Toronto: The Canadian government has banned all passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days due to the unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases in the region, the longest country-specific travel ban imposed by Canada.
The flight ban took effect from midnight on Thursday, transport minister Omar Alghabra said on Thursday.
A number of countries like the UK, Australia and Singapore have banned travel to and from India due to surge in coronavirus infections.
Over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases were registered in India on Thursday, the highest-ever single-day count in any country. While the death toll increased to 1,84,657 with a record 2,104 new fatalities. The national recovery rate fell below 85 per cent.
Transport minister Alghabra said the government imposed a 30-day ban, the longest travel ban Canada has put on any individual country, on passengers flights from India and Pakistan, based on advice from federal health officials in order to buy time to assess more data, and to provide certainty for Canadians considering travelling to the region, the Toronto Star reported.
However, the cargo flights are not banned and Ottawa is still hoping that India, which has suspended vaccine exports, will send the bulk of 1.5 million AstraZeneca doses Canada had purchased through the Serum Institute of India.
Those doses about 1 million are now in limbo, at least until June due to export controls in India, officials admitted Thursday.
The moves come after the Liberal government came under fire from the Conservative opposition, the premiers of Canada’s two largest provinces, and even their own MPs to tighten border restrictions as COVID-19 variants continue to spread in Canada.
The government said it had taken advice from chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who just a day before had said country-specific targeted measures can only go so far, and no border measures are completely 100 per cent effective. Tam said layers of protection are needed, especially given most cases here arise from community transmission, not travellers.
In recent weeks, 50 per cent of travellers arriving in Canada who tested positive for COVID-19 came from India, even though those flights were only 20 per cent of all international arrivals. And an alarming number of positive cases also showed up in travellers from Pakistan.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said those COVID-19-positive travellers were identified and required to quarantine.
But it is a significant volume. And given the epidemiological situation in India, it makes sense to pause travel from that region while our scientists and researchers have an ability to better understand…where the trajectory of the cases in that region is going.
On Thursday, Canada’s deputy chief medical officer of health, Dr. Howard Njoo, referred to the situation in India as a raging epidemic.
At the same time, he said, from a public health perspective it’s almost impossible to stop viruses from spreading because borders are artificial.
The variant detected in India has now been detected in Quebec, B.C. and Alberta.
According to federal data, 121 international flights between April 7 and April 18 had at least one passenger with COVID-19. That number included 32 from India, where a COVID-19 variant B.1.617 has brought the country’s health-care systems to the point of collapse, the report said.
Canada last December briefly suspended flights from Britain over concerns about outbreaks of a COVID-19 variant.
According to Johns Hopkins University, Canada has 1,164,108 confirmed coronavirus cases and 23,810 people have died from the virus.