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U.S military personnel in St. John’s accused of not isolating, as confusion swirls around exemption rules

The manager of a St. John’s hotel says American military members have been leaving the hotel and telling staff they were given the OK to do so by the Canada Border Services Agency.

Delta Hotel general manager Heather McKinnon said American service members have been leaving the premises, which is causing concerns about COVID-19 in the community as confusion grows over whether federal or provincial rules and exemptions should apply.

People took to social media Monday night to say they had spotted the American members, who they said were not self-isolating. St. John’s police said they had received a report about the Americans on Monday night; however, officers weren’t able to locate them.

McKinnon said that while the members were allowed to be together as a group, it had come to the staff’s attention that they were leaving the hotel. She said the members told Delta staff that the CBSA had told them they are allowed to be out in public while in the country.

That runs contrary to provincial rules on visitors from outside of Atlantic Canada. Even people travelling to Newfoundland and Labrador for essential work are required to isolate when they are not working.

In an email, a CBSA spokesperson said an individual may be exempt from mandatory quarantine requirements, if they meet an exception in the regulations for visiting forces.

CBC News asked American military personnel walking into the Delta on Tuesday for interviews, but they repeatedly replied “no comment.” 

Health Minister John Haggie says his department is looking into reports of American military members being out and about in St. John’s on Monday. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Health Minister John Haggie said he’d heard stories about American military members being in a downtown restaurant Monday night, and that his department is looking into it.

He said officials have been made “perfectly clearly aware” that when American military personnel arrive, they are to be instructed to go directly to the hotel. Once there, they are to “take room service and reverse the process the following morning,” Haggie said. 

“My understanding is: They go, they isolate and if they stay for more than 14 days in isolation, then they are free to move around.” 

He said the situation is an issue of federal versus provincial jurisdictions and which sets of rules and exemptions should apply.

The American service members would fall under the federal Quarantine Act, Haggie said, noting that he isn’t aware of any exemptions that would allow them to visit restaurants while in town on a stopover.

“My view is whatever the more stringent measures are, be it the federal Quarantine Act or the provincial one, whichever is the strictest should apply.”

American military members make up a significant portion of Delta’s business, according to McKinnon, who said they account for about six per cent of total stays and bring in around $1.8 million in annual revenue. 

While inside the hotel, all guests are required to wear face coverings in public areas. McKinnon said there haven’t been any issues with the Americans on those rules.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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