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'Feels like freedom': Canadian evacuees relieved after 2-week coronavirus quarantine ends

On Friday morning, more than 200 Canadian and permanent residents received their official authorization to leave their two-week coronavirus quarantine at an army base in Ontario. They talk about the challenges of the experience and what they plan to do with their freedom.

Government officials say none of the evacuees has shown any symptoms of the virus

Carter Perrier, from Alberta, was on the flight of Canadian evacuees from Wuhan, China, that landed at CFB Trenton on Feb. 7. Two weeks later, he was among the first wave of people released from quarantine after showing no signs of the coronavirus. (Evan Tsuyoshi Mitsui/CBC)

The knock on Carter Perrier's door came early Friday morning. It was followed by a temperature and overall health check and, finally, the government document he'd been waiting two weeks for — the official authorization to leave the coronavirus quarantine.

"This was my freedom slip. I'm finally good to go," said Perrier, who had just got off a bus at Toronto's Pearson airport, along with dozens of his former quarantine neighbours from CFB Trenton.

They had all spent the past two weeks at the army base east of Toronto after being airlifted from the heart of the outbreak in China on a government-chartered plane. The quarantine was a safety precaution in case any had contracted COVID-19.

Perrier, a 30-year-old project management consultant from Calgary, was one of the more than 200 Canadians and permanent residents who had been given the all-clear on Friday to leave the base.

Government officials say none of the evacuees has shown any symptoms of the virus.

"I can return to normal life and do something that I want to do," said Perrier.

And what does he want most after his mostly isolated stay at the base?

"A good coffee and a cold beer."

A bus-load of Canadians who'd been kept in quarantine for two weeks at an army base located 170 kilometres east of Toronto arrive at the city's airport on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

For Freeman Lan, who would soon be boarding a flight to Wisconsin, where he works as a scientist, it was nice just being able to see people "and not have to wear face masks."

Lan had spent most of his time in quarantine playing cards, walking around, and watching a lot of Netflix.

"I am just taking it all in," said Lan. "Feels like freedom. It feels pretty good."

Permission letter to leave quarantine

Before leaving the base, the evacuees were each given an "Authorization to Leave a Quarantine Facility" letter from the Public Health Agency of Canada stating they had "fulfilled the requirement of the Minimizing the Risk of Exposure" to the coronavirus by remaining in quarantine for 14 days.

Inside one of the rooms at Yukon Lodge, CFB Trenton's 290-room motel for military personnel and family members, where dozens of Canadians were quarantined after being evacuated from China. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

As of Friday, China has reported a total of 75,465 cases of the virus, which has led to 2,236 deaths in the country. Most of those deaths are centred in the city of Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.

The federal government had ordered its evacuees into quarantine "to protect the health and safety of Canadians."

They stayed at the Yukon Lodge, CFB Trenton's 290-room motel for military personnel and family members. Each of the rooms had been equipped with high-speed wireless, cable TV with a DVD player, a fridge and microwave.

Public health officials provided health checks every day, including a twice-a-day temperature check. Food was delivered to their door and their rooms were wiped clean daily by people wearing special protective gear. 

Canadian student Myriam Larouche enjoys a coffee after her two-week stay in quarantine. (Ellen Mauro/CBC)

They were allowed to go outside in a restricted area for some fresh air and to interact with other evacuees, although they were told to stay at least two metres away from each other.

Despite the "pretty cushy conditions," Perrier said he was unprepared for the mental toll of the experience.

"I don't feel damaged or anything, but it was certainly more than I was expecting it to be," he said. "Just to be isolated for two weeks and not being able to do what you want to do."

"It's not something that I would wish on my worst enemy now that I know what it's like."

Like graduating

Myriam Larouche, a 25-year-old Canadian student studying tourism in Wuhan, said she spent a lot of her time doing school work, and that receiving her government letter allowing her to leave the base "was kind of like a graduation."

"It's like I'm graduating from quarantine," she said. "I just want to hug my family and my friends."

But there was something else she had to do first, she said.

"Right now I'm dying to have a double-double."

Hours before their departure from the base, a charter plane of Canadian cruise ship passengers had landed in Trenton. They had been on the Diamond Princess ship that was quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, since early February due to an outbreak. 

All repatriated passengers on the chartered flight had tested negative for the virus. They were screened again in Trenton before boarding five buses destined for the NAV Centre in Cornwall, Ont., where they will be quarantined for 14 days, according to Health Canada officials.

Eight Canadians have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began, with three of them based in Ontario and the rest in British Columbia. A sixth person in B.C. is believed to be infected.

About the Author

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Canadian Press, CBC News