This article was updated on Friday, April 23 at 8:43 a.m. EST
Following reports of politicians pressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to tighten up the borders, the federal government decided to suspend direct flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in both countries.
All commercial and private passenger flights from both countries were prohibited at midnight last night, said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Thursday (April 22).
"This is a temporary measure while we assess the evolving situation and determine appropriate measures going forward," Minister Alghabra said at a press conference.
India reported nearly 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday (April 21), along with 2,000 deaths, and 314,835 new infections on Thursday.
India banned international flights in March, but Canada was one of 13 nations exempted through an “air bridge” agreement between the two countries.
Reports suggest that a “double mutant” variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in India and the B1617 variant central India's crisis has already been found in Canada as B.C. health officials say they have confirmed 39 cases.
A case of that same variant was also detected in Quebec this week.
Tests required for indirect routes
Those passengers who are traveling from India or Pakistan to Canada through an indirect route will need to obtain a negative COVID-19 test from the last country they were in before they land in Canada, Minister Alghabra said.
Cargo flights from India and Pakistan will still be allowed, Minister Alghabra said, so shipments of vaccines and personal protective equipment can continue to arrive (although, shipments of vaccine to Canada from India will likely be suspended until at least June, reports say).
Half of the people who are testing positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Canada on an airplane are coming from India, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.
Flights from India, however, only account for only one-fifth of air traffic, she said.
There are currently no flights entering Canada from Brazil, where another COVID-19 variant is spreading, but Minister Alghabra said Canada "will not hesitate to ban travel form other countries" if the data supports it.
"Now is not the time to travel," Minister Alghabra said, repeating a message that the federal government has shared repeatedly. "Restrictions can change at any time and you can be stuck in another country."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier Francois Legault issued a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau on Thursday, asking him to introduce tougher border controls.
"There is an urgent need to address issues with testing and quarantining at the borders, including falsified COVID-19 testing documentation, travellers opting [for] fines over complying [with] quarantine requirements, or travelling via private vehicle/plane to avoid quarantine, among several other areas of concern," they wrote.
"While it is crucial that the transport of essential goods is not hindered by border measures, it is likewise crucial that all non-essential travel be curtailed. The introduction of stricter measures for travellers crossing at land borders is a significant step to achieve that goal and ensure that collectively we are doing all we can to protect our citizens."
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has also called for a temporary suspension of flights from some countries to stop variants in their path.
"We need to move quickly to stop the new variants from entering Canada and spreading further. We must secure our borders," O'Toole told media on Thursday.
The last time the Canadian government banned flights from a specific country was in late 2020 when it suspended flights from the U.K., for just over two weeks, due to concerns about a COVID-19 variant that was discovered there.
That flight suspension was lifted on Jan. 6 after the government introduced its 72-hour pre-departure testing requirement for international arrivals.
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