“We’re waiting for more details,” said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief medical health officer for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), during his March 25 daily media teleconference.
Earlier that day federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced a Quarantine Act emergency order, which demands that anyone entering Canada by land, sea, or air, must go into automatic self-isolation for 14 days. The mandatory quarantine applies whether or not a person shows any symptoms of COVID-19.
The emergency order is the latest phase of the federal strategy to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) began enforcing the mandatory quarantine order at all airports, sea ports, and also Canada-U.S. border crossing stations at midnight March 25.
Penalties for violating the quarantine order can be as much as $750,000 in fines and/or six months in jail. Anyone who creates a risk of death or serious bodily harm to another person because they chose to break quarantine could end up paying up to $1000 in fines, or spend up to three years in jail, or receive both a fine and a jail term. The emergency order will give law-enforcement and health authorities the power to do spot checks to make sure people under quarantine are staying in self-isolation.
The main focus of the emergency quarantine order is to deal with Canadians still returning home from abroad.
Outside of those in the City of Ottawa, there are four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Eastern Ontario region. Dr. Roumeliotis is concerned about any cases arriving in the region via the Canada-U.S. border crossings.
His main concern is that Canadian “snowbirds” from Florida, and others driving back to Ontario from trips elsewhere in the U.S., may pass through New York City on their way home. Both Florida and New York City are COVID-19 “hot spots” in the U.S. Canadians who did not have the disease when they started for home may be at risk of getting it if they have to stop in New York City for any reason.
“That’s one of the things that worries me,” said Dr. Roumeliotis. “We do expect to get more cases.”
Dr. Roumeliotis wonders if the CBSA will set up a preliminary screening procedure at checkpoints to determine if some Canadians have COVID-19 or not, or if they will just tell everyone who arrives about the mandatory quarantine and assume those people will honour the emergency order.
“Those are the details I would like to know,” he said.
So far in the Prescott-Russell region, the COVID-19 testing centre set up at the EOHU clinic in Hawkesbury had processed more than 100 people within a three-day period after opening. No new cases have turned up there. Dr. Roumeliotis confirmed the EOHU is working to set up more testing centres in the Eastern Ontario region.