What legal duties and risks must travelers accept during the Coronavirus outbreak?

Many Canadians are continuing to travel while monitoring Corona virus outbreaks around the world.

Unfortunately, it is possible that Canadian travelers will develop symptoms while they are abroad. In some cases, they will have to be tested for COVID-19 and may even require treatment in another country. If this happens, there is a significant possibility that their provincial health insurance plan will not fund the cost of testing, monitoring and treatment. Each province has its own laws about what is covered abroad. In Ontario, very little out-of-country treatment is funded by OHIP. Ontarians are exposed to expensive hospitals bills if they fall ill when they are away from home. Some hospitals in other countries require cash upfront before they provide treatment. Without thousands of dollars at their quick disposal, a traveler could be in a difficult situation of being unable to access medically necessary treatment.

It is therefore essential to consider purchasing private travel insurance before embarking on a trip (this is always true, but particularly important given the ongoing circumstances).

The government of Canada suggests asking the following questions before buying a travel health insurance plan:

  1. Is there a deductible, and how much is it?
  2. Does the plan provide continuous coverage for the length of your stay abroad and after you return?
  3. Does the plan exclude or greatly limit coverage for certain regions or countries you may visit?
  4. Does it offer coverage that is renewable from abroad and for the maximum period of stay?
  5. Does the company have an in-house, worldwide, 24-hour/7-day emergency contact number in English and/or translation services for health care providers in     your destination country?
  6. Does it pay for hospitalization for illness or injury and related medical costs at your destination?
  7. Does it pay your bills or cash advances up front, so you don’t have to pay them?

In addition to health insurance, it is also prudent to purchase cancellation insurance in the event it becomes unsafe or prohibited to travel to certain destinations.

Traveling home to Canada may cease to be an option if a person is too ill. While it can be tempting to return home to seek treatment, this is a deeply problematic option. For one, the ill traveler will risk the health of others. Knowing we may spread a potentially fatal illness should present a moral dilemma. But for those not persuaded by the interests of others, the traveler will be exposing himself or herself to serious legal risks.

Under Canada’s Quarantine Act there are duties on travelers to help ensure communicable illnesses are not spread to others. People who enter Canada must present themselves to a screening officer. They have a duty to answer any relevant questions asked by a screening or quarantine officer. If a person suspects that they have a communicable disease, or if they have recently been in close proximity to a person who has a communicable disease, they have a duty to disclose this information.

A traveler who poses a risk to others may be isolated or detained.

During travel a person can be arrested without a warrant, be required to undergo a health assessment, and even be ordered to comply with treatment. Although Canadian law does not generally allow people to be treated without consent or detained when they have done nothing wrong, the rules change when public health is at risk. In the case of an outbreak, individual rights are trumped by the greater good.

Legal obligations on travelers should be taken very seriously because, if breached, they come with significant consequences.

A person who willfully or recklessly contravenes the Quarantine Act exposes themselves to a fine of up to $1,000,000 and imprisonment of up to 3 years (or both).

A person who fails to comply with reasonable measures ordered by a screening or quarantine officer for the purpose of preventing the introduction and spread of a communicable disease is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $200,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both.

A person who fails to answer any relevant questions asked by a screening or quarantine officer is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $200,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both.

Mitigating the spread of a communicable illness is a responsibility we all share. No government can do it effectively without the cooperation of its citizens. But they can make it unappealing to break the law and tempt our fate.

Suddenly, the price of travelers' health and cancellation insurance looks very affordable.

Photo by Taylin Wilson from Burst                  undefined
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