Canadian returning to B.C. without a quarantine plan says she was told 'figure it out'
VANCOUVER -- Julia Leese had the adventure of a lifetime.
A year ago, she quit her job then sold her car and house in Campbell River, B.C., in order to make what she called a fresh start, with a year of travelling and visiting with family in Australia.
Work options Down Under didn’t quite pan out, and six months into the pandemic, Leese realised it was time to come home.
“I needed to get back to reality and have a new career,” Leese said.
Leese said she was fully aware of Canada’s 14-day quarantine requirement for returning international travellers.
She couldn’t stay with her parents in Alberta, or a friend who was undergoing cancer treatment on Vancouver Island. And her sister was in the middle of a move on the other side of the country.
But Leese said she had read about a failsafe – the federal government.
“I thought there would be a specific hotel that was quarantine-designed and that (health officials) would take you from the airport to the hotel,” Leese said.
That didn’t happen.
When she landed at YVR last Friday, Leese said the health official she spoke to told her while he could present some potential options, it would be up to her to find her own accommodation, food, and transportation.
“Figure it out yourself,” Leese said she was told.
After some back and forth and calls to hotels with rates well over $100 a night, Leese said she settled on a hotel on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
She turned out to regret her choice.
“This is the third room that I’ve been moved to in the same hotel,” she said in a short video diary she recorded for CTV News Tuesday.
“I’ve been moved due to uncleanliness and broken (plumbing),” she said. “It’s just not ideal and it’s very difficult to be stuck in this little, tiny, dirty place.”
Leese wanted to change hotels, but said she was unable to reach federal or provincial health authorities with the numbers she’d been given, and she was reluctant to make a move without permission.
“I don’t want to get fined. I don’t want to get in trouble. I want to make sure they know where I am," Leese said.
When CTV News reached out, a spokesperson with the Public Health Agency of Canada said she would pass along Leese’s details to the appropriate team.
The province also told CTV it would also look into her case.
Leese said she wasn’t looking for sympathy or financial help, but an OK to move to a place where she could keep groceries cold, eat healthy, and reduce her stress level for the next 10 days.
“It’s getting really hard,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
She added she didn’t want to anyone to make the mistake she did, by assuming the federal government would have a place for her to stay, free of charge.
“There is no federal quarantine facility program,” Tammy Jarbeau, senior media relations advisor with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), wrote in a statement.
“When deemed necessary by a public health officer designated under the Quarantine Act, and only when travellers are confirmed to have no other suitable quarantine or isolation options available, a traveller may be transferred to a federal designated quarantine facility,” Jarbeau went on to write.
“This measure is used only as a last resort.”
Jarbeau said a total 3,434 travellers have been lodged at federally designated quarantine sites this year. There were 182 lodged as of Aug. 30.
It’s unclear if there have been changes in the options offered to returning international travellers since the early months of the pandemic.
A spokesperson with B.C.’s Health Ministry told CTV News while the federal government has jurisdiction around quarantine requirements, provincial officials still conduct compliance and wellness checks.
Late Tuesday, Leese messaged CTV News via Facebook to say someone from Emergency Management BC had called and had given her the green light to change hotels and share her new quarantine plan.
“Just when I thought I was doomed, the phone rang,” Leese wrote.
Her advice for other travellers? Plan ahead and don’t rely on anyone but yourself.