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Ontario asks for mandatory three-day hotel quarantines at land crossings

Ford says people are flying in to the U.S, taking a taxi to a land crossing, and walking or driving across the border

TORONTO — Ontario is asking the federal government to impose mandatory three-day quarantines in hotels for travellers entering Canada at land crossings.

Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones make the request to Ottawa in a letter sent Thursday, saying the measure is needed to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

"While returning, international air travelers are required to quarantine at a federally designated hotel, it has become evident that individuals are able to bypass this requirement," the ministers wrote. "This loophole represents a significant threat to the health and well-being of Ontarians."

Travellers landing at Canada's international airports already have to stay in a federally approved hotel for three days while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test done on arrival. The hotel quarantine is part of a 14-day quarantine that can be completed at their destination if they test negative. 

Elliott and Jones said in their letter that there have been reports of international travellers booking flights into nearby American airports, taking a taxi to a United States-Canada land crossing and walking or driving across the border.

"These reports are deeply troubling and further illustrate the extreme risk that inadequate border measures pose in the face of deadly COVID-19 variants," the ministers said in the letter.

Elliott and Jones asked their federal counterparts to ensure there are federally approved quarantine hotels at land border crossings in Niagara Region, Windsor, Sarnia, and Brockville.

"It is important that all travelers in these regions are met with the same quarantine requirement, to ensure that all points of entry are protected," they wrote.

The federal government did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Earlier this week, the province asked Ottawa for enhanced measures for interprovincial travellers as Ontario continues to grapple with skyrocketing hospitalizations and cases of COVID-19 variants.

In a letter sent Monday to the federal ministers of health and public safety, Ontario said it has already closed its boundaries with Quebec and Manitoba to non-essential travel, but there are no measures in place to protect provinces from the spread of COVID-19 variants through interprovincial air travel, an area of federal responsibility.

The province asked for mandatory pre-departure PCR testing for all domestic air travellers entering Ontario, an extension to current rules for international passengers seeking entry into Canada.

Ontario reported 3,887 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 21 more deaths linked to the virus.

The Ministry of Health said 2,201 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 – 883 are in intensive care and 632 are on a ventilator.

Later Friday, Ontario's Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission is to submit its final report to the provincial government. The commission examined what went wrong in the province's response to the first wave of the pandemic. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on Premier Doug Ford to release the report as soon as the government receives it, and to implement its recommendations.

"That commission report needs to be public today," she said Friday morning. "The government can't sit on it or bury it or prevent it from going public.'

As of Thursday, 3,768 long-term care residents had died of COVID-19 in Ontario. 

The commission interviewed a range of people and groups, from Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton to doctors and personal support workers to family members of residents who were ill. 

The commission has already released two sets of interim recommendations. 

- with files from John Chidley-Hill.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2021. 

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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