Upon arrival at Toronto Pearson International Airport, a group of travelers from South Africa was ushered to a quarantine facility and told they would get a COVID-19 test upon arrival—for at least one couple the wait for a swab was about two days.
Lucille Narun traveled to South Africa to visit her family five weeks ago before the Omicron variant rapidly spread across the globe. She and her husband returned to Canada on Sunday after a short layover in Germany.
Speaking to CTV News Toronto on Wednesday morning, the 73 year old said that when she arrived at the airport in Toronto, all the travelers from southern African countries were told that they should head directly to the quarantine facility.
“We thought, we go to the hotel, they do the test. But no, they just checked us into a hotel and they said it’s a special crew that comes around that does the testing and they’ll be there tomorrow morning,” Narun said.
“Well, that didn’t happen.”
Narun started to call the front desk, as well as public health and officials with Switch Health—the company responsible for the COVID-19 testing—and was told the couple was on the list of people to be swabbed.
They eventually got their test around 4 pm on Tuesday, roughly 48 hours after arriving in Canada. The test itself took no time at all.
“It’s quite silly,” she said. “The actual testing is very efficient.”
Three people showed up at the door of their hotel room in “plastic garb,” Narun explained, and the swab took a few seconds.
“We’re hoping we’ll get out of here soon,” she said, adding that once they get the actual results of the test, they need to continue to wait for public health officials to release them from the facility.
Narun has been in contact with the other people on the flight through a group WhatsApp chat who were sent to quarantine facilities. She says that one person was able to leave within 24 hours and others got their tests Monday morning.
Lucille Narun and her husband are seen in this photograph taken during their trip to South Africa. (provided by Lucille Narun)
While the staff at the quarantine facility are all “doing the best they can,” Narun says the rules don’t make sense.
“It’s been just slow and inefficient and inconsistent,” she said, adding that there are different rules in different provinces.
“We’re in a good position because the two of us, we are quarantining together,” Narun said of her and her husband. “There are people who are single on their own. Some people who are getting sick, people with kids, so we have some really, really desperate people in the situation. I mean, I think we’re one of the very lucky ones.”
After saying that, Narun said the one thing she is craving is some fresh air.
“There’s no windows or anything to open. We haven’t been outside in two and a half days, sort of starting to feel claustrophobic.”
Fully vaccinated travelers returning to Canada from one of 10 countries in southern Africa under a federal travel restriction must get tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. They must wait for their test results at a quarantine facility.
Those who receive negative tests will then be able to complete their 14-day isolation period at home while taking an additional COVID-19 test on day eight.
A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada said that traveler volume at certain airports over the weekend resulted in “delays in service” at designated quarantine facilities.
“This includes some longer delays to release travelers from the DQF, particularly at airports with higher volume of travellers. The Public Health Agency of Canada is working diligently to address these issues,” Tammy Jarbeau said in a statement.