Indian man with COVID-19 says he was stuck in hotel quarantine for days without medical help
Sandeep Kathuria, 24, landed at Pearson Airport on last flight allowed into Canada from India
A man on the last flight allowed into Canada from India says he was stuck in a Mississauga hotel for days waiting for a call from a public health official after he tested positive for COVID-19 following his arrival in Toronto.
Sandeep Kathuria, 24, from the city of Hisar in the state of Haryana in northwestern India, says more support is needed from the Canadian government for international travellers coming into the country who are in need of medical help. He is here on a study permit and enrolled in marketing management at Seneca College.
"I was really hopeless," Kathuria said on Tuesday. "I was terrified and confused also about what next I should do."
Kathuria had not yet received medical attention as of Tuesday night but he said he is feeling better and resting a lot.
"Nobody yet has come to check on me. They told me if I want medicines, I can call the Red Cross. They will bring it to you."
Kathuria said he arrived on Friday, April 23 from Delhi and he believes his flight was the last one permitted into Canada after the federal government announced on Thursday, April 22 that it was suspending flights from India and Pakistan. He said he thinks he got COVID-19 at the Delhi airport.
"Actually, I did a COVID test two days before the flight and ... very truthfully, I think that I got COVID on the airport itself," Kathuria said. "I was feeling perfectly fine when I was with my family in my hometown."
He said his symptoms developed during the 15-hour flight. They included fatigue, sneezing, headache and fever that got progressively worse.
Kathuria attributed the symptoms initially to the long flight. Upon arriving at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, he got tested again for COVID-19. On Saturday, he learned by email that he had tested positive.
He searched the Internet to find out what he was supposed to do. He found out he had to stay in his room and a quarantine officer would call him. At that point, he was already under mandatory travel quarantine.
'Nobody assured me that everything was going to be fine'
Then he waited until Tuesday morning for the call. He said he called the Public Health Agency of Canada, Peel Public Health and Canadian Red Cross himself and tried to enlist the help of the hotel in which he was staying.
"I was frustrated mentally and physically," he said.
While he waited and called, his symptoms, including fever and chills, worsened. "I had no medications. It kept gradually increasing. I was feeling more and more fatigued when I was feeling very cold," he said.
The situation was making him tense because the hotel cost was $400 a day, and as a student, he said he could not afford to stay longer.
The quarantine officer finally called at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Now, he has been moved to another hotel, about a kilometre away, for the remaining 10 days of quarantine.
Kathuria had essentially been without medical attention for days. "Nobody contacted me. Nobody assured me that everything is going to be fine."
Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Peel Public Health said they cannot comment on individual cases.
Anne Génier, spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, said in an email on Wednesday that the federal government provides online information for international travellers who have COVID-19 symptoms while they are in Canada.
"At this time, I can tell you that, as stated on our website, if a person develops COVID-19 symptoms during their stay — they must stay in their room with a few exceptions, such as seeking medical treatment or service, or for a medical emergency," Génier wrote.
System not equipped to help newcomers, doctor says
Dr. Shazeen Suleman, a staff physician in the department of pediatrics and outreach services at St. Michael's Hospital, said Kathuria's experience is not surprising. She is also the physician lead for the hospital's Newcomers to Canada clinic and said the health-care system is unjust and unfair to newcomers.
Before the pandemic hit, the health-care system was not equipped to help newcomers navigate the system on their own, she said. It's not centralized, she added.
"During the pandemic now, when we have these new processes, when there is a very real health risk that's involved, when you cannot access care expediently and it's a completely different system, it's even more of a difficulty and placing more people's lives in danger," Suleman said.