The federal government has suspended all passenger and commercial flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days as concerns arise over COVID-19 variants; including the B.1.617 strain first discovered in India.
The ban went into effect at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Two final flights, arriving from New Delhi, touched down at Pearson Airport on Friday morning. The flights had already departed India before the suspension went into effect.
A case involving the “variant of interest” was detected in Quebec on Wednesday, west of the provincial capital.
While not officially designated as a variant of concern (VOC) by Health Canada, B.1.617 is being monitored closely by health officials.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says suspending incoming passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next month must be done to keep Canadians safe.
Trudeau says it’s necessary because there has been a concerning surge of COVID-19 cases and the emergence of more variants of concern in certain parts of the world.
“Now we know that it’s not only about direct flights to Canada. That’s why there will also be additional measures for passengers departing from India or Pakistan who come to Canada via indirect routes,” he said.
Also, the federal health minister has said half of the people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus after arriving in Canada by plane have come from India.
The B. 1.617 variant that appears to be wreaking havoc in India has been detected in several provinces.
The federal Conservatives urged the Trudeau government to pause international flights from India and Brazil. The premiers of Ontario and Quebec also called for a reduction in international flights and a tightening of the U.S. border.
Quebec’s Francois Legault told reporters he and his counterparts are concerned about flights coming from regions where more transmissible variants are rampant.
The Prime Minister and federal health officials had been examining data as VOC cases surged.
Prior to the announcement, MPs unanimously agreed Canada should suspend international flights from countries where COIVD-19 outbreaks are raging.
The House of Commons adopted a motion from the Bloc Quebecois this afternoon calling for flights carrying non-essential travellers from certain countries, such as India and Brazil, to be barred.
Health Canada data shows 112 international flights arrived in Canada in the last two weeks carrying at least one passenger who later tested positive for COVID-19.
That includes 32 flights from India, 20 from the United States, and 10 each from France and the United Arab Emirates.
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said at a briefing Thursday afternoon that ministers were looking at data about incoming flights, testing, and variants of concern, including metrics that show an increase in cases coming in on flights from India.
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Until now, the Trudeau government avoided targetting specific countries and opted for more general travel restrictions such as mandatory testing and mandatory quarantine for all travellers.
Passengers arriving and departing to and from Canada from abroad must show a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for 14 days.
India has set a world record for COVID-19 cases, logging more than 330,000 new infections today alone.
Major-General Dany Fortin says the escalating case numbers in India mean shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from that country are temporarily on hold.
“We will not see doses this month as the situation in India continues to be the way it is.”
With files from 680 NEWS Parliament Hill reporter Cormac Mac Sweeney, The Canadian Press