Kitchener man says wait for Toronto quarantine hotel room left him exposed to dozens of people

A Kitchener, Ont., man who to the U.K. to see his young son had booked a stay at a Toronto quarantine hotel for his return, to abide by Ottawa's rules. But the hotel was overbooked, and now he's worried the long wait to check in at another site may have raised his chance of COVID-19 exposure.

John Fackoury says he was shuttled by bus to a 2nd hotel after 1st one he booked was full

John Fackoury of Kitchener, Ont., says he booked a room at a Toronto quarantine hotel, adhering to federal rules, but was told there was no availability, so was left waiting in the lobby of a second hotel. He said he also had to ride in a shuttle bus with eight other people he didn't know and the windows couldn't open. (John Fackoury)

John Fackoury of Kitchener, Ont., was well aware that taking a flight to the United Kingdom to see his son this month meant staying at a quarantine hotel after returning to Canada, but now he fears the experience put him more at risk of  COVID-19 exposure.

"I was more than happy to comply. It's for the sake of public health, and in theory, this sounds like a good way to keep cases, especially with all these variants of concern, from coming over the border," said Fackoury, who booked a government-mandated hotel stay before landing at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on April 19.

Since mid-February, the government mandate that travellers taking flights into Canada stay in a designated quarantine hotel until they receive the results of their COVID-19 test.

Fackoury, who owns and runs a custom sportswear company, used his phone to check into his three-night stay at the hotel, at a cost of $1,000. He said he was directed to go into a shuttle bus with eight other people he didn't know, and the windows couldn't open.

The 30-year-old said that after a 40-minute bus ride to the hotel, he was told it was overbooked and he was being moved to an affiliated hotel. But after arriving at the second hotel, he said, no one knew he was supposed to be checking in and he was told it would be a while before he could.

"They wanted me to wait in a busy lobby, one of seven waiting rooms with several dozen other people."

Bags were lined in the lobby of the second hotel Fackoury was sent to because, he said, there was over an hour wait to check in. (John Fackoury)

Instead, Fackoury waited outside. He saw people come and go from the hotel — some picked up food from delivery drivers and no one seemed to monitor anyone's movement, he said.

By the time he got to his room, "I probably was exposed to at least a hundred other people in an indoor environment."

'Real opportunity' to not comply

A day later, Fackoury received his negative COVID-19 test and was allowed to go home to self-isolate. He remains in isolation until end of day May 2.

"When I checked out, all they did was ask me if I had a negative test; they didn't actually verify that I did, so that was a bit concerning."

Fackoury said the system seemed to be in shambles.

"There was a real opportunity for me to just not comply and I don't know if anybody would have known," he said. "It's just optics to make it look like the government is trying to do something."

Ottawa spokesperson stresses safety

André Gagnon, a media relations adviser for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), was contacted by CBC K-W and responded by email to questions about Fackoury's experience.

Gagnon said the government "takes the health, safety and security of travellers who are staying in government-authorized accommodations or designated quarantine facilities very seriously."

He said the hotels are responsible for:

  • Providing safe transportation of travellers from the airport to the hotel.
  • Providing travellers with three nights of lodging that meet government requirements.
  • Providing traveller necessities, including meals, telephone and Wi-Fi in a safe and accessible environment.
  • Reporting traveller information to the PHAC, including check-in, check-out, and compliance with the Quarantine Act.

Gagnon also said anyone leaving one of the hotels, dubbed a government-authorized accommodation (GAA), before receiving the COVID-19 test results would be in violation of the Quarantine Act. 

"A person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening this act or the regulations, including submitting false information related to an individual's quarantine plan, could be liable for a fine of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or to both," he said.

As of April 20, Gagnon said the PHAC is aware of 404 tickets that have been issued to travellers who arrived in Canada without having booked a GAA hotel and refused to go to one, which could land a $3,000 fine.

Man wants to show quarantine flaws

Fackoury knows not everyone will agree with his decision to travel to see his son, but said he wanted to raise his concerns about the hotels to show the flaws in the system.

Fackoury said he will travel again.

But as things change quickly, he anticipates he'll need to spend hours figuring out the new rules. During past travels, the rules have changed while he was mid-trip. In January, for example, he said the federal government made it so he had to obtain a negative test before getting on the plane to fly home.

But Fackoury said he's willing to abide by the rules to keep people safe.

"Everything I'm saying here is coming from the perspective of somebody who has tried very, very hard to be compliant rather than somebody who's rebelling against the rules."