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Canadians stuck abroad after testing positive for COVID-19

Canadians stuck abroad after testing positive for COVID-19
Written by Publishing Team

Canadians stuck abroad after testing positive for COVID-19 while on a trip are warning others traveling during the Omicron wave to expect travel disruptions that could cost thousands of dollars and keep them away from home for much longer than expected.

While this ordeal could force the rescheduling of return flights, many Canadians say they also have to contend with the unexpected costs of additional accommodation, food and multiple PCR tests while isolating internationally.

Some also warn that the rules for how to return to Canada after a positive test are confusing and difficult to navigate while abroad.

CTVNews.ca asked Canadians traveling abroad who had tested positive and been asked to isolate at their own expense to share their stories. The responses were emailed to CTVNews.ca and not all have been independently verified.

Ontario resident Paula Bass has been stuck in Los Angeles for more than two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19 on December 29 after a trip to visit family.

According to the federal government, Canadians must wait until the 15th day after their positive test result to return to Canada. If they have symptoms without a positive result, they should wait until the symptoms are gone and get a valid negative pre-entry test result.

While Bass says the travel disruption allowed her to spend extra time with her 89-year-old mother, she says the ordeal cost her more than $3,000 she wasn’t expecting.

If all goes well, Bass is expected to return to Toronto on Thursday afternoon.

Brennan Watson, who lives in Millverton, Ont., says he tested positive for COVID-19 while visiting friends in Ireland over the holidays. He was supposed to return to Canada on December 29, but due to isolation requirements there, Watson is currently still in Ireland and is expected to return home on Friday.

While he was able to isolate safely at a place for his friends in Northern Ireland, he had to bear the cost of changing his flight, which was approximately CAD 2000 extra.

Florence Bellair told CTVNews.ca that her father and brother came to visit her in Florida earlier this month. They did the mandatory PCR test for the trip back to Montreal, however, Bellaire says they didn’t receive their positive results until they were already on their connecting flight to Chicago.

“They are now stuck in Chicago, forced into isolation and in quarantine until January 24. They have to rebook their flight, as well as pay for a hotel room for the entire 12 days,” she said.

The federal government requires all travelers to have a molecular test within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of their trip to Canada.

If they have a connecting flight, the test must be taken within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of the last direct flight to Canada to avoid having to quarantine mid-flight. For this reason, the government says Canadians may need to schedule a molecular test in their transit city.

Break the travel rules

Beginning December 21, Canada is again requiring all incoming travelers, regardless of flight length or location, to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 molecular test prior to arrival in order to enter the country.

This means that all travelers returning to Canada after flights of 72 hours or less to the United States or other international locations will have to take a PCR test in a country other than Canada, prior to their scheduled departure.

In addition to pre-departure testing, the federal government has imposed randomized testing requirements on arrival for air and ground travelers from outside Canada due to concerns about the Omicron variant.

This policy requires that any travelers entering the country be tested upon arrival — either at the airport or in some cases when taking a home test — and isolated until they receive a negative result, except for travel from the United States.

On December 15, the federal government reintroduced non-essential travel advisories, calling on all Canadians regardless of vaccination status to avoid international travel due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“Many foreign governments are implementing strict travel restrictions due to the prevalence of the Omicron variant and international transportation options may be limited. As a result, you may have difficulty returning to Canada, or you may have to stay abroad for an indefinite period,” he warns in the advisory.

When one passenger tests positive and the other test negative

Rafael Luz and his wife traveled to New Haven, Connecticut to visit friends in December.

“Since the plan was easy, driving from Toronto to New Haven and back seemed like a safe plan, especially by avoiding airports and planes,” Luz said.

To return to Canada, they underwent PCR tests on December 30. Luz said they received the results a few days later and found out that his wife tested positive for COVID-19 and had to wait two weeks for her to come back. However, Luz was negative.

Luz said he took two tests on January 3, one of which showed a negative result and the other tested positive.

“With this, my wife will be able to return to Canada on the 12th, while I will be able to return only on the 16th,” he explained.

Luz said they are waiting until they are allowed to return to Canada together. Since neither showed symptoms and both were fully vaccinated, the US Centers for Disease Control does not require them to quarantine while in New Haven unless they develop symptoms.

Sarah Paul from White Rock, British Columbia is currently isolating her 11-year-old son in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. They left with eight other people for a two-week vacation on December 26.

“We were very careful while walking away, and followed all protocols and precautions,” Paul said. “We ran PCR tests as required, and everyone tested negative, except for our 11-year-old son.”

“We made the decision as a family that everyone, including my husband and daughter, would be going home, and that I would stay with my son and be isolated,” she added.

Paul said they are “completely fine” and her son is now fully recovered, having experienced “very mild symptoms of congestion and stomach pain”.

While Paul said they were aware that a positive test “was always a possibility,” she says the experience of having to decide what to do next while traveling was “extremely stressful.”

If Canadians are asymptomatic after testing positive abroad, the federal government says they can provide evidence of a positive COVID-19 molecular test two weeks before returning home, rather than a negative test.

However, Paul says she received an email from a North American company specializing in medical tourism in Puerto Vallarta that said her son would need to be retested before leaving, and if he was infected again, he would need a letter from the doctor confirming that he had made a full recovery.

Paul said she was told the airline would ask for it before they let him on the plane. However, she says the airline appears “reluctant to answer these questions due to liability issues”.

“It’s baffling and disconcerting not to really know what is expected of us, or to have an answer to give our 11-year-old son, when he asks when he will be allowed to return to Canada,” Paul said.

The importance of travel insurance

Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure, a Toronto-based travel insurance brokerage, told CTVNews.ca that Canadians can prepare for the possibility of staying abroad if they test positive for COVID-19 by purchasing an insurance policy that covers travel interruption.

“The fear of testing positive and not being able to get on a plane back home is a serious concern,” Firestone said in a phone interview Thursday, adding that insurers recognized this and adjusted their policies accordingly.

Firestone said the average insurance policy with travel interruption would cover approximately $200 per day per person for 14 days with a maximum of $2,800, plus $500 to cover the cost of buying a new ticket.

While it may not seem like a lot of money, Firestone said it’s “better than nothing.”

He noted that an insurance policy that includes trip interruption will cost approximately $50 to $75 per person, with the option to extend coverage if they need to stay longer at their destination for isolation at no additional cost.

In addition, Firestone said most insurance policies already cover medical expenses related to COVID-19 if someone becomes seriously ill or requires hospitalization abroad.

“This has been a lifesaver for a lot of people who had the foresight to buy it before going on their trip,” he said.

Firestone stressed the importance of “properly covering travelers” if they are planning a vacation during the Omicron wave.

“If you don’t buy it, cover all your expenses, buy a new ticket back home, needless to say, that can add up to massive expenses depending on which resort you are at,” he said.

Edited by Sonia Bozic, Producer of CTVNews.ca

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