The essence of good journalism is diversity of opinion. This was demonstrated by two columns in last the National Post after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that international air travellers arriving in Canada would be confined to a government-designated hotel room while awaiting COVID-19 test results.
John Ivison’s column, headlined “A good idea poorly carried out,” was fundamentally supportive, while Chris Selley concluded that “Mandatory hotel quarantine exists solely because it suddenly became a political necessity and a welcome distraction.”
Here’s a chronology of the federal government’s actions:
Dec. 22: News of the British coronavirus variant prompted Ontario Premier Doug Ford, under political pressure himself, to call for additional restrictions: “There’s just not enough being done to protect us from the threats coming in from the outside.”
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu defended her government’s measures, noting that only 1.3 per cent of Ontario COVID-19 cases originated outside the country.
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Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair also challenged Ford, defending the government’s restrictions on international flights as “among the strongest and most rigorous in the world.”
Data compiled since shows it was during the next two weeks of federal inaction that COVID variants got their deadly foothold.
Jan. 7: The prime minister finally announced that international air travellers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their return flight and then must quarantine for two weeks.
Jan. 29: Trudeau announced that, effective Feb. 3, travellers would be required to undergo a second test upon arrival. But rather than quarantining at home to await results, they would be confined for three days in a government-designated hotel room that they must pay for, at an estimated cost of $2,000
If the second test is negative, they would be allowed to return home. But even with two successive negative results proving them to be the most COVID-safe people in the country, they would still be required to quarantine for the remaining 11 days.
In yet another incomprehensible move, Trudeau announced a three-month suspension of flights from Mexico and the Caribbean, though neither location had yet recorded variant cases. This completely unexpected decision struck travellers like a bombshell. Stressed-out Canadians flooded airports trying to book flights, get a COVID-19 test and hurry home before the Feb. 3 mandatory hotel lockdown – hard to do in just four days.
After creating huge stress for travellers and posing impossible timing challenges for airlines, the government delayed the hotel lockdown measure to Feb. 22. It became clear that Trudeau had not sufficiently considered the time required for public servants to set up arrival testing and make the necessary hotel arrangements.
But he wasn’t done, in this era of havoc-creating new rules. He also announced that all international flights arriving after Feb. 22 would be directed to just four airports: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Here again, he completely failed to consider the impact on Canadian travellers.
Those four airports work fine for people living locally. After being released from the hotel, they can simply go home for the remaining days of their quarantine. But what about people who must take another flight to get home?
Consider a couple from Winnipeg confined at a Calgary hotel. Will they be allowed to fly home after their three-day hotel stay or would they be required to remain at the hotel for the rest of the 14-day quarantine, adding another $6,000 to their hotel bill? Then, when they finally are allowed to go home, they have to buy tickets to Winnipeg, where they were originally booked to land.
Besides Winnipeg, Canada has 12 other international airports, including Moncton, Halifax, London, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Victoria, all equipped for customs clearance and entry screening. Shutting them down to returning travellers’ flights is additional proof of our prime minister’s uncaring attitude toward his ‘subjects.’
Trudeau’s actions between Dec. 22 and Jan. 29 must surely be among the most ill-conceived by any Canadian prime minister. And still two over-arching questions haven’t been addressed.
Will the forced hotel stay keep Canadians safer?
When the prime minister implemented the hotel lockdowns on Feb. 22, variants had already spread across the country. CTV’s coronavirus tracking website records 873 active variant cases as of Feb. 24.
Passengers arriving with a negative test are among the least likely of all Canadians to be carrying the virus, yet they are locked in hotel rooms. Meanwhile, locals who have tested positive are free to quarantine at home.
That this makes no sense is not lost on travellers. No wonder many are simply walking out of the airport. And now we hear public health officials vow to hunt them down like criminals and issue fines of up to $1,800 per day.
What’s the real motivation for the prime minister’s actions?
The most likely answer comes from Selley: “A political necessity and a welcome distraction.”
The government has come under intense criticism for a fumbled vaccine procurement that places Canada 43rd as of this writing in vaccinations per capita.
Trudeau has a history of attempting to deflect blame when he gets himself in trouble. He tried to blame the public service for awarding a $900-million contract to the WE Charity, which had paid generous speaking fees to his family. True to form, he now resorts to blaming the runaway virus infections on those supposedly unpatriotic and selfish Canadians who travelled south, partly to escape that very virus.
Publicly vilifying a particular group to win public support for persecuting them has long been a favoured practice of despots. It has no place in our Canada.
Gwyn Morgan is a retired business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.
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