Travel plans outside Nunavut? Return quarantine hotel tab could soon be yours, not government's

Starting this week, some Nunavut residents will have to pay for their own hotel isolation if they are returning to the territory. And the stay isn't cheap.

After May 7, coming home to Nunavut could cost you $2,100 — if you travel for non-medical, non-duty reasons

The Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife is one place where Nunavut residents can stay when they are isolating before returning to the territory. Starting May 7, the government will only pay isolation fees for medical travellers and staff. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Starting this week some Nunavut residents will have to pay for their own hotel isolation if they are returning to the territory. And the stay isn't cheap.

As of May 7, the government will only pay for a mandatory two-week COVID-19 isolation stay for medical travellers and government staff on essential duty travel. For everyone else, that stay will cost at least $2,100.

"Most of us won't have a summer vacation like we had planned. It's not a government responsibility to pay for people who choose to leave," Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq said on Monday in a news conference. 

"We need to focus our funds on other things like keeping airlines open," he said. 

Nunavut's chief public health officer advised against non-essential travel early in March. 

Since March 25, anyone returning to Nunavut from the South has had to spend two weeks isolating in a government approved hotel room in one of four hub cities, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife. 

"Despite these recommendations from the chief public health officer people have still been leaving," Savikataaq said in a release announcing the change. 

So far the Nunavut government has covered the hotel bill. To keep COVID-19 from spreading into Nunavut, it has spent over $2 million on hotel quarantines for returning residents and medical travellers. That's for rooms, food and security. 

But now the government says it won't pay for anyone who leaves the territory voluntarily on or after May 7. 

It will cost $2,100 for one person to stay at a Nunavut government approved isolation hotel for 14 days, and an another $1,050 for each additional person. Fees need to be paid in advance. 

No choices on where to stay

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says people still have to stay in assigned hotels. Staying with family or friends or in another hotel isn't good enough. 

"It is impossible to verify that, and impossible to guarantee that they are completely isolated," he said. 

Savikataaq says there is no way to know right now how long the travel ban will last, or how long isolation will be necessary. 

"We do not know when Nunavut's travel restrictions will be loosened. So we can not advise when isolation will no longer be mandatory," he said. "Anyone who chooses to leave Nunavut needs to be mindful of this."