Canada still couldn’t ensure 36% of travellers were following quarantine rules more than a year into pandemic: AG

In her previous audit, Hogan had found that PHAC was unaware if a staggering 66 per cent of incoming travellers forced to quarantine were actually doing so between May 5 and June 30, 2020

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OTTAWA – Canada still could not track one third of incoming travellers to ensure that they were following quarantine rules by last June and then failed to contact over 1,100 people who tested positive at the airport to make sure they were isolating, according to an auditor general report.


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“Though the Public Health Agency of Canada improved its results, this is not a success story,” Auditor General Karen Hogan Thursday.

This is Hogan’s second audit of PHAC’s ability to enforce and track a series of border measures imposed during the pandemic, such as obligatory quarantining for 14-days upon entry into Canada and mandatory testing both on and post-arrival during the minimum three-day stay at a quarantine hotel that was imposed beginning last February.

It was published Thursday as part of four new investigations into the federal government’s performance on a series of COVID-19-related programs, such as border rule enforcement, protection of temporary foreign workers during the pandemic and ensuring access to food if shortages were to have occurred since Feb. 2020.


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In her previous audit, Hogan found that PHAC was unaware if a staggering 66 per cent of incoming travellers forced to quarantine were actually doing so between May 5 and June 30, 2020.

She also revealed that only 40 per cent of cases where a traveller was suspected of non-compliance with quarantine rules were referred to law enforcement.

In her new report, Hogan noted some improvement on both ends, but far from enough to say that PHAC was fulfilling its duty appropriately since her previous audit. She also notes that the agency lacks the resources to adequately complete the work required by all COVID-19 border measures.

“I was disappointed that they were unable to take those lessons learned and apply them to other border measures,” the auditor general said during a press briefing.


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I was disappointed that they were unable to take those lessons learned and apply them to other border measures


In her report, Hogan notes that by moving to electronic collection of traveller information via the ArriveCan app and hiring private security firms to conduct in-person visits of those suspected of breaking the rules, PHAC managed to track most incoming people between last January and June to ensure they were respecting quarantine rules.

But despite all the new measures, more than one third still managed to slip through the cracks.

“Without verifying travellers’ compliance with mandatory quarantine orders, the Public Health Agency of Canada cannot know whether its approach to enforcing the orders is effective or to what extent its approach serves to limit the spread of COVID-19,” she says.

As of June, PHAC doubled its rate of referrals to law enforcement for people suspected of breaking quarantine rules, hitting 79 per cent compared to 40 per cent the previous year.


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Hogan also discovered that PHAC had a host of issues with administering, filing and following-up on COVID-19 post-arrival tests as well as overseeing quarantine hotel stays.

Due to “errors and inconsistencies” in traveller contact information collection, the health agency was unable to properly associate nearly one third (30 per cent) of all COVID-19 tests to the right person who came through Canada’s borders between February and June 2021.

To make things worse, the agency also failed to contact 1,156 travellers (or 14 per cent) who tested positive on their COVID-19 tests upon arrival between February and June 2021 to assess their isolation plans.

“This finding matters because being aware of travellers’ COVID-19 test results — and being able to contact travellers immediately to confirm these results and assess their isolation plans—is critical to limiting virus spread,” Hogan wrote.


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“Tracking whether travellers who are directed to quarantine actually do so is equally important to minimizing virus spread.”

The auditor general also found that PHAC also failed to ensure that most travellers who were required to check-in to a quarantine hotel for three days starting last February… actually did that.

“The department had not set up a system to properly manage all of the incoming travellers to ensure that they had actually stayed,” Hogan said during a briefing to reporters.

“So, border service officers checked that there was a (hotel) reservation, but the agency was unable to confirm whether 75 per cent of the individuals actually arrived at the hotel and stayed for three days.”

Health minister Jean-Yves Duclos agreed with the AG’s findings and committed to putting in place all her recommendations.


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He also admitted that PHAC did not have the resources necessary for the task demanded of it during the pandemic. He also said that Canada has signed significant contracts with the private sector in recent days and weeks to improve PHAC’s capacity to track travellers and enforce rules.

“Our response has been far from perfect. We acknowledge it and we are making no excuses for it. We can and we must do better,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said.

Our response has been far from perfect

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos

“Clearly, the Public Health Agency of Canada did not have the data collection, sharing and storing tools necessary to meet the requirements of the pandemic,” he added. “The agency required micro-level data collection ability which it did not have at the beginning of the pandemic and that it still does not quite have today.”



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