Statement from Minister Duclos on the Auditor General of Canada’s performance audit on enforcement of quarantine and COVID-19 test orders

Statement

December 9, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, issued the following statement today after the tabling of the report by the Auditor General of Canada on the July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, performance audit on the Public Health Agency of Canada's (PHAC) enforcement of mandatory quarantine and testing measures for travellers, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada:

"I thank the Auditor General for this report. As the Auditor General has noted our response has been far from perfect. We acknowledge it and we are making no excuses for it. We can and we must do better. That being said, the Auditor General also acknowledges the crucial steps PHAC has taken to improve its enforcement of the quarantine order and verification of travellers' compliance in the past year, which are essential elements of its layered approach to border measures.

In other words, there has been significant progress and we must continue to build on that progress.

Since the Auditor General's last audit (Audit on Pandemic Preparedness and Response), PHAC improved its administration of the 14-day quarantine order and referred a higher number of travellers, suspected of not complying, to law enforcement for follow-up action.

Since the beginning of the border measures, we have:

  • made more than 7 million compliance verification calls, and
  • completed more than 500,000 visits to returning travellers to confirm that they were quarantining at home.

As result of these activities:

  • more than 7,000 enforcement actions were taken,
  • more than 15,000 individuals stayed at a designated quarantine facility managed by the federal government, and,
  • we completed more than 2.8 million post arrival tests to limit the importation and spread of COVID and its variants of concern.

The Agency accepts the recommendations of the Auditor General because we agree that we need to be constantly vigilant in our approach to our border measures.

The Auditor General found that the Agency lacked a way to track whether travellers arriving by air who were required to stay at a government-authorized accommodation (GAA) while awaiting the results of their arrival test complied with that requirement. Within a few months of the GAA requirement, PHAC built upon its risk-based compliance and enforcement model and developed a digital system to monitor the traveller's status in quarantine. This information allowed PHAC to allocate compliance and enforcement resources to those who were at most risk of not complying.

This layered approach was key to reducing the importation and spread of COVID-19 and its variants in Canada and continues to evolve to address COVID border requirements.

The Auditor General also found that PHAC was missing or unable to match 30% of COVID-19 tests for incoming travellers. During the Audit period, completed test rates were 86% for on arrival tests and 74% for day 8 tests. Regardless of whether PHAC matched test results to an ArriveCAN record, labs/test providers would have contacted the traveller to inform them of their results. Travellers without test results had their quarantine extended and were referred to local law enforcement for in-person follow-up activities during their extended quarantine. PHAC continues to work with provinces and territories and local law enforcement to improve the referrals and reporting process around travellers assessed to be at risk of non-compliance and will adjust its risk-based approach to compliance and enforcement, as necessary.

Additional steps to address the challenges and gaps the Auditor General has identified are being taken. For example, the Agency has awarded more than $27.1M in contracts to four private security firms to increase its number of agents physically following up with travellers required to quarantine.

Furthermore, I've directed officials, including the Chief Data Officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada, to come up with a plan to optimize the collection and sharing of travellers' information in order to ensure better follow up and better enforcement of border measures in the immediate future.

PHAC's approach to border measures, like its guidance and advice, has evolved during the pandemic and will continue to be informed by the latest available scientific evidence, epidemiology and expert opinion, which can change as new information becomes available.

We have seen this most recently in the border measures we have introduced to reduce the risk of importation and transmission of the Omicron variant of concern. Because of the uncertainty surrounding this variant, in a matter of days, the Public Health Agency of Canada implemented enhanced border measures, including stringent quarantine and enhanced testing requirements for travellers.

We will continue to evolve our border measures based on the latest public health information. Along with other audits, evaluations and lessons learned from the response to COVID-19, the recommendations from the Auditor General will help inform future steps related to the current pandemic."

Quick Facts:

  • The Auditor General's audit covered the period of July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. PHAC has developed an action plan to address the recommendations from this audit, including:
    • Continuing to engage with its provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure maximum collaboration in following up with travellers, particularly those who have tested positive or are in quarantine.
    • Renewing efforts to engage law enforcement partners with a particular focus on seeking information regarding referral outcomes for priority cases to further monitor traveller compliance and adjust its risk-based approach to compliance and enforcement, as necessary.
    • Assessing additional mechanisms to enforce the Quarantine Act more consistently nationally.
    • Improving and streamlining methods for assessing data quality internally.
    • Updating its Gender Based Analysis+ assessment and incorporate results in the implementation of future border measures.
    • Updating plans for administering and enforcing emergency orders in future outbreaks, including incorporating lessons learned from the current pandemic.

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, P.C., M.P.

Contacts

Marie-France Proulx
Office of the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Health
613-957-0200

Media Relations
Public Health Agency of Canada
613-957-2983
media@hc-sc.gc.ca

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