As omicron variant spreads, Brandon couple ‘feel criminalized’ after return from South Africa

A Brandon, Man. couple who are quarantining in a Toronto hotel after a recent trip to South Africa say they feel ‘criminalized’ as travellers after the borders of 10 African countries were closed due to the presence of a new coronavirus variant of concern.

A day after Lennard and Charlotte Skead left for South Africa, where they’re both originally from, the World Health Organization released information about a new variant of concern called omicron, or the B.1.1.529 variant, which was discovered in the country.  

The couple, who were in the country to access medical care, made several attempts shortly after their arrival to find an airline to bring them back to Canada.

“We were extremely frustrated in not being able to find much [airline tickets] because of course there were hundreds of people, hundreds of Canadians there wanting to get back.  Calls to the airlines took hours on hold; it was total chaos,” Lennard said.  

On their trip back, they had to take six COVID-19 tests that have all come back negative, before being allowed to re-enter the country.  

The Skeads went for COVID-19 testing at the Frankfurt airport on their way to Toronto, where they’re quarantining. Lennard says they were tested six times on their journey. (Submitted by Lenard Skead)

Lennard just feels grateful they made it back.  

“We were just lucky,” he added, although it cost him a lot of money to get back, spending almost $23,500 so far for flights, COVID-19 tests and hotels.

In addition, their bags were lost and the food they’re served in hotel consistently contains allergens, which the couple has alerted staff about.

Restrictions meant to protect Canadians

Last Friday, Health Canada announced that foreign nationals who had visited to seven countries, including South Africa, in the last 14 days will not be permitted entry to Canada, in order to slow the spread of the omicron variant in Canada.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home, but have to quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says the travel restrictions are another way the federal government is working to protect the health and safety of Canadians. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Four days later, three other countries were added to the list of countries with travel restrictions, which went into effect on Wednesday.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a news conference on Friday that the country has had strong border measures throughout the pandemic to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

“I believe, and that’s what we hear from public health officials, that what we’ve announced last week on Friday and on Tuesday is currently the best set of measures given the necessity and capability with which we are facing when we’re dealing with these issues,” he said.

Duclos said travellers from the 10 countries should expect to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive in Canada and be ready to isolate.

“It will take a few days before we are able to test all targeted travelers but we’re ramping up our capacity quickly and testing more and more travelers every day,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lennard Skead, who is three days into his quarantine, believes travellers like he and his wife are being treated poorly.

He wishes there was a grace period for travellers like him who were already abroad when restrictions were announced.

“My experience from landing in Toronto Pearson right up into the hotel has made us feel criminalized,” Skead said.

“It has made us feel as though we are not welcome in our own country and that we are carrying some kind of terrible disease that’s going to be the end of the world despite our six negative COVID-19 tests.”

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