Foreign diplomats, unaccompanied minors, truck drivers and patients seeking treatment overseas are among the limited number of travelers who are exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine requirements when arriving in Canada by air.
The federal rule that requires these travelers to stay in an approved hotel for up to 72 hours while awaiting the results of their polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 came into effect on Monday.
Quarantined hotel reservations must be made prior to a traveler arriving in Canada and can only be made by calling a dedicated government phone line. Reservations must be made at the expense of the traveler.
Diplomats, consular couriers and their families will not be required to book hotel stay or take a post-arrival PCR test, and will be able to complete their 14-day quarantine elsewhere.
Canada added the exception to the rule because it is bound by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. International law of 1964 states that diplomats “shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention”.
Australia also exempts foreign diplomats from similar quarantine requirements.
“Foreign diplomats must be quarantined for 14 days upon their return to Australia. They can quarantine themselves at their mission or at their usual place of residence, ”says the Australian Department of Health website. “Australia has legal obligations under the Vienna Convention to guarantee freedom of movement and travel for diplomats, as well as protection from detention.”
Good policy or vulnerability gap?
Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Temerty Medical School and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the diplomatic exemption was not a smart approach to a pandemic.
“This is a vulnerability gap,” Banerji said.
“When we start making these exceptions – just like politicians who go south over the holiday season thinking they don’t need to have the same rules as everyone else – it can lead to the spread. of infection. “
Charles Burton, senior researcher at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and former Beijing-based Canadian diplomat, said it would be appropriate for the federal government to send a diplomatic note to all Canadian embassies and consulates requesting that their diplomats voluntarily comply. comply with the hotel’s quarantine rule and produce a post-arrival test.
“Countries that are responsible for their international behavior will insist that their diplomats abide by these regulations, just as any non-diplomat or Canadian should abide by if they were crossing Canada from a foreign country,” said Burton.
Sarah Goldfeder is a Director at Earnscliffe Strategy Group who recently served as Special Assistant to two US Ambassadors to Canada. She said making exceptions for diplomats was good policy, as it was in line with the demands of other countries.
“It goes back to that kind of back and forth reciprocity of what you want and who do you want to be in charge of your diplomats when your diplomats go to their posts,” Goldfeder said.
“I don’t think there is an increased risk by any of their behaviors. Usually they come from their home country to this country. They don’t travel to multiple places in between.”
Canadian diplomats abroad are fully subject to Canadian public health measures upon return, including PCR testing and federally imposed quarantine rules, Global Affairs Canada said.
The obligation to quarantine in a hotel and pass a PCR test on arrival also does not apply to unaccompanied dependent children and unaccompanied minors.
A Quarantine Officer can release a person in “urgent” or extraordinary circumstances from the requirement; the government did not specify what types of circumstances would be admissible. In such cases, a person is still required to follow the instructions of the quarantine officer.
The hotel quarantine measure – which the government hopes will allow better detection and monitoring of a number of more infectious coronavirus variants – has drawn criticism. Travelers said they had difficulty communicating with a reservations official on the government phone line. Others worry about the cost of a hotel room.
On Friday, the federal government released a list of approved hotels in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. The list now contains 18 hotels between the four cities.