Michelle Fernandes could almost see her home from the steps of the Sheraton Four Points hotel near Toronto Pearson International Airport on Monday.
She had flown all the way from New Delhi that morning, but lives nearby in Mississauga, the suburban municipality where Pearson is located.
Yet instead of heading to her house, she was checking into an airport hotel, becoming one of the first international air travellers required to quarantine in government-sanctioned accommodations for her first three days in Canada.
Lugging three hefty suitcases after a months-long visit with relatives in India, the policy didn’t seem to make sense to Fernandes.
“I don’t think it’s necessary because I could have quarantined in my basement,” said the 31-year-old, Pearson’s tarmac and parked airliners visible over her shoulders. “It’s a full-fledged house.”
It was a common sentiment Monday as Canada put into motion one of the most dramatic measures yet to control the spread of COVID-19, a rule that has prompted talk of constitutional challenges and complaints of unlawful confinement.
Similar scenes were playing out in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, the only other airports allowed to accept international flights under new federal rules. There was also widespread grumbling about a telephone booking system for the stays that were reportedly swamped by demand.
After three days in a hotel room, travellers are required to complete their 14-day quarantine at home, so long as the COVID test they took on arrival comes back negative.
The government says the measure was needed to try to curb the importation of variants of the coronavirus that are more easily transmissible. Australia and other countries with far more success than Canada at handling the pandemic have forced travellers into two-week quarantines in such facilities for months now.
Despite the complaints, implementation of the policy at Pearson seemed less than draconian.
Passengers made their way unescorted to the four hotels taking part in the program by the usual methods, including shuttle buses and a monorail that has a station next to one of the hotels. Inside, they milled about as would any guests waiting to check in. Once in their rooms, however, they won’t be able to leave for 72 hours, apart from short, supervised trips outdoors.