Toronto: The Canadian government has banned all passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days. This decision has been taken due to the unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases in the region. It is the longest country-specific travel ban imposed by the Canadian government, officials said Thursday. The flight ban took effect from midnight Thursday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said. A number of countries like the UK, Australia and Singapore have also banned travel to and from India.
Over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases were registered Thursday in India, the highest-ever single-day count in any country.
Alghabra said the government imposed a 30-day ban based on advice from federal health officials. This has been done 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. 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 (SII).
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. Even the MPs of the Liberal government want 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. 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 put under 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,” Hajdu informed.
The variant detected in India has now been detected in Quebec, BC 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.