'Complete madness': Travellers left waiting hours for food in quarantine hotel
Canadians returning from Nigeria say hotel ill-equipped to meet their basic needs
A pregnant Ottawa woman says she and other air passengers arriving from Nigeria had to wait nearly 10 hours for food as they awaited COVID-19 test results in a designated quarantine hotel in Montreal that she says was totally unprepared to accommodate their most basic human needs.
CBC has agreed not to identify the woman, who is a physician, because she fears speaking out about pandemic-related issues could attract unwanted vitriol and even death threats.
Why are Europeans exempt from this? When I'm a Canadian citizen, I can't circulate freely in my country?- Sarah Shoucri, air passenger
The woman had travelled to Nigeria to visit family, some of whom she hadn't seen for two years. When the omicron variant emerged during her trip, she changed her travel plans to return to Canada as quickly as possible.
On Nov. 30, the Canadian government added Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt to the roster of countries placed under travel restrictions due to the new variant.
Under the new rules, Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning home from those countries must get a molecular test in the country where they catch their connecting flight.
The woman got her negative test in Frankfurt, Germany, before flying to Montreal.
WATCH | Travellers returning from Nigeria say hotel ill-equipped to meet quarantine needs
The woman told CBC that upon landing on Monday, she and the other passengers were forced to wait at the airport for about four hours for the results of yet another COVID-19 test, during which time their passports were confiscated.
"I'm not sure if they felt we would escape if they didn't give us back our passports at that time," she said.
Once the passengers had been tested, they were sent to a public area of the airport before being loaded into taxis and sent to a nearby hotel.
The woman, who's nearly five months pregnant, said the last meal any of the passengers had was served on the plane from Frankfurt to Montreal around 11 a.m. EST. They weren't served dinner at the hotel until about 8:30 p.m.
"There are travellers here who are diabetic, there's a young lady with a child under the age of eight, there are elderly couples here, and none of these things were taken into consideration when it came to the provision of food," she said.
The woman said when the food finally did arrive it was cold and there was no water provided.
'We don't have basic essentials'
Sarah Shoucri, a Montreal woman who was also returning from Nigeria, said breakfast on Tuesday was also served late. Shoucri said the entire experience has been incredibly frustrating.
"I mean, we're held here and we don't have basic essentials. We're all COVID-negative, we're all doubly vaccinated, yet we're held here against our will," Shoucri said.
On Tuesday morning Shoucri took a video of passengers expressing their frustration to a security guard in the hotel corridor.
One man can be heard saying, "You guys are holding us down as prisoners, what have we done?"
Another woman who has a young child with her shouts, "You are violating our rights as Canadian citizens."
"It's complete madness," Shoucri said.
Shoucri, who still doesn't have her luggage, questions why returning travellers are being forced to stay in a hotel when they're already facing a strict 14-day quarantine at home.
"This variant is everywhere, it's absolutely everywhere. So why are Europeans exempt from this? When I'm a Canadian citizen, I can't circulate freely in my country?"
Test results within 24-48 hours
In a written statement, a spokesperson with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said "every traveller staying at a designated quarantine facility (DQF) has access to 24-hour support and ongoing medical monitoring," including daily health assessments by an onsite nurse.
"The majority of test results are issued to travellers within 24-48 hours," the statement said. "PHAC is working to boost its capacity to release travellers as close to their test result as possible."
As of Tuesday afternoon, both women had received negative results from their last PCR test and were waiting to be told they could leave.
They said that process is also frustrating because travellers who receive a negative test result must then email a quarantine officer who will notify hotel staff to release the guest.
"I really question how the funds are being spent right now because again,we're all doubly vaccinated, we're all COVID-negative. Why are we spending public money on holding people hostage inside a hotel?" Shoucri asked.