British Columbia

Cancer patients travelling to U.S. for treatment want exemption from quarantine rules

Two cancer patients in B.C. say they should be exempt from the federal government's quarantine rules because their trips to the U.S. for treatment are essential to their well-being.

2 B.C. residents say their travel is essential to their well-being

Kimberley Muise (left) and Anna Nyarady both travel regularly to the U.S. to take part in a clinical trial to treat cancer. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Two cancer patients from Metro Vancouver say they should be exempt from the federal government's quarantine rules because their trips to the U.S. for treatment are essential to their well-being.

Kimberley Muise has been travelling monthly to Los Angeles since last March to take part in an immunotherapy clinical trial to treat her Stage 4 cervical cancer. Each time she comes home from her 24-hour stay there, she has to quarantine for two weeks. 

"It's extremely stressful. It's already stressful having Stage 4 cancer," said Muise, who lives in North Vancouver, B.C.

"I have to leave my husband and young children to travel down for cancer treatment. It's hard enough."

As well as the emotional toll, Muise says the regular trips to California are costing her financially — and that will only increase with the federal government's new restrictions announced last week.

They require non-essential travellers returning to Canada to stay in a hotel, at a cost of up to $2,000, while they wait for results of a COVID-19 test.

"We just want Public Health Canada to recognize essential medical travel as essential and give us an exemption," Muise said. 

'If you miss your treatment, you're out'

Anna Nyarady, who had Stage 4 colon cancer, has been travelling to the same clinic in Los Angeles as Muise.

Nyarady, who lives in Vancouver, says she's been taking part in the clinical trial for 2½ years and she's now considered cancer free. Her treatment is ongoing and she flies south every three weeks. 

"The protocol for clinical trials is if you miss your treatment, you're out automatically," she said. "So I have to do everything in my power to make my treatment dates."

Nyarady asked the federal government for an exception to the quarantine rules for non-essential travellers. 

"We're not travelling because we have other options available to us," she said. "We have no other options."

Travel exemptions

In an email to Nyarady sent two weeks ago, before the latest rules were imposed, the Public Health Agency of Canada said medical travellers were not exempt from pre-boarding testing requirements that require travellers to Canada to get a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before boarding their flight. 

As for the rules regarding quarantine upon re-entry to Canada, exempted persons listed on the government's website include essential workers, people who regularly cross the border to work and those who maintain the flow of essential goods or people.  

It does not include medical travellers. However, some people travelling to Canada for medical treatment are exempt from quarantining here when they arrive. Nyarady and Muise say that's unfair. 

Regarding the new restrictions that will require travellers to stay in a hotel while they wait for the results of a COVID-19 test, the federal government says there will be "very limited exceptions" and more details will be available in the next few days. 

Raising awareness

Nyarady says she understands and supports the government's measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19, but she doesn't think medical travellers like her pose a risk. 

Not only is Nyarady immuno-compromised, if she were to get sick with the virus she would no longer be able to take part in the clinical trial. She says she takes every precaution possible to avoid contracting the virus. 

"I personally don't think that I am a threat to the public because first and foremost, I have to keep myself safe," she said. 

"I'm just trying to raise awareness with the government that we need to be heard, we need to be considered."

With files from Cory Correia

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