Nfld. & Labrador

Health minister slams St. John's airport video as 'malicious and unforgivable'

A video that supposedly highlighted a lack of COVID-19 precautions was taken as travellers got off a flight from within the province, says John Haggie.

Video claims to highlight lack of COVID-19 measures, but John Haggie says flight was from within province

Provincial Health Minister John Haggie condemned a video on posted on Facebook on Tuesday. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Provincial Health Minister John Haggie condemned a video on Facebook that shows a man walking through the St. John's airport pointing out a lack of screening measures on Tuesday.

"What nobody knew was that that flight was a domestic flight. It originated within the province. There was no one on that flight from outside this province who had not self-quarantined," Haggie said. 

"The effect that that had on the public in terms of undermining confidence in our public health system and the work of our health-care professionals and the demeaning and demoralizing effect it had on those staff from Eastern Health who spent all day in that baggage hall meeting flights from outside the province cannot be calculated," he said.

"I cannot fathom why anyone in their right mind would do this. It is simply malicious and unforgivable. This is not who we are."

Haggie said the joke isn't funny, coming only hours after he reminded residents of Newfoundland and Labrador to take a deep breath and not to panic in light of recent presumptive cases of COVID-19 being announced by the province on Monday.

Coming home

Still, other travellers have questioned what they see is a lack of precautionary measures at the airport.

Donna House arrived early at Pearson Airport for her flight home to St. John's on Saturday, certain there would be a lengthy wait for some sort of COVID-19 screening.

That was not the case.

"I was expecting it at security, it didn't happen there. I expected it at the boarding gate, and there was no screening at all there either," House said in an interview from her home in Corner Brook.

"Once I arrived in St. John's, the same thing. There was no information whatsoever leaving the flight or getting back on another flight from St. John's to Deer Lake."

The St. John's International Airport Authority said in an email to CBC News Tuesday that there have been health officials in the baggage arrivals area since Saturday morning.

The St. John's International Airport Authority says it has public health officials located near the baggage area. (Chris Murphy/The Weather Network)

"They are located at the exit to the baggage arrivals area to capture all arriving passengers (domestic and international)," wrote spokesperson Marie Manning.

"We have confirmed that these people have been in place every day since Saturday and into late last night for all arriving flights from outside the province."

House, however, did not come in contact with any public health official, and is worried over an apparent lack of control over the potential spread of COVID-19.

"Absolutely nothing. Nothing in Toronto or St. John's," House said.

"Considering there is no information whatsoever … you feel very vulnerable."

During her three-hour layover, House said, there were automated announcements at St. John's airport reminding people to social distance.

The airport has also said it has increased cleaning, cut off public access to baggage to non-travellers, and closed the child play areas.

Mandatory declaration forms needed, says Glovertown man

David Kilfoy decided to leave early from his job at a gold mine in Nunavut on Sunday to be with family in Glovertown during the pandemic.

Wearing a mask he would normally use for work, Kilfoy took a Charter flight to Quebec, then a bus to the airport in Montreal to make his way to St. John's.

"The tensions are high, in my opinion. People were on edge. A lot of people wearing masks," Kilfoy told CBC News Tuesday morning.

"I don't want to bring this thing home, but I did live home, here in Newfoundland, so I've got to come home."

Kilfoy said the airports in Gander and St. John's handled things differently, with some health officials wearing masks in one location and not the other, and self declaration forms being available in one airport and not the other.

David Kilfoy of Glovertown has returned to the province from Nunavut where he works in a mine. He wore a mask on his return flights home. (Submitted by David Kilfoy)

Upon arrival at St. John's International Airport, Kilfoy said he was handed a piece of paper with information on self-isolation and the coronavirus.

In Gander, he was given a voluntary declaration form.

"I think we need a declaration form that's not voluntary, that's mandatory, that tells us what flight you're on, where you're coming from, where you were located on the plane," Kilfoy said.

"I know that authorities can track all of this information but time is of the essence, and if they can track it faster and we can help them with that … that's what we need to do."

The airport's Twitter account posted a photo Tuesday of health officials in the baggage arrival area. (St. John's International Airport/Twitter)

People who have to drive from the St. John's airport to Gander, or farther, Kilfoy points out, might have no choice but to stop for gas.

Kilfoy, however, is starting Day 1 of his self-isolation, and he's not taking any chances.

"I kept a very detailed log of who I came into contact with, their name, where they could be found so that if I was unfortunate enough to get the virus I would have a very detailed log I could give authorities," he said.

In a news conference Monday, provincial Health Minister John Haggie said there was a delay in printing forms but employees are now positioned in airports to provide information.

"We've been able to act very swiftly to get those people in place at the St. John's airport, at Happy Valley-Goose Bay and at the ferry terminal now in Marine Atlantic," Haggie said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Ariana Kelland

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