Nfld. & Labrador

Self-isolation requirements pushing expats to hurry home to N.L. for holiday season

Entry rule changes have filled up flights into the province before restrictions come into place at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

Coming home for holidays 'so crucial,' says Shannon Conway

Jacinta Macey scrambled to find the next flight to St. John's Sunday after hearing that fully vaccinated travellers will have to self-isolate for five days due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. (CBC)

A surge in COVID-19 cases around the world has brought on new restrictions for travellers entering Newfoundland and Labrador, leading some hoping to get home looking for an earlier flight — and some choosing to stay put.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced Sunday that fully vaccinated travellers coming to Newfoundland and Labrador will have to isolate for five days effective 3 p.m. Tuesday. While she said the timing of the situation is brutal, the province sees no other options to limit the spread of coronavirus and the Omicron variant.

"Unfortunately, more movement and travel is what COVID-19 thrives on.... By the time we find a positive case, the virus has likely spread onward," Fitzgerald said Sunday. "The best gift we can give this Christmas does not come from a store, it's our love and support."

As the deadline approaches, the entry rule changes announced Sunday have filled up flights into the province. Jacinta Macey said she worked to move her flight seconds after hearing the news, paying an additional $600 to make it home from Toronto on time.

"It was heartbreaking to hear initially, and then my first thought was 'Well, I have to get the next flight out," Macey told CBC News Monday, who said this Christmas will be her first in the province in six years.

"I just keep thinking the longer COVID goes on, the less time I have to see my people…. I need to be home with my family. This time has taught me more than ever that people around me are what's most important."

Despite getting in before Tuesday afternoon, she says she's choosing to self-isolate for three days, adding she's not taking any chances and hopes others choose to do the same.

Claire Dowden has been using rapid COVID-19 tests daily leading up to her trip to Newfoundland, and believes they should be more widely available to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. (CBC)

Claire Dowden, a university student from the province studying in Nova Scotia, was also able to get her flight changed after hearing the news, something she called a "whirlwind of emotions."

"My initial reaction was to absolutely cry me eyes out, because I thought that I wasn't going to be able to come home for Christmas. But luckily I was able to change my flight," she said in an interview from Halifax.

"I haven't been home since September, and Christmas is such an important time of year. Of course, St. John's and Newfoundland more generally are so special at Christmastime. I really wanted to see my family and my grandparents, my dog."

Dowden said she's been using rapid COVID-19 tests to test herself every day, which have been available at Dalhousie University and public libraries in the province. She believes having tests more available in Newfoundland and Labrador would make things easier for everyone over the holiday.

"It just ensures peace of mind. If that was something that was available to people in Newfoundland, I think that it would really ease the minds of people this holiday season and make it more possible to see the people we love," she said.

Shannon Conway will be in self-isolation during Christmas Day with her family. (CBC)

Shannon Conway has been looking for rapid tests in Ottawa before she arrives in St. John's. She'll be in self-isolation with her family until Dec. 26, but said making sure she could be home for Christmas was important.

"It just wasn't Christmas [last year]. So coming home after not having that last year just felt so crucial to me and my family…. Since the pandemic [began], I've seen my family for approximately 14 days in total," she said.

Some international students staying put

Meanwhile, some international students have decided to avoid the risk of travelling all together by remaining in residence at Memorial University.

According to Bruce Belbin, MUN's director of student residences, about 240 students are marooned on campus during the holidays as they choose not to travel by personal choice, travel costs or health and safety concerns. Students have been hired to help provide services over the holidays.

"They just feel safer to stay where they are," he said. "Our pledge is to make sure they're safe and secure."

Shouryank “Sonny” Chavali is choosing to stay in Newfoundland over the holidays, working as a resident assistant to help others who can't or are choosing not to travel home. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

One of the students choosing to stay in Newfoundland is Shouryank Chavali, a third-year business student and residence assistant.

"The thought of going back to India, it's a lot of people. I'd love to go home, but it's not safe right now," he said.

"I want to stay put here, be safe. COVID can hit you anytime, so you have to be as careful as you can. So I'm doing my part."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan and Terry Roberts

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