Nfld. & Labrador

Isle aux Morts man caught in the middle of federal vs. provincial quarantine rules

To quarantine or not to quarantine: That is the question for a Newfoundland man working on the Great Lakes who feels he's been unfairly shut away in his house.

Eric Francis told to stay home, despite federal guidelines saying he doesn't have to

Eric Francis works onboard a freighter on the Great Lakes. He's caught somewhere between federal and provincial rules on quarantine when he returns to Newfoundland and Labrador. (Submitted by Lydia Francis)

To quarantine or not to quarantine: that is the question for a Newfoundland man working on the Great Lakes who feels he's been unfairly shut away in his house.

Eric Francis lives in Isle aux Morts on the island's southwest coast, but makes his living aboard a Great Lakes freighter out of Toronto, delivering essential items like iron ore.

Sometimes he moves into waters of the United States, but no matter where he is, Francis and a small crew of four never leave the ship.

Because of those infrequent trips south of the border, Francis feels he's stuck in between two sets of rules — provincial and federal guidelines for quarantine due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

"It's very hard. It's mentally hard. It's physically hard," said his wife, Lydia Francis, from their home in Isle aux Morts.

Who regulates what?

The situation is confusing, as rotational workers returning to Newfoundland and Labrador from other places in Canada can be tested for COVID-19 after five days, and leave self-isolation after seven days if they test negative.

But because Francis sometimes travels to the United States, he's not considered part of that provincial regulation.

Health Minister John Haggie says the federal government sets the rules for essential workers on ships that touch international waters. (CBC)

Health Minister John Haggie said he's just recently learned that people like Francis are regulated federally, not provincially.

Federal guidelines state essential workers returning home do not have to self-isolate.

That means Francis should be exempt, but he's been told by provincial health officials that he must isolate for 14 days when he comes home.

In a statement to CBC News, Transport Canada confirmed this should not be the case.

The federal government issued a bulletin on June 30, allowing anyone involved in work deemed essential exempt from quarantine. There is no indication that the provincial rule supercedes this federal mandate.

"This also includes those who cross the border regularly to ensure the continued flow of goods and services," the statement reads.

Disappointing news

Francis works for 30 days followed by 30 days off. He's returned home three times since the pandemic, spending half his time off in isolation.

Newfoundland and Labrador enacted its new regulations for rotational workers at the beginning of this month, the day before Francis was due home.

"It was his third time home this summer so we were excited," Lydia said.

Francis sometimes has to visit the United States, but says nobody aboard the ship is allowed shore leave, and nobody on land is allowed to board the ship. (The Associated Press)

But when they called 811 to ask about getting a COVID-19 test after his fifth day in isolation, they were told he didn't qualify.

Health Minister Haggie didn't have all the answers when asked about the plight of sailors on Tuesday.

"I can't answer the specifics of that because it is very contextual," he said. "Quite frankly, we have an issue with rotational workers feeling they have been disadvantaged."

Haggie did say that owners of ships can contact the province's health officials and try to sort through situations for their employers. He said some have had success with that.

The rules remain unclear, but Lydia Francis hopes things get smoothed out before her husband returns home the next time.

"I really don't see the fairness," she said. "All rotational workers should be treated the same."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan and Here & Now

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