Canada suspended all passenger flights from India and Pakistan on Thursday for 30 days, Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra announced, citing increased Covid-19 cases detected in travellers arriving from these countries.
“Given the higher number of cases of Covid-19 detected in air passengers arriving in Canada from India and Pakistan [...] I am suspending all commercial and private passenger flights arriving in Canada from India and Pakistan for 30 days,” Alghabra told a news conference.
“This is a temporary measure, while we assess the evolving situation and determine appropriate measures going forward,” he added.
The restriction will go into effect at 11:30 pm Eastern Time on Thursday.
It will not apply to cargo flights, Alghabra said, particularly to ensure the continued shipment of vaccines, personal protective equipment and other essential goods.
India, which is undergoing an alarming surge being blamed on a “double mutant” variant and super-spreader events, reported a single-day high of more than 300,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that overall only 1.8 per cent of travelers to Canada have tested positive for coronavirus.
While India accounts for 20pc of recent air travel to Canada, more than half of all positive tests at the border were from flights arriving from the country, she said, adding that “a similarly high level of cases [...] have also been linked to Pakistan”.
“It is a significant volume,” she said, “and given the epidemiological situation in India, it makes sense to pause travel from that region while our scientists and researchers (try) to better understand this variance of interest, to better understand where the trajectory of the cases in that region are going.”
Ban on non-essential flights to Covid hotspots
Health Canada data showed 18 flights from Delhi and two from Lahore, to Toronto or Vancouver, in the past two weeks had at least one passenger onboard who was diagnosed with the illness.
Canada last December briefly suspended flights from Britain over concerns about outbreaks of a Covid variant.
Earlier on Thursday, parliament voted unanimously to urge the government to ban non-essential flights from Covid hotspots where variants have surged, including India and Brazil.
Alghabra said there are currently no scheduled flights between Canada and Brazil, but added that “we will not hesitate to ban travel to other countries if the science bears that out”.
Several dozen cases of the variant of the virus initially declared in India have already been identified in Canada, according to media reports.
Some countries have taken similar steps to prevent worsening outbreaks due to this variant: the United Arab Emirates announced on Thursday that it will suspend all flights from India.
Britain also this week banned entry to travelers from India, and France has announced that they will be subject to a 10-day quarantine upon arrival in the country.
All travelers to Canada are already subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. They must also present a negative Covid test before boarding an international flight, and another upon arrival in Canada.
Struggling with a third wave of infections, Canada recorded 9,000 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, bringing its total to 1,151,276 cases and 23,812 deaths.