Nova Scotia·Updated

For these families, returning to China from N.S. comes at 'insane' cost

Two Nova Scotian families are upset by how much Nova Scotia wants to charge them to administer and process a COVID-19 test in order for their mothers to return to China. Both families are baffled by the fact neighbouring New Brunswick is doing the same job for a fraction of the cost.

Non-Canadians are charged $1,017.50 for a COVID-19 test in N.S., while N.B. charges a fraction of that

Non-Canadian residents pay $360 for a COVID-19 test in New Brunswick, compared to $1,017.50 in Nova Scotia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Cora Huang was happy to have her mother, Qin Chen, arrive in Nova Scotia from China last December to help prepare for the birth of her son.

Now, 10 months into what was supposed to be a three-month visit, Huang's mother is ready to go home — but not before paying an "insane" fee to take a COVID-19 test.

Chinese authorities require a negative test result before she can return home. In Nova Scotia, non-Canadians are charged more than $1,000 to be tested.

"Which is insane for us, for our family," Huang told CBC news in a recent interview.

Huang, a permanent resident, is on leave from her job and only receiving employment insurance benefits.

"And my husband is still looking for a job due to all the stuff happening right now," said Huang. "And that's a major financial burden for our family.

"We don't have that much income right now. And all we have now is savings."

Costly return to China

Julie Chen is in a similar situation with her mother, who is also visiting from China. Her mother arrived in September 2019 and planned to go home last March.

The family has been trying to arrange a flight home now that COVID-19 infections are better under control in China, but they are also astounded at the cost of the test.

"The flight ticket is very expensive from Halifax to China," said Julie Chen. "It's around, like, $2,000 and a quarantine in China for 14 days, around $2,000 as well.

"And then the testing fee [of] $1,000 is a huge amount for me."

Like Huang, she cannot understand why Nova Scotia is charging almost triple what neighbouring New Brunswick is charging non-Canadians for asymptomatic testing.

Non-Canadian residents pay $360 for a COVID-19 test in New Brunswick, compared to $1,017.50 in Nova Scotia.

Fee being reviewed

Dr. Brendan Carr, CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said Wednesday he wasn't sure how the fee amount was arrived at. But he said the rationale for charging non-Canadians a much higher amount was that they hadn't contributed to the health infrastructure needed to provide the service.

"That makes sense to a point, but why our, you know, why we are specifically at the level that we're at, I don't know that actually that there's a very good reason based upon the actual costs," Carr said following his appearance at a legislature committee.

He also said the fee was under review and would likely be reduced.

"What I can say is that this is something that we're actively looking at and my expectation will be that we will revise that cost in the weeks ahead as we understand better what the actual costs are," he said. 

"I fully expect that our price is going to probably drift down as we understand the precise costing better, but it's still not going to be inexpensive. It is going to cost money because … it does constitute a demand on the system." 

Carr also said that people who are unable to pay the fee because they cannot afford it are able to ask for it to be waived. 

Huang and Chen said their mothers are both scheduled to fly back to China next month.



Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter since 1987. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.