Canada will be suspending all direct passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next 30 days.
Federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra made the announcement during a Thursday (April 22) press conference.
The restrictions go into effect at 11:30 p.m. EST Thursday. Cargo flights will still be permitted.
Passengers flying indirectly from either India or Pakistan will have to complete an extra COVID-19 test at their last stop before boarding a flight to Canada. All air passengers already must take a pre-departure COVID test, as well as one upon arrival at the airport, and one 10 days into their 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine.
The move comes the day after Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that while the government does not typically believe in limiting travel from specific countries, India may be a special case. Earlier on Thursday, all MPs in the House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion from the Bloc Québécois this afternoon calling for flights carrying non-essential travellers from certain countries, such as India and Brazil, to be barred.
The B.1.617 variant was first discovered in India. That country has seen record-breaking COVID-19 cases lately, reporting more than 300,000 cases and 2,000 deaths Wednesday.
That variant is being considered a variant of interest by the World Health Organization, rather than a variant of concern like the U.K., South Africa and Brazil ones. It has been dubbed a “double mutant” variant because it has a double mutation on the spike protein gene.
Alghabra said that the 30-day period was chosen to give travellers a sense of certainty in the coming weeks. There have been least 32 flights from Delhi and two from Pakistan have landed in Canada in the last two weeks carrying passengers who later tested positive for COVID-19.
He warned against international travel anywhere, noting that that there should be no travel during the pandemic.
“Border restrictions can change at any time and you can be stuck in another country,” Alghabra said.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that will allow public health to better understand the COVID-19 situation in the region.
Hajdu said that all incoming air travellers who test positive for the virus undergo whole genome sequencing to discover which variant it may be.
“Only 1.8 per cent of travellers are found to be positive with COVID-19,” Hadju said.
“The data that we collect also allows us to identify when positive case rates change in a country specific manner.”
She said that India, which accounts for 20 per cent of recent air travel to Canada, accounts for 50 per cent of all positive COVID-19 tests from travellers. Pakistan, Hadju said, has a similarly high rate of positive cases compared to incoming travellers.
While flights from Brazil are not banned, federal ministers said that they would not hesitate to do so if they felt the need was there.
There have been 39 cases of the B.1.617 variant in B.C. prior to April 4, according to the health ministry, before it was identified as a variant of interest.
– with files from The Canadian Press