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Canadian with COVID quarantines 14 days in South Africa, still ends up in Toronto quarantine hotel


‘It is a total shambles and you can’t get anybody. The government won’t do anything. The Liberal MP’s don’t even respond to you. The Conservatives MP at least responded’

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Dirk Snymon immigrated to Canada in 1994 from South Africa, and for the most part he loves his adoptive home country. But, he says, he’s disappointed with how the federal government is handling COVID-19 travel restrictions. His son Sean, 19, who plays rugby at a national level, was recently in South Africa for a rugby camp. When he and his teammates took a mandatory COVID-19 test before boarding their flight back to Canada late last month, Sean and a few others tested positive. Sean stayed in South Africa for the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, but according to his father, when Sean arrived back in Canada on Dec. 12, he was treated like a criminal and threatened with prison time and a hefty $100,000 fine. He was sent to a quarantine hotel in Toronto where he had to wait 42 hours before he was tested. More than 24 hours later, he still hadn’t received his test result. Dirk says he feels his son is “caught in limbo” due to a discriminatory policy targeting only people coming from 10 countries in southern Africa amid mounting fears about the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant. The National Post spoke to Dirk about his son’s ordeal. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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Q: How did Sean find out he had to quarantine in South Africa?

A: He tested positive just before they went to the airport. So he and a few of the Spanish counterparts on the team had to stay in quarantine in South Africa. How it works with the airline is you can fly without a negative PCR test after 14 days if you’ve had COVID, because your PCR test continues to be positive for up to 180 days. So you can’t test negative once you’ve had it.

Q: And when he got back to Canada, what happened?

A: They threatened to have him arrested because he said,”‘You can’t test me because I’m gonna test positive, because of how the virus works.” So he was threatened. He eventually was allowed to put them on the phone with me. They told me he was going into detention. They threatened to give him a $100,000 fine and imprisonment. Basically, under threat of going to prison, he was put into quarantine, and then told they’re gonna test him. Well, that test didn’t happen until yesterday morning. After he gets his result, he needs a quarantine officer to release him, which they’ve already told me can take up to 72 hours to get the release form. Technically, he’s supposed to be tested on arrival, then he is supposed to get his eight-day kit. He’s then supposed to go to the hotel, wait for his result, and then be released by a quarantine officer, and that should all happen within 24 hours, maybe 48 hours. Well, that doesn’t happen at all in reality.

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Sean Snymon.
Sean Snymon. Photo by Courtesy Dirk Snymon

Q: Have you been able to speak to anyone about Sean’s case?

A: It is a total shambles and you can’t get anybody. The government won’t do anything. The Liberal MP’s don’t even respond to you. The Conservatives MP at least responded to us. We sent emails to Justin Trudeau’s office. No answer. We sent messages to the minister of transport, the minister of immigration. None of them cared to respond to us other than the Conservative MP and some of the Conservative shadow ministers.

I mean, it’s just in shambles. And so people are just stuck and you can’t leave because they threaten to put you in jail or to give you a $100,000 fine and million-dollar fines. I mean, it’s just insanity. Any law should be applied equally to all races, genders, sexuality, etc. While in this case, it’s not, it’s only applied to a specific sector of the community, which is southern African people. It’s pretty much a racist, apartheid, xenophobia-type law that’s been applied by this Liberal government. And they don’t care because nobody challenges them.

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Q: How does it feel, as a father, to not be able to do anything to help your child get home?

A: It creates a lot of anxiety and when he was in South Africa, I was trying to deal with different time zones. It’s exhausting physically because I wake up at four o’clock, three o’clock in the morning to start taking 10 o’clock calls, you go through the stress of knowing he has COVID and this new strain is out there. You go through all those mental emotions of your child being sick. You can’t get to them, you can’t even fly there. So I’m sitting far away from my child, then organizing and helping him get back home because he is young. Then when he gets home his own country actually rejects allowing him to come home. When they do bring him home, they treat him like a criminal. So that creates a big sense of anger. I’m sitting here, I can’t go on with my life, and I have to fetch my child because nobody else is allowed to drive him because of the COVID restriction. You have to give this quarantine plan, which we agreed that I will fetch him. I have to go from Haliburton to Toronto, that’s a six-hour, seven-hour drive, round trip, without stopping anywhere, which is part of the quarantine requirements. The immense mental stress that is getting placed on parents is ridiculous. I’m on an emotional rollercoaster, I’m unable to concentrate on my work. It’s brutal. It’s brutal. I think my days in the military were easier, honestly.

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Q: What are the conditions in the hotel like for Sean?

A: He is in a hotel room that he isn’t allowed to leave. The only thing he can do is sit around and wait for his test results, then wait some more for someone to tell him he can leave. He is doing alright, but it’s hard. They get given food. I mean, there were Jewish people who were given non-kosher food when they requested kosher food. It’s terrible. There were people literally losing their minds. From a mental health perspective, it’s extremely damaging, and nobody cares.

Q: How do you feel about how the process has played out?

A: My family is pro-vaccination. I am pro the fact that you should quarantine. If you’ve done a trip like this, I’m pro being tested. I don’t mind that either. As a matter of fact, I will even pay for that test, knowing that I want to travel. That’s just the cost of travelling right now. I am comfortable with that. What I am not comfortable with is that they lock you up to get the same result that they could have by just making the rules very simple and manageable and doable.

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