500 travellers tracked down by B.C. police enforcing quarantine orders
VANCOUVER -- Two weeks since the premier announced strict new measures requiring a written quarantine plan from travellers returning to B.C. from outside the country, 500 of those travellers have had a visit from their local police after officials couldn’t follow up with them.
North Delta MLA Ravi Kahlon was tasked with overseeing a provincial effort to limit the movements of travellers after the health minister and Premier John Horgan grew increasingly frustrated with the slow pace the federal government (which has jurisdiction over air and land travel) was taking in enforcing a two-week quarantine requirement implemented weeks ago but not actively enforced.
“It’s a ghost town, you don’t see many people at YVR,” said Kahlon, noting that 6,064 people arrived from international locations at Vancouver International Airport while 8,563 people came to B.C. from land border crossings in that time.
Right now, 96 of them are being fed and housed in hotels paid for by the government since they didn’t have adequate plans for going straight to a location where they could stay without outside contact for two weeks. Officials said they'd rather pay for their accommodation than risk people lying about their plans out of financial consideration.
Of the 8,900 followup phone calls for the rest of the returning travellers, 500 didn’t respond and Kahlon’s staff contacted local police to find them and make sure they were self-isolating where they said they’d be.
“I think maybe there was a sense of, this is not that serious, and then when they see an officer show up, they realize how serious it is, and we’ve seen overwhelming co-operation after they’ve been visited by a local police officer,” said Kahlon.
He said 26 travellers in total have reported feeling symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and are being tested.
“26 people might not seem like a big number, but that's 26 people that potentially could’ve been in the communities, potentially could’ve passed the virus on to other people and to work sites, so I think it’s a significant number,” said Kahlon.
Nine-hundred of those travellers were temporary foreign workers isolating at their long-term accommodations, which have been inspected by government.
Every person coming to British Columbia from outside Canada has to fill out a paper form at the airport or an electronic one in advance, then undergo additional screening by Canada Border Services Agents.
Kahlon said provincial civil servants who aren’t able to do their regular jobs volunteered to help screen and follow up with travellers, as well as provide translation services for those returning home and perhaps unaware of the restrictions now in place here.
“We had a huge array of language skills available to us — the number of provincial government employees who put up their hands to volunteer was overwhelming,” explained Kahlon, who said nearly every ministry gave permission for staff members to help
“Many people are afraid, who wants to go to the airport and say ‘I’ll work there’? But we have so many good people in our public service who said ‘yes, this is important, I’ll go do this.’”