UBC backtracks on fee-based self-isolation accommodation, now offering it for free

UBC will now be offering completely complimentary self-isolation packages to students coming from out of the country, including accommodation and a meal plan.

While the packages were initially fee-based, ranging from $966 to $1,206 plus tax, UBC altered its plans on August 22. Matthew Ramsay, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, said the decision was in line with efforts to support students in these challenging times. The new plan mirrors the University of Toronto’s plan, which was to provide complimentary self-isolation accommodation all along.

Under the Quarantine Act, the federal government has issued an order that anyone entering Canada has to self-isolate for a 14-day period, irrespective of having symptoms of COVID-19. Violation of these instructions could lead to up to a $750,000 fine and 6 months of imprisonment. Anyone without an adequate quarantine plan can be transferred to a designated quarantine facility by the government.

Ramsay said that UBC recognized the potential burden that charging for self-isolation could place on students and said that they were committed to “welcome those students who are required on campus as best we can.”

These packages include a two-week stay in a one-bedroom unit at Walter Gage Residence and three meals a day, as well as regular check-ins with staff members.

Ramsey said the money to pay for the free accommodation and meal plans is coming from the central budget.

Meanwhile, UBC is still offering fee-based on-campus packages for other members of the UBC community, including faculty and staff, and also has partnerships with off-campus hotels.

Georgia Yee, AMS VP academic and university affairs, said that the self-isolation packages are important to support international students, and also help protect the safety of the broader UBC community.

Saattvic, a first-year business administration PhD student from India, is in the midst of his isolation in Gage Apartments. He had earlier chosen this package because he found it to be cheaper than AirBnB and hotel options.

“Would I have preferred a lower rate? Yes, who wouldn’t?” said Saattvic, who is now receiving a refund for his stay.

Initial concerns of high price point

Prior to the change in policy, there had been some concerns from students regarding the added costs of self-isolation. The package at Gage Apartments started at $966 plus tax for the isolation, without the inclusion of a meal plan.

UBC Student Housing stated that students moving into shared residences must isolate in a separate private unit before they can move into their shared residence. This had made self-isolation an added expense for many students to budget outside of regular rent.

Acknowledging this, Yee said that AMS is “committed to supporting student affordability initiatives, especially those that are particularly affected by COVID-19.” She added that the burden for paying for self-isolation should not be passed onto students without adequate additional support.

Akshat Singla, a second-year computer science and statistics undergraduate student from India, had initially decided against using one of UBC’s self-isolation packages because he found them too expensive, but is now staying at Gage in the free accommodations.

However, this turnaround in policy has come at a time when some students have already completed their isolation.

David Hines, a second-year science student, recently completed his self-isolation at Gage and said he is not being offered a refund due to the differences between his chosen accommodation and the complimentary one now being offered.

“The differences seem minimal, no AC and a non-equipped kitchen,” said Hines, adding that he would have chosen the complimentary package if he had had that option, and put the money to better use over the year instead.

However, Ramsey said that students who self-isolated at UBC before the change was made would be refunded.

But Hines said that “now is better than never.”

“Especially with the influx of new tenants for isolation as the term draws closer.” He added that cost of isolation could have otherwise been acting as a cost-of-entry barrier to those without expendable income.

Government regulations state that travellers must ensure they have access to basic necessities where they self-isolate, and the university addressed this through the inclusion of meal plans in self-isolation packages.

Yee said that this indicates that UBC is “foregrounding well-being in their approach.”

“I already thought the price was relatively reasonable but saving $900 is no small thing,” said Avery Kruger, a first-year botany master’s student, “I think it’s great, and above and beyond what I expected.”