The Public Health Agency’s COVID quarantine hotels were a crucial part of the pandemic fight, but they were expensive.
And the agency records were badly kept.
The hotels were used to house travellers to Canada who had COVID symptoms and those with nowhere to quarantine, as well as people waiting for test results.
“Quarantine facilities are an important public health tool to support stringent border measures,” wrote Public Health Agency staff.
But a federal audit in December showed that the agency did not keep very good records on hotel stays and could not determine how many travellers stayed in the hotels when told to do so.
Auditor General Karen Hogan tabled reports in the House of Commons, one of which concerned the enforcement of quarantine hotel stays.
According to a story in Blacklock’s Reporter, from March of 2020 when the pandemic began through to August of 2021, the agency spent $614 million to administer border measures.
That figure includes $200 million for quarantine hotels and $342 million for COVID-19 testing.
Travellers flying into Canada often had to pre-book and pre-pay for three days at a designated quarantine hotel while awaiting results of a COVID-19 test.
But the agency did not have a proper automated system tracking travellers to verify that those supposed to quarantine at these hotels did in fact comply — and they could not provide hotel records for 75% of air passengers.
They likewise could not verify COVID tests for 30% of travellers allowed into Canada, according to the audit Enforcement Of Quarantine And Covid-19 Testing Orders.
“Without verifying travellers’ compliance with mandatory quarantine orders the Public Health Agency cannot know whether its approach to enforcing the orders is effective,” wrote auditors.
An Inquiry Of Ministry tabled in the Commons includes the information that the Agency paid for “a total number of 2,123 rooms designated under the Quarantine Act.”
Taxpayers’ costs for rooms, meal service, cleaning, security, transporting travellers and providing medical care averaged as high as $2,390,102 per hotel, said the Inquiry.
Daily room rates in the quarantine hotels ranged between $49 and $139 per night.
“I am concerned the Public Health Agency is unable to show us whether or not these border measures are effective,” said Auditor General Hogan. “The agency’s inability to confirm whether more than one-third of travellers complied with quarantine orders remains a significant problem.”
The agency improved its efforts to collect contact information from travellers after a switch from paper records to electronic.
“Though the Public Health Agency of Canada improved its results, this is not a success story,” said Hogan.
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