When Sharmila D’Souza landed in Toronto with her daughter, Isabel, she was hoping her detailed quarantine plan would be enough to spare them a mandatory three-day hotel stay.
D’Souza has not seen her husband, Isabel’s father, in two years — separated by family responsibilities back in India and COVID-19.
But there are no exceptions to Canada’s new quarantine rules for international air travellers, which require incoming passengers to book three nights in one of 18 approved hotels in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver, and to stay there until they get the results of their coronavirus test.
So, instead of quarantining together as a reunited family of three, D’Souza and her six-year-old have to wait a little longer in a room that cost $1,600, whiling away the hours colouring and playing with a hula hoop D’Souza bought.
“I was hoping that they would just let me go on compassionate grounds,” she said Tuesday.
She said after waiting for months she finally made the decision to travel in January, concluding the pandemic wasn’t about to relent.
“I was done waiting,” she said of her decision to travel. “We need to be together, so I’m going to join (my husband).”
The mother and daughter checked into the Holiday Inn Toronto Pearson International Airport on Monday afternoon, following a 15-hour flight from Delhi, India. They got there before any lineups had formed, and got a relatively early glimpse of life inside Canada’s government-mandated quarantine hotels.
The room itself, D’Souza said, is roomy enough and clean. They’re enjoying a view of the snow-covered ground outside. It’s the first time Isabel, who has lived most of her life in India, has seen snow, and D’Souza said she couldn’t wait to take her out on an escorted excursion for a bit of fresh air — the hotel promises two such opportunities a day.
The biggest challenge they’re having so far, D’Souza said, has been getting the attention of hotel staff. When D’Souza calls the front desk, more often than not the lines are busy.
And the meals, which are paid for upfront as part of the quarantine hotel booking fee, have arrived late, she said. On Monday, they got one wrap for lunch between the two of them, and it came an hour later than the 12:00 to 1 p.m. window professed on the hotel’s welcome letter. Hotel staff told her that was because her booking was made last minute, so they didn’t know to expect her for that meal.
Dinner that night and breakfast the next morning were better, she said.
Reached Tuesday, a person at the front desk of the Holiday Inn Toronto Airport hotel said no one at the hotel was available to speak with the Star. The Star did not receive an immediate response to its request for comment from InterContinental Hotels Group.
Health Canada referred the Star to the government’s posted guidance for hotels on food safety, which says meals need to adhere to the Canada food guide and accommodate dietary needs, but does not specify when they need to be delivered.
Mostly, D’Souza and her daughter were dealing with knowing their loved one was close by in Mississauga, but that they could see him for another two days.
The large expense of the hotel quarantine feels both punitive and unnecessary, D’Souza said.
D’Souza’s husband was laid off from his job in Canada early in the pandemic and has been working gigs delivering groceries in the meantime. The $1,600 for their hotel could have gone to much needed essentials for their family, she said.
“She was looking forward to meeting her father at the airport,” D’Souza said of her daughter. “It’s difficult for me to explain to her that it cannot happen yet.”
Other guests of the Holiday Inn made similar reports — the room was comfortable, but there were challenges in getting food on time or getting a hold of hotel staff.
Arunthia Urmi, a Toronto resident who travelled to Bangladesh before the hotel quarantine restrictions were announced to be with her ailing parents, said
she has no issue with hotel quarantine in theory, but that she doesn’t understand why it costs so much, and why it seems staff time is such a limited resource.
She said she requested bottled water and was told it would only come with meals, otherwise she would have to drink from the bathroom tap.
“I know the tap water is safe, but I don’t want to drink water from the bathroom,” she said. “And I’m paying $400 a night.”
As a single person, Urmi paid $1,160 for her three-day hotel quarantine. She knows that after that she will be able to quarantine safely at her home in Scarborough. But even if she gets her negative COVID-19 test result back sooner, she will not get a refund for a portion of her hotel quarantine stay.