Decision on further border restrictions coming ‘shortly,’ says federal health official

The Canadian government is looking at options to toughen border controls and an announcement is coming soon, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said today.

His comments come as opposition leaders and premiers press the federal government to suspend flights from certain countries as a massive surge of COVID-19 cases ravages India.

Njoo said officials are reviewing the results of COVID tests at the borders and gathering data from the provinces and territories.

“Our minister of health, other cabinet ministers and the prime minister are very seized with it. They are having active conversations about the data and so on,” he told a news conference today.

“I think there will be a decision or something coming forward shortly.”

Njoo pointed to existing measures to prevent the spread in Canada, including pre-boarding tests for COVID-19, tests on arrival and the government-mandated 14-day quarantine period.

In a joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault urged the federal government to reduce incoming international flights and secure the Canada-U.S. land border.

“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.”

WATCH | Njoo says an update on border restrictions could be coming

Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo says officials are reviewing data to determine whether further border restrictions should be implemented to block COVID-19 variants from entering the country. 1:14

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is also calling for a temporary suspension of certain flights to control the B1617 variant, first sequenced in India, and the P1 variant, first detected in Brazil.

“We need to move quickly to stop the new variants from entering Canada and spreading further. We must secure our borders,” he  told a news conference today.

“It is long past time for Justin Trudeau to take action. The federal government must temporarily suspend flights from hotspot countries immediately.”

O’Toole said the restrictions should come as a temporary hold, adding that the government needs to procure more vaccine doses.

India, the world’s second-most populous country, reported a surge of more than 314,000 new infections today, adding pressure to a health care system critically short of hospital beds and oxygen.

On Wednesday, the federal government said it’s looking into more controls.

“I can confirm for you that we are very actively considering all and any additional measures that are or will be necessary to protect Canadians and I hope that we will be able to share more of that with you in the next 24 hours or so,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CTV’s Power Play.

On Wednesday, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control confirmed they had found 39 cases of the COVID-19 variant B1617 as of April 4. 

Quebec has reported its first case of B1617 in the Mauricie–Centre-du-Québec region, according to provincial public health authorities. 

WATCH | Conservative leader calls for suspension of international flights

Erin O’Toole calls for a temporary ban on flights arriving from known COVID hot spots so Canadian officials can cope with the spread of virus variants. 1:43

The federal government says 35 flights from India with at least one case of COVID-19 aboard have arrived in Canada in the last two weeks.

Canada previously banned U.K. flights 

Calls to restrict flights were echoed today by Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. He was being questioned about today’s front page in the Journal de Montréal, which displays a photo of Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing with the headline, “India’s variant has arrived. So, Justin, are we cutting ties with India quickly this time?”

“We must protect the lives and health of Canadians and Quebecers and it might mean that wherever on earth there is such an explosion of the number of cases being potentially carried in other jurisdictions and countries, there must be measures,” said Blanchet.

“This is one type of virus attacking one type of human beings.”

In late December, the government banned flights arriving from the U.K. in a bid to keep out a contagious variant of COVID 19 that first emerged there.

But B.1.1.7 still reached Canadian shores and the Public Health Agency of Canada was reporting 70,253 cases of that COVID-19 variant as of Wednesday.

WATCH | New coronavirus variant has two mutations, is more transmissible, doctor says

A new variant of interest, first detected in India, contains two mutations of the coronavirus. These mutations make it more transmissible and more likely to avoid some antibody responses, says Dr. Cora Constantinescu of the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary. 2:44

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