Canada’s Hotel Quarantine Program Is A Failure: Answers To 12 Bad Arguments

Canada’s hotel quarantine program is a complete failure and a very ineffective measure, according to absolutely everyone who knows anything about the topic. But clearly, a lot of people still think it makes sense. So let’s take a different look at 12 arguments often heard about the mandatory quarantine hotel… and why they are often based on emotional impulsive reactions and not on any data (like the measure itself).

Of course, to be very clear:

  • We’re not saying that no one should quarantine
  • We’re not saying that everyone should travel
  • We’re not saying that anyone should travel without taking precautions
  • We’re not saying that there should be no measures
  • We’re not saying that the pandemic doesn’t exist
  • We’re not saying anything that we’re not saying…

That is all completely beside the point.

We’re talking about the hotel quarantine’s ineffectiveness.

The title is “Canada’s hotel quarantine is a failure” so all we’re saying is… that the hotel quarantine program is ineffective. And that it does not help keep Canadians safer at all.

Travelers should at least be able to quarantine at home… like everyone in Canada who tests positive can do if they are not travelers—which is virtually every positive COVID-19 case in Canada as you’ll see with bad argument #1 below. Those people are confirmed to be infected, even with variants (while factually very few travelers even test positive) and they still have absolutely no surveillance of their quarantine at home…

Anyway, let’s look at these 12 bad arguments (and a bonus one).

 

1. “But travelers are causing a lot of COVID-19 infections”

No, they are not. Almost all COVID-19 cases in Canada are now from community transmission—and this has been the case for a long time.

For the past 6 months, data from Public Health Canada shows that international travelers never represented more than 0.5% of all COVID-19 infections in Canada.

In other words, non-travelers have always represented at least 99.5% of cases. Every single month.

Here is the percentage of COVID-19 cases in Canada associated with international travel:

MonthPercentage of all COVID-19 cases associated with international travel
November 20200.3%
December 20200.3%
January 20210.5%
February 20210.4%
March 20210.4%
April 20210.4%

(source: Public Health Canada)

 

2. “But cases caused by travelers are just low because nobody is traveling”

No, that’s just not true. It’s not like not a lot of people were traveling. There are fewer than usual of course, but it is by no means a small number.

For the past 6 months, data from the Canada Border Services Agency shows that an average of 1 million travelers entered Canada every single month.

In other words, 5.8 million people entered Canada in the last 6 months. It’s not an insignificant amount. Cases caused by international travelers are low because international travelers aren’t the problem; not because no one is traveling.

Here is the number of people who entered Canada:

MonthTravelers who entered Canada
Oct. 12 to Nov. 151,148,591
Nov. 16 to Dec. 13952,181
Dec. 14 to Jan. 10897,105
Jan. 11 to Feb. 141,077,840
Feb. 15 to Mar. 14820,935
Mar. 15 to Apr. 11861,944

(source: data provided by email by the Canada Border Services Agency)

 

3. “But… variants”

Yes, there are variants. Clearly, the hotel quarantine didn’t do much about that (to the surprise of absolutely no travel experts at all).

You see, 72% of all travelers entering Canada aren’t even obligated to quarantine at all, based on government data (we just received updated numbers from the CBSA after multiple requests).

Even if all non-essential travelers were 100% banned… there would still be nearly 200,000 people every single week entering Canada with absolutely no quarantine requirement whatsoever…

In other words, with the vast majority of those entering Canada not even quarantining at all, having the few non-essential travelers go into a hotel instead of staying at home was sure to not make much of a difference in the numbers.

(That’s why we might have been direct about this in the past, but it was just so ridiculous when people were telling us—very seriously—that having this hotel quarantine would stop all variants and work very well and fix the whole situation in Canada… when the data and numbers were pretty clear about how that could not be further from the truth.)

By the way, the variants of concern were from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. But the government asked airlines to stop direct flights to… the Caribbean and Mexico (and it doesn’t even stop anyone from going there: they can just transit in the USA, which is even cheaper in terms of plane tickets).

Direct flights from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil are still allowed and travelers arriving from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil are also still allowed.

Now, in recent days they banned (direct) flights from India and Pakistan: but that also changes nothing to the fact that travelers there can simply transit via a third country to enter Canada…

Here is the number of people who entered who didn’t have to quarantine and had to quarantine (based on the most recent percentage reported):

MonthTravelers who entered CanadaTravelers who did not have to quarantineTravelers who had to quarantine
March 21, 2020 to April 20, 202111,972,4738,679,6713,292,802

(source: Canada Border Services Agency)

 

4. “But it can’t hurt to add more measures”

Yes, it can. It’s simple: governments have (very) finite resources. All the time, effort, and energy wasted on implementing an inefficient quarantine hotel program could have been invested elsewhere.

Focussing on 0.5% of the cases just makes no sense, especially since that was not rising. When I worked as a management consultant, there was always a very simple rule, no matter the strategic issue an organization was facing: you focus your efforts on the biggest problems, to get the biggest results.

Like reducing the 99.5% of cases unrelated to international travel. Or working on accelerating vaccine arrivals—literally the most important thing to save lives.

In other words, governments can clearly not do everything at the same time (and if you don’t understand that, it’s just a real lost cause). Based on the data and evidence, this hotel quarantine program was literally one of the worst ways to spend very scarce resources.

Cases caused by international travel went from 0.4% of all cases in February before quarantine hotels to… 0.4% of all cases in March after quarantine hotels (official numbers from the government once again). That’s not what will get us out of all this…

Not only that, the travel shaming that we’ve seen since the Christmas holidays can even be dangerous by making every Canadian who is not traveling (so pretty much everyone) think that travelers are the only ones to blame and not take responsibility… when factually, those not traveling are causing nearly 100% of cases.

The best example of this is a person I know who posted on Facebook that travelers were a huge problem… all the while organizing an illegal Christmas party with friends at home. Some surveys showed that 50% of Canadians or more have broken the rules (news flash: that’s in part why 99.5% of cases aren’t due to travelers).

The percentage of travelers not following the mandatory quarantine after traveling (the only rule, since traveling is legal) is nowhere near as high, since there are massive fines (that is bad argument #6 below).

But even if it was a high percentage (which it’s not), all travelers are at least tested 3 times (before arriving, on arrival, and on Day-8) which is not the case for the incredibly higher number of non-travelers who are not following the rules, not quarantining, and not getting tested… and who can still isolate at home and not in a hotel if they do end up testing positive.

 

5. “But traveling is automatically putting Canadians at risk”

No. By staying at home for 14 days, there is factually very little risk to others in Canada.

There’s just not that much to say about this one, it should be so obvious that if you stay at home for 14 days as is required, you are literally putting no one at risk.

You are less of a risk than even those who just go out for groceries. You will have 0 (zero) contact with other Canadians. That’s pretty much as low risk as you can get.

The least logical part of our measures is the one-size-fits-all approach: someone arriving from the most infected country is treated the same as someone arriving from a country with literally 0 cases. How is that science? Focussing the quarantine surveillance on those from virus hot spots would make more sense (maybe using the 30 million unused rapid tests out of the 40 million received).

Why not be even more strict for those arriving from bad places and less strict for those arriving from places where the situation is better than here (which is a majority of countries based on the data), so that those who are clearly already traveling anyway would at least be incentivized to choose the safest places?

Even the UK, which the Canadian government loves to imitate—but only for the parts they like—has always had a very simple green/orange/red list of countries based on… actual infection rate data! Crazy concept, right? That is science.

 

6. “But some travelers don’t follow the mandatory 14-day quarantine at home”

That is very true, and that’s obviously very bad. But the hotel quarantine changes absolutely nothing about that.

As soon as they are done with their short hotel stay, those who were not going to follow the quarantine rule will still not follow it…

Anecdotally, it seems roughly 95% of travelers get their arrival test result after just 1 day in the quarantine hotel. They can then go home already. Literally on Day 2, they can still not follow the mandatory 14-day quarantine… exactly like before the hotel quarantine program existed.

(The longest they’ll stay in a hotel is 3 days, so they will be able to not follow the quarantine 3 days later, or for 79% of the duration of their quarantine…)

In other words, staying 1 day (or even 3) in a hotel is not going to stop someone who was not going to follow the rules from still not following them once they’re home…

Let’s ignore the fact that the quarantine hotel doesn’t ensure the rules will be followed, according to the government, between 1% and 5% of travelers don’t follow the quarantine rules. Obviously, that is a sample and not an exhaustive verification, but it’s a big sample nonetheless. And I personally don’t know many people who are okay with the risk of getting a $750,000 fine or a 6-month prison sentence (that is the penalty for not following the quarantine).

And that’s not even taking into account that some people are just refusing to go to the quarantine hotels and are just walking out of the airport and taking the ≈ $3,000 fine instead: those who are willing to risk a steep fine for not following the quarantine surely don’t care too much about that new fine either…

Here is the percentage of Canadians who followed the quarantine rules based on government monitoring:

PeriodVerificationsPercentage not following the rulesPercentage following the rules
From Mar. 2020 to Jan. 2648,6821%99%
From Feb. 21 to Apr. 19172,4005%95%

(source 1: Government of Canada; source 2: Government of Canada)

 

7. “But forcing travelers to spend 1 to 3 days in a hotel must make Canadians safer”

No, there’s just no evidence of that. In a Parliamentary committee hearing in February, the Public Health Agency was asked whether they had any evidence or data whatsoever. None of the 6 people present could even come up with anything at all.

There has been none provided since either.

This is just another of the many things that sound great and seem to make a lot of sense… but just isn’t true. In fact, a recent UK study showed that testing alone was more effective than quarantining.

If sending travelers to a hotel for a day really makes Canadians safer… why can travelers entering by land go home? If sending travelers to a hotel for a day really makes Canadians safer.. why can travelers entering by land even use mass transit to get home?

Another example: why are PCR tests performed anywhere other than in the US fine for those arriving by plane… but those arriving by land cannot use that to enter Canada? What kind of science is that? That those labs are trustworthy only if you arrive by plane? Of course not.

The reality is that none of these measures are based on evidence and data, no matter how often the government pretends it is by repeating it over and over. Forcing non-essential travelers to go into a hotel for a few days just does not make Canadians safer.

 

8. “But even if they represent only 0.5% of cases, travelers are highly infected”

No. Many seem to think that travelers are automatically more at risk of being infected or that they all come back with COVID-19.

Based on preliminary government data, just 1.4% of all travelers test positive. For comparison, this past week, 6.5% of Canadians who were tested for COVID-19 got a positive result, which is 376% higher.

Overall, based on those results, the 1.4% positivity rate for travelers (1.76% by air, 0.25% by land) is actually lower than the total amount of Canadians who have already tested positive for COVID-19, which is 3%.

Not to mention that all Canadians aren’t systematically tested, but travelers are (which picks up even the asymptomatic cases, which are almost never detected and counted in the general population).

Here is the positivity rate for COVID-19 for travelers and non-travelers in Canada:

SampleNumber of testsPositivity rate
Entire Canadian population all-time (voluntary)31,064,3874.00%
Non-travelers tested this week (voluntary)863,4316.50%
Land travelers from Feb. 22 to Apr. 18 (mandatory)50,9050.25%
Air travelers from Feb. 22 to Apr. 18 (mandatory)144,1771.76%

(source 1: Government of Canada, source 2: Government of Canada; source 3: Government of Canada)

 

9. “But traveling is illegal”

No, it’s not. It is 100% allowed. It has always been allowed.

No one is disobeying any rule by traveling.

This whole situation is not unlike when some in the fall were trying to make it seem like travelers flying to the US were doing something illegal just because the land border is closed (for outbound traffic only)… flying to the US is 100% allowed—always has been—and implying otherwise is just false.

Those who love to shame travelers believe that there are plenty of good reasons not to travel, so it shouldn’t be necessary for them to resort to making false insinuations around it being illegal to defend their position.

 

10. “But we’re in lockdown”

Okay, I’ll explain this one clearly because a lot of people don’t understand why some places are on lockdown or under stay-at-home orders.

It’s not like there is an automatic lockdown everywhere. Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are not in place just for the fun of it, just to make your life miserable to force you to stay home.

Lockdowns exist to reduce contacts in places where community transmission of the virus is high. That is the scientific reasoning.

Going somewhere else means you will have zero contacts here.

If there is low transmission in Martinique, should those who live in Martinique be in lockdown just because we are in lockdown here, where there is high transmission? That would be very stupid. Well, if someone is going somewhere else, the fact there is a lockdown here is just as irrelevant.

Many people are traveling to places with much lower infection rates, or are going somewhere to follow all the same rules as here (like being outside fully-distanced, as is allowed even here).

That will not add any contacts here. And again, if you are following the home quarantine rule: no risk of causing an outbreak.

In other words, so many people keep seeing things from the perspective of the situation here, but a lot of places have much lower infection rates and offer a lot more possibilities in terms of safe outdoor activities. There’s no scientific reason to not go there just because things are bad here (if you quarantine of course).

 

11. “But why can we go inside a plane but not inside a theater”

Another one that is so simple: airplanes have HEPA filters that capture 99.9997% of airborne particles. Factually, the air quality on planes is better than literally every building on the ground (equal to hospitals—as hospitals have the same HEPA filters as planes).

Does your movie theater have HEPA filters? No. That’s why it’s not the same thing at all. Ventilation is the key for a virus like this one that is clearly being transmitted by aerosols, and airplanes are literally the safest indoor space to be.

“Metal tubes in the air must have really bad air quality” is yet another emotional impulsive reaction that just sounds so logical… but is verifiably false.

In other words, with the HEPA filters, the fact that the air cabin is completely changed every 2-3 minutes, the downward angle of ventilation systems designed to minimize transmission, and mandatory masks… it’s not surprising that not a single transmission of COVID-19 on an airplane has been documented in Canada ever—despite the fact that there are many many planes known to have carried passengers who were infected with COVID-19.

Last summer, the former Minister of Transport of Canada described the risk of transmission on a plane as “infinitesimally small.”

Another great example of things not based on facts is when a journalist tweeted so proudly that she didn’t fly since the beginning of the pandemic and that she had taken the train instead, to seem like she was so righteous. Trains sound so much safer than planes for some irrational reason… but trains don’t have HEPA filters and the air quality is a lot worse than in planes.

But hey, who cares about facts right?

 

12. “But travelers decided to travel; they should be punished”

Do they really? I mean, this is a pretty bad way to treat Canadian citizens (apart from a few exceptions, those forced to quarantine in a hotel are only Canadians—most non-Canadians are essential travelers who don’t have to quarantine at all).

Some are not traveling for leisure either… many Canadians are returning after visiting loved ones, seeing family for the last time, or even attending funerals…

And I’ll put aside the claims by some legal experts that the whole measure is unconstitutional (infringing on the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to enter Canada freely), because I doubt it will be successful when the hearing is held in Federal Court on June 1st.

These are Canadian citizens returning home who are all willing to comply with a pretty strict 14-day quarantine at home, which factually is just as safe as a hotel (or even more). These are not foreigners.

And the conditions in those hotels have been well-documented and they are pretty bad (general chaos, missing or unhealthy food, lack of safety measures, unhygienic conditions, sexual harassment, etc.)

The whole rollout was another completely botched measure by the federal government (like their initial idea of having the hotels bookable by phone only, like the 6 months it took them to implement something as simple as temperature checks in airports, like the nearly 1 year it took them to have any testing on arrival, their flight bans that simply require a transit in a third country, their complicity in letting airlines rob travelers by not requiring refunds for 1 year, the 1 year delay in providing financial assistance to airlines, etc.)

And not to mention that 99.5% who test positive (while travelers have tested negative) aren’t even treated this way, ever. Even if some acted like idiots and got infected by partying and not following the rules and laws (they are a lot more of those than there are infected travelers, and travelers didn’t disobey any rule or law).

You tested positive because you went to a party and didn’t follow the rules like an idiot?

No problem! Just quarantine at home, we trust you.

You traveled somewhere with fewer cases than here, you stayed completely distanced outdoors the whole time, you took all the precautions, and you even tested negative?

Terrorist!

It’s an exaggeration, but just barely. It’s fascinating to have traveled to 7 different countries during the pandemic and have been welcomed warmly (in a distanced way of course) everywhere, but when crossing the imaginary line into Canada, the measures and treatment upon return mean that travelers are treated almost like terrorists…

 

Bonus: “But travelers are to blame for March 2020”

Flytrippers loves giving you more for your money, so we often add extras to our lists.

Yes, of course: travelers brought the virus here in March 2020. Here’s a news flash: we are now in April 2021. I’m not saying get over it, but I’m saying the situation has certainly changed.

This is the argument that makes the least sense: as I said, virtually all cases are from community transmission. Even stopping travel 100% (which is impossible for logistical reasons as our lives all depend on cross-border trade even for basic necessities like food), there would still be 99.5% of the cases left.

It would change virtually nothing.

It is a very bad comparison. In March 2020, no travelers anywhere were taking any precautions. No travelers anywhere were distancing. No travelers were wearing masks. No travelers were quarantining when returning. No travelers were being tested. And most importantly, there were no cases here.

It’s a bit of a sunk cost fallacy at play. Maybe measures should have been stricter in March 2020, but that’s irrelevant now: the virus is here, and 99.5% of cases are caused by community transmission now.

We’re testing travelers before they fly and on arrival. Almost every destination has adapted to minimize the risks. Airlines, airports, hotels, car rental agencies, mass transit services, and attractions have adapted to minimize the risk.

The situation has changed. Non-essential travelers are certainly nowhere near being the top problem. The facts and numbers are pretty clear about that.

 

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Summary

Canada’s hotel quarantine is a very ineffective measure, and we’re frankly a bit tired of hearing so many bad arguments for it that aren’t based on any facts, evidence, or data.

What do you think of the hotel quarantine program? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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Featured image: Baymont Montreal, a quarantine hotel (photo credit: Wyndham)

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about traveling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself. He shares his experiences to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveler, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to travel rewards points... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 62/193 Countries, 46/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Hermes Liberty

    Who designed this program? And are they liable (criminally or civilly for damages)?

    I am a new senior keen to be a ‘snowbird’. I am not a millionaire sipping champagne on a yacht in the Bahamas. I live under the poverty line with almost no savings. Not proud of my stupidity, laziness and lack of good financial planning, but the fact is I travel in the winter both to escape Alberta’s winter and to save money. Even after airfare, it’s cheaper to travel in a developing country (or one with severe economic policy problems, such as where I am now – Turkey) than stay in Calgary.

    I have postponed my return mostly because I simply cannot afford a luxury hotel stay. Whether renting a room in someone’s basement suite or sleeping in an economy hotel in Istanbul I spend $12-23 per night. I eat very simply. I never eat out in Canada.

    So, $300-600 per night? Are you crazy! That’s all I can say to Justin Trudeau or whoever thought up this brilliant idea.

    And to rub salt in the wound, telling me that I am immoral for travelling? It’s unconscionable.

    I have delayed my return until this irrational policy is finished. The only reason I don’t challenge this ‘law’ and pay the consequence is because I believe I can’t collect GIS in prison.

  2. Gary Cole

    I agree 100% with this article. I’d add that those of us who spent the winter in healthy outdoor environments in warm places and got vaccinated much sooner than we would have in Canada have helped reduce the risk overall. We won’t be getting infected and using scarce health care resources and we won’t be infecting anyone else. The hotel quarantine might make sense if travellers were infected but as you show, they are not. They are also thoroughly tested before and after arrival.

  3. Marlene Robertson

    Thank you for the excellent information and commentary. We are Canadians residing at our home in Mexico where we will stay until the unreasonable federal government requirements for air travellers are cancelled. Oh, and when Westjet and Air Canada resume service to Mexico. We are happy here. We have everything we need and feel very safe.

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      It is obviously infinitely more dangerous to take all the precautions there than it is to take all the precautions here, because you crossed those imaginary lines!
      Kidding aside, enjoy it 😛 Seems like a good idea in your situation!

  4. Vitali Khlebko

    People just like some imaginary power. “I am righteous and thy I put my wrath on these pesky travellers.”

    Well, some travellers have foreign roots. Relatives who live abroad and might never see them again.

    Lock them out, and you’ll never see neither them, nor their taxes. Nor their kids. Not all, but those, who most needed elsewhere, will accept job offers elsewhere. Because every “game” is a mutual process.

    Stupidity is not just bad, it is creating domino effect. Skilled people will leave, because no one wants to pay taxes to country that reprimand you from most basic thing as seeing your family. There is already shortage of skilled workers and surplus of unemployed of the same time. We need skilled people more, than these people need us. Push them over a bump of “country switch” threshold and you never ever see them again. Skilled immigration is not about “Santa for foreign adults”, it is about innovations and competition. It is necessity to live good and able to defend the country

    Take out all foreigners, not just recent one. Couple of decade back. And you’ll get a high tech collapsing, one of businesses still alive. This is tax generating, export oriented business. There are scientists, professors, doctors. And there are none to replace, it is not question of high wages. It means, no business. China is pulling their skilled nationals back, even without COVID. Chinese is one of most working nationalities. And Canada just losing their most valuable resources. There are not many reasons left which keep skilled foreigners here. Should businesses start collapse due to high taxes and workforce shortage, this will increase an exodus. Life is better in China now. So in many other, used to be poor, countries.

    Canada is already very poor ratio of income vs expenses/taxes/housing. We already getting smaller and smaller fish in immigration program nets. Now we close last source, foreign student influx?!

    Remove Mexicans from the farms, and very same people will be howling on huge hike of the grocery cost. Yes, there is a CERB and other “sit at home” stimulus. And local farms and businesses will not magically deliver food to the door of Canadians.

    We are killing our economy and business, ones producing high added value. We cannot sustain it alone. And Canada cannot live on selling logs and maple syrup. These is business with low added value. You can’t buy cars or ventilators this way. We can’t even fix an most of existing cars, it need skilled people too.

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Sadly a vast majority of people irrationally believe that travelers are still the cause of all problems in 2021 and no facts or data will change their mind. So these measures are very popular, and that’s pretty much all the federal government cares about on this particular file :S

  5. Jennifer Orr

    I am currently residing on Dominica for the past 6 months. My husband and I are due to return to Canada on May 8. Your articles regarding the Hotel quaratine have been very informative. I wish we could stay on Dominica but my husband requires refills of his heart meds. We are hoping to forego hotel quaratine so we can go home where his medications will be waiting for him. Have you heard whether there are hotels willing to refund the unused portion of the 3 day stay. We are flying to Montreal. Thank you again for the information. I look forward to your updates.

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Some hotels definitely do offer refunds based on traveler testimonials, but it seems hit or miss and requires calling each one unfortunately :S Glad we could help with our guide, have a safe return to Canada. I am not sure how medical exemptions work for the hotel, but if not the only way to quarantine at home is to enter by land or refuse the hotel, which comes with a substantial fine of $3,000.

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