23 Canadians being held at federal quarantine sites, government says

The Trudeau government says 23 Canadians were being held at federal quarantine sites as the week began — part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Theresa Tam says Canadians facing restrictions under Quarantine Act are tracked down daily by police

Compliance officers check vehicles at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border near Amherst, N.S. on Sunday. Provincial staff stop and question anyone entering the province as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The Trudeau government says 23 Canadians were being held at federal quarantine sites as the week began — part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The newly released figure, the most current available, provides a glimpse into how the federal government is using its considerable powers under the Quarantine Act to contain the virus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says that as of Sunday night, the almost two dozen Canadians were in federally designated quarantine sites and federally supported self-quarantine lodgings.

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday that the federal government is working with the provinces to help vulnerable people who cannot self-isolate find accommodations that will help them avoid spreading COVID-19.

"If there are vulnerable people at home and they can't self isolate, lets help them," she said.

The agency set up the sites and says it is working with partners to manage them.

Agency spokeswoman Maryse Durette says no information about the location of the sites is being disclosed to protect the privacy of quarantined Canadians.

Under the Quarantine Act, the health minister can designate any place in Canada as a quarantine facility.

Keeping tabs on Canadians

An emergency order under the quarantine law requires all travellers returning to Canada to immediately self-isolate for 14 days. Those with symptoms must put on a mask before leaving the airport.

Compliance with an order is subject to monitoring, verification and enforcement. Those who violate orders may face detention in a quarantine facility, as well as fines, imprisonment or both, the government says. 

But keeping tabs on Canadians who are supposed to be self-isolating or remaining in a quarantine facility has not always turned out to be a simple task, Tam said Wednesday. 

"As we follow up with people and check in on them, sometimes we find that we can't reach them," Tam said. "We have tools to, of course, work with our peace officers to try and find them.

"We do every day find people who haven't answered our phone calls and have to be chased down."

Next steps 

At a media briefing Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that some Canadians who returned to Canada from China, and some cruise ship passengers, were held in federal centres early in the virus crisis.

But he also made it clear federal quarantine sites are still in use.

"We have facilities available for people who are returning to Canada and for various reasons cannot quarantine themselves at home, or home is too far from the airport," Trudeau said. "That is why we have institutions in place and those are being used."

Anyone who contravenes the Quarantine Act or its regulations and causes a risk of death or serious harm to another person can be fined up $1 million and imprisoned for up to three years.

No charges had been laid for violations of the act as of Monday, Durette said

On Wednesday, Trudeau said that while millions of Canadians were following the instructions of Health Canada officials, not everyone was following the rules.

"We do see that there are some people who are not choosing to follow these instructions and they're putting everyone else at risk," Trudeau said.

"We will continually work with jurisdictions, with cities, with provinces on new measures or extra measures that they feel are necessary. As it goes, we're continually monitoring what is needed and what we might need to do as next steps." 

With files from CBC News

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