary Airport. (Submitted by Mitch Beaulieu)